So, what is your experience in playing this music in a setting that is not set up for living history? This was mine a few weeks ago. The room is fantastic on its own, but it was amplified, as that was the nature of this venue. The tunes I played were:
A short Briggs' Stroke Medley
Walk Jaw Bone
Old Virginny Jig
Grape Vine Reel
People seemed to dig it...most had never seen a banjo like that one.
Years ago we did a couple of nights at the East End Cafe, a college town bar in Newark , DE. Apparently we went over real well at an open mike night and were invited back for a weekend show.
I'm a little late following up on this thread, especially concerning the role of dancing and early banjo music. I wanted to share this passage from Dale Cockrell's 1997 book Demons of disorder: early blackface minstrels and their world, which I highly recommend. He shares the story of a dance off between two Boston prostitutes in 1842 which originally appeared in the newspaper The Libertine. Almost all of the tunes mentioned should be familiar to everyone here.
"noticed a crowd of females coming down under a small trot, and as we expected,
they were the rival parties, arm in arm, closely followed by Julia Carr,
Julia King, Lucy Bartlett, Miss Dunbar, Kate Hall, Harriet Morley, Elmira
Lewis, all giggling and talking as fast as woman can.
Mysteriously, each cyprien carried a broom. "However, we were soon
enlightened, for at the word of command, they all commenced sweeping
Long Wharf for a clean spot which was soon done." For music
there was a fiddler employed for just this occasion, "a half white negro
barber." Two men were selected as judges.
The first dance on the list was a hornpipe, and the one who took the most
steps was to come off victor. It was Bryant's first turn, and as she entered the
ring, she made three courtesies to the spectators who formed three sides about
her. The word was given; the negro fiddler struck up Fisher's Hornpipe, and
Susan commenced - and the way she put in the big licks was a “sin to Moses.”
Shouts of applause rent the air, whenever she changed a step. Every move was
grace, her limbs moved as if guided by machinery. She now came to the heel
and toe business - and done it to a nail, with which she wound up the hornpipe.
There was general admiration of her performance, when a voice was
"Make way for old Nance, she'll make some of you howl." "Yes, indeed,
hoss," cried she as she entered. "Come," she said, funnily clapping Bryant on
the shoulder, "get off the floor, and see how soon I will make the grease come
- and give us some chalk, for see how wet Suse has made it. Why old gal you
have sweat a gallon; I guess you over-fed yourself. Come strike up, white n*****."
"What tune?" enquired Cuffey.
"Why, the same to be: sure, I ain't going to give that gal any advantage,"
"Well, I only thought you were goin to put in your fancy licks on de Elssler music."
"No, no, keep them back," said she, "so here goes."
And so it did. As soon as the music struck the air, Holmes struck the
wharf, and the way she made her body move was a caution to French bed steads.
Every step the Bryant took Nance repeated - and all [conceded] that it
would be hip and thigh between them, which is a tie. "'If the Holmes can only
last," cried one of the idlers, and as the words fell on our ears, she dropped,
not flat, no indeed, but in a position which looked much like a squat - when
she was forced to take the step which was to decide all, and which was no
more or less than the famous "Taylor's Hop," and that did decide all. Every
time Holmes struck out that leg, the old wharf shook again. "Quit, Holmes,
quit," cried her friends; but it was no go; all h_ll couldn't stop her, and the
only way it was effected was by Jule King and Carr rushing in and seizing her
under the arm pit, and raising her up, they carried her in the fresh air, she
shouting, "Go away old gal, you can't take this child's time, no how."
After the performance by Holmes, there were general refreshments
passed around – “gin and round hearts" - and everyone was set for the
finishing dance, a "Virginia breakdown," in which the women would
dance against each other, one-on-one. After the participants had been
sponged off, they began..
The negro struck up the Camptown Hornpipe and the gals struck the wharf.
It was hard to decide who was to come off victor notwithstanding that the
knowing odds were offered in favor of Bryant. From the Camptown the tune
was changed to the Grape Vine; yet both went it, as the change had no effect
on them. From this they changed to "'Take Jour time Miss Lucy,"
and the way they went it was a caution - even the change to
"W'here did you come from, knock a n***** down,"
and "Jenny get your hoe cake done my lady," did not affect them - the sweat
run down their faces, as if all within was on fire; perhaps occasioned by the
gin taken in the recess. But now came the tug of war- the tune was changed
to one of Sandford's jigs - "Go it Nance," "Go it Suse," came in from all
sides. They danced - the sweat poured, and now the fatigue of the delicate
Nance became apparent, but amid the cheer of her friends she yet kept pace
with the Bryant; but she couldn't stand it much longer, and after one of the
closest contested dances on record Nance Holmes gave out, and the Bryant
came off victorious! Nance was carried home on a cart, procured for the purpose,
while Suse footed it, amid shouts of joy from her friends."
Nothing that exciting ever happens in Boston these days!
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