In October 1992, Andrea Hoag decided to move from Seattle to Washington, D.C. She packed her possessions into a U-Haul, called up her good friends David Kaynor and Charlie Pilzer, and loaded her old car (“Grandma”) onto a tow. Inspired by a fake ad for “Polka Pants” (loose pants perfect for dancing the polka in) on How to Talk Minnesotan, a regular feature on A Prairie Home Companion, the three wrote to Howard Mohr asking for permission to name themselves after the pants. With Mohr’s blessing, they printed t-shirts, hopped in the U-Haul, and drove across the country, playing for contra dances and house concerts along the way. It was an eventful trip, from the endless flat lands of eastern Montana to a broken transmission in pouring rain, but they finally made it to their last dance at Glen Echo in Maryland. (As Charlie says,”I’ll drive a U-Haul again, and I’ll drive across the country again, but I’m NEVER driving a U-Haul across the country again!”)
About David – Caller and Fiddle
My parents took me to my first square dance in Wilbraham around 1956 or 57 when I was 8 or 9 years old. During our summer vacations in Harpswell, Maine, I attended the local “square dances” (I think I remember more longways set dances and couples’ dances than squares; we even danced some contras).In 1973, at a party near Burlington, Vermont, I met the charter members of the Arm and Hammer String Band, who induced me to come to their contra dances to both dance and sit in. Thus, the beginning of my involvement with the music and dances of what we now refer to as Contra Dancing. That formative experience of being encouraged to sit in and to be part of the music, and get “on-the-job” training in dance musicianship all the while, has guided my long standing encouragement to others to sit in with me and, in turn, to welcome others to sit in with them.
I began playing fiddle in 1974. My deep love of this instrument led me into many situations including country-rock bar bands, string bands, and contra dance bands around the Connecticut River Valley and elsewhere. Soon, it led me into teaching, and I’ve thought of myself as a teacher more than as a performer ever since.
I began calling contra dances in 1980, taking over a little dance at the Guiding Star Grange Hall in Greenfield, Massachusetts which then struggled along for three years before becoming the first really established public dance there in decades. I also called and/or played at numerous small, out-of-the-way dances and other events around New England.
In the mid 1980s, I began helping people learn how to get through passably pleasant approximations of the basic polska, schottische, hambo, and one or two other Swedish dances. My knowledge of and approach to stylistic detail is simplistic: it was summed up by a Bostonian Scandophile upon learning that his partner’s style evolved in the Connecticut River Valley: “Oh, you learned it from the Kaynors. Everybody knows they just do it for fun.”
Whatever. Play a polska, schottische, and hambo at a contra dance at the Guiding Star Grange Hall and you will most likely observe a dance floor filled with people having fun.
Gradually, I became involved in the larger regional and, eventually, national contra dance scenes. I’ve been on staff at Northern Week at Ashokan every summer since 1983 and at Contra Dance Musicians’ Week at the John C. Campbell Folk School every summer since 1996.
I’ve worked at New Year’s events at these locations and elsewhere and I’ve taught, played, and called at Pinewoods in southeastern Massachusetts; Buffalo Gap in West Virginia; Mendocino in California; the Lady of the Lake in Idaho; Ogontz and Summer Acoustic Music Week in New Hampshire; Suttle Lake in Oregon; Wannadance Uptown in Seattle and Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington; and at many other camps and weekends, workshops, and other events around the country.
My 9th visit to Sweden took place in March, 2007. As usual, I visited, skiied, ran, drank coffee, deepened friendships, took part in music and dance events, learned as much as I could, and presented New England music and dancing in schools, public places, and private homes.
Seeking both a place in the older local communities and increased input into decisions regarding our dance halls, I joined the Montague Center and Guiding Star Granges. I became involved in a gradual increase in the organizations’ memberships and a clarifying of their intention to improve the halls’ availability and accessibility for more participatory arts (of which contra dancing is only one!), concerts, theater, classes, and more.
My resume reads like an itinerant performer’s, but I see myself mainly as a teacher and facilitator. I’ve been described as a mechanic in artist clothing. Whether playing tunes, teaching and calling dances, or working at a camp, or even running in a road race, I tend to be more interested in the process than the product. Experience wins over expedience every time. Most of “real life” isn’t like this, but music and dancing can be.
