By MELINDA MINTON
This year’s Oly Old Time Festival brings food, music, workshops and new musical talents. Among its featured performers are Allison de Groot and Nic Gareiss. Making use of the South Bay Grange’s beautiful dance floor, they’ll hold a workshop called “Play a Tune/Dance a Tune.” It’s intended to, as Gareiss described it, “reveal intersectional insights and bash the pedagogical barriers that separate dance and music.” Gareiss and de Groot will teach how to play a tune and to dance it. Some experience is helpful, but willingness to try is equally important.
Allison DeGroot is a master of folk music, a vivacious, technical wonder on the Clawhammer banjo. She holds a performance degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston. By touring globally she’s learned and incorporated nuances of differing styles into old-time, