Strap on your dancing shoes for the Chicago Square Dance Summit | Bleader

Friday, October 16, 2015

Strap on your dancing shoes for the Chicago Square Dance Summit

Posted By on 10.16.15 at 01:00 PM

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New Orleans string ensemble Broken Down Gamblers were plotting a tour with dance caller Sarah Gibson and reached out to local rootsy singer-songwriter and recent Bloodshot Records signee Al Scorch to find a place to play in Chicago. Scorch decided to just organize a show himself with some help from his pals in Old Lazarus' Harp, a young folk-music collective that includes groups such as Can I Get an Amen, Spitzer Space Telescope, Glass Mountain, and Honey Hole Johnson; Scorch roped in Can I Get an Amen and Mulefoot for the show, and put himself on the bill too. And then Scorch set his sights even higher. "I was thinking, 'Man, if I bring in one more string band this will be a fucking thing,'" he says. So he reached out to Columbus outfit Donkey Nation and put together the Chicago Square Dance Summit, an afternoon dedicated to string bands and dance at the Empty Bottle; it kicks off at noon on Sunday.

Though he's already bringing old-time string bands from different parts of the country into town for a big jamboree, Scorch also hopes the event will shine a light on the underground local community involved in the Summit. "There's this old-time square-and-contra-dance community of younger people," he says. "It's happening. People are definitely tired of the noninclusive, 'folk music is a religion and if you don't follow the tenets of it you should be expelled and excommunicated' [attitude]." Scorch references the dance gatherings Old Lazarus' Harp hosted at Inner Town Pub until the Ukrainian Village spot ran into some music-licensing issues this summer.

DIY space Young Camelot also has a history of hosting string shows, with Can I Get an Amen serving as a house band for those gatherings. "Honey Hole Johnson, he always had his folk-blues string-band thing, and they would throw dances and string shows there at Young Camelot since the beginning," Scorch says. He speaks highly of Can I Get an Amen banjo player Evan Collins for uniting young string-band lovers around the city. "I don't think a lot of people know about it," Scorch says. "It's fucking underground."

Scorch hopes those unfamiliar with contra dance or string bands will drop by the Summit. "It'll be easy for beginners to jump in and get it, and it's really, really fucking fun," he says. "Dancing with a live string band with a caller—if you haven't experienced it, it makes you feel very, very human." As much as Scorch wants to pull in young newcomers, he also hopes to attract some old-timers. "Maybe they can leave Evanston, come to the Empty Bottle, drink a shitty beer, and watch the new kids," he says. "They don't have to be scared."

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