About Andrea – Fiddle
Adventurousness and curiosity are hallmarks of Andrea’s career, Andrea Hoag has devoted herself to traditional fiddling performing and teaching. Immersing herself first in southern Appalachian music and culture in the early 1980s, she was overtaken by a love of Swedish fiddling’s unusual scales and rhythms. Awarded a fellowship from the Skandia Music Foundation of Seattle, WA., she studied at Sweden’s respected Malungs Folkhögskola, earning the certificate in Folk Violin Pedagogy in 1984. She also studied in-depth with elder tradition-bearers Pekkos Gustaf and Nils Agenmark, masters of the complex, demanding Bingsjö fiddling dialect. Andrea has taught Swedish music in many settings, including The Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Weeks, Swannanoa Gathering, and Värmland Folk Music School.
Andrea revels in playing for Scandinavian and contra dance. Throughout the 80s and 90s, she toured with bands known for their improvisation and rich arrangements, including Footloose and Future Geezers. More recently, Andrea has been on the staff at Country Christmas Dance School at Berea College, performed with the band Serpentine, focused on collaborations and studio work with a variety of performers, including recording the Grammy-nominated album Hambo in the Snow with Hardanger-fiddle virtuoso Loretta Kelley and innovative bassist Charlie Pilzer; two recordings with The Berntsons, a tradition-bearing family from Wisconsin; a CD/DVD with the cross-cultural Dovetail Ensemble; and a Celtic Christmas recording with dulcimist Maggie Sansone, Irish singer Patrick Egan, and Scottish harpist Sharon Knowles.
A Grammy nominee, recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, and winner of Washington Area Music Awards “Best Traditional Folk Instrumentalist,” Her music has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and Performance Today, at the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress, and at numerous venues around the U.S. and in Sweden. With a particular interest in in-depth musical conversations, Andrea has collaborated across genres with many respected artists, from pianist Jacqueline Schwab to blues master Phil Wiggins.
Andrea is the founder and program director of Freyda’s Hands, a non-profit organization devoted to collaborations between performing artists of diverse backgrounds and to character education through collaborative arts. Freyda’s Hands projects includes a documentary film about the collaborative process; the public workshop/concert SoundCrossing/World on a String, now going into its fourth year; and school and after-school programs.
About Charlie – Piano
Musician. Producer. Recording and live sound engineer. Event organizer. Charlie Pilzer is a busy man, devoting himself to creating award-winning acoustic music and sharing his love of the traditions with audiences, listeners, and other musicians around the world.
Well known as a dance musician (piano and bass) for contra dances, Charlie plays with Not Enough Fiddles, Are We There Yet?, Serpentine and the Glen Echo Open Band. He has been on the staff at camp weeks run by the Country Dance & Song Society and the Christmas Country Dance School at Berea College. He served as program director for the CDSS Family Week program at Pinewoods Camp. Involved with the Washington Revels for years, Charlie is currently an Artistic Associate for Music.
Charlie began his involvement with Scandinavian music in 1978, when he met the members of the Faroe Islands-based band Spælimenninir (“the folk musicians”) during their first U.S. tour. Reflecting the international group’s membership (Faroese, Danish, Swedish, and American), Spælimenninir’s repertoire is pan-Scandinavian, with a good helping of American contra dance music. The band is a festival favorite, appearing at the Tønder Folk and Jazz Festival in Denmark, the Festival Belle Isle in France, and the prestigious Edinburgh Folk Festival, as well as festivals in the Shetland and Orkney Islands, and countless events in the U.S. and Canada.
Spælimenninir has been heard throughout the public radio system in Europe and the U.S. with frequent appearances on Radio Danmark, and on Garrison Keillor ‘s “A Prairie Home Companion”.
Charlie’s performing and touring with a pan-Scandinavian band made him ideally qualified to work with two of America’s finest performers of Scandinavian fiddle music, Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley, The trio “Hoag, Kelley, Pilzer” performed for audiences at festivals, concert series and dances throughout the United States, most recently appearing in the 2016 Christmas Revels in Washington, DC. Andrea, Loretta and Charlie released a pair of highly acclaimed CDs of traditional and recently-composed Scandinavian tunes. Hambo in the Barn (1996) and Hambo in the Snow (2006) were released on the Azalea City Recordings label, a musicians’ cooperative which Charlie helped found. Hambo in the Snow was nominated for a 2007 GRAMMY Award as Best Traditional World Music Album.
When not performing, Charlie is chief engineer at Airshow Takoma in Takoma Park, Maryland. His success with mastering, recording and mixing of all the genres of acoustic music made in the mid-Atlantic region – from folk to roots rock, world music to alternative, jazz to classical – can be attributed to his broad base of experience and musical knowledge. Charlie’s attention to detail is well known and is best exemplified in the audio restoration of vintage recordings. In addition to mastering a dozen GRAMMY-nominated projects, Charlie received a GRAMMY for mastering and restoration on the Anthology of American Folk Music (1997).
Following his belief that one should give back to one’s community, Charlie currently serves on the executive board of Local 1000 of the American Federation of Musicians and is a former board member of the Folk Alliance, a former board member of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington. and a former member of the Board of Governors for the Washington, DC Chapter of NARAS.
About Rebecca – Fiddle
Crickets, cool night air, stars. A tune wafting along the breeze. Mud, melody, fireflies, fiddle.
Stories. Lots and lots of stories. An older place, an older time. Same tune. “When I was your age…”
Balance and swing. Music pouring into the humid July air from the dance hall. Inside, dancers whirl, respond to the tune change, stomp and holler.
That’s why Rebecca Weiss loves fiddle music. When she was nine, like many young musicians, she started out playing classical in her elementary school orchestra, but it soon became clear that she was most interested in figuring out by ear whatever music she felt like that day. Her friend suggested she try a lesson with internationally-acclaimed Swedish and folk tradition-bearer Andrea Hoag. After a few amazing fiddle lessons with Andrea and a contra dance or two, Rebecca caught the bug and there was no turning back. The D.C. area’s rich traditional music scene fed her desire for MORE TUNES. She fell in love with the thrill of playing for dances as a member of the Glen Echo Open Band, Major Minors, Torch Takers and Not Enough Fiddles. She honed her Irish music skills in Mitch Fanning’s Bog Band and Karen Ashbrook & Paul Oorts’ Sligo Creek Hedge School Band. With these groups, she has performed at the Smithsonian Discovery Theater, National Theater, Washington Folk Festival, Takoma Park Folk Festival, New England Folk Festival and more.
Rebecca’s respect for tradition and wonder at global musical variety drives her to seek out new styles wherever she goes. At Brandeis University, Rebecca co-founded the Traditional Music Club, which led to unique and exciting musical interactions from learning about Chinese traditional music to teaching a guzheng player an Irish polka. While volunteering at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2015, Rebecca was adopted by the Peruvian Contradanza Paucartambo group, who drafted her to perform with them in the festival when they realized she was so interested in their music that she had learned it after one day of being around them as their translator. Rebecca is fascinated with the way that music can connect people of vastly different backgrounds and allow them to communicate.
At Brandeis, she studies environmental studies and anthropology, and brought fiddling to the campus with fellow student David Chernack. For the past three years, they performed Appalachian and Celtic music at campus farmers markets, contra dances, coffeehouses, Folk Fest, and the Leonard Bernstein Festival for the Creative Arts. In September 2016 they placed second in the Twin Fiddle category at the Lowell Banjo and Fiddle Contest in Lowell, MA.
Rebecca digs deep into the styles she pursues. She loves old tunes and sitting and admiring the grit of players such as Edden Hammons, slowing down old recordings to try to figure out their sound. At the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, WV, Rebecca plays late into the night, learning and absorbing tunes and traditions from elder fiddlers until she falls off her chair with exhaustion at 5 am. She is a proud resident of “Geezer Hill,” the place where all the old folks stay (she likes hanging out with old folks, in case you didn’t notice).
She loves writing new tunes anytime, anyplace when the mood arises. It could happen on the way to the bus stop at 7 am or while out running in the middle of midterms. Sounds made by birds and scraping chairs are fair game.
She is intensely curious about playing, and enjoys bouncing ideas off of elder musicians and prompting them to share their wisdom and stories. What would happen if we put these tunes together? How do you get that sound? What were you thinking about when you wrote that tune?
And especially, HOW DO YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT WITH SO MUCH MUSIC IN YOUR HEAD?!
Because of her passion for contra dance music, “old” people, stories, and adventure, Rebecca is very excited to be the newest member of the Polka Pants Band!
Contact Charlie Pilzer — charlie (at) polkapants.band, 240-305-6349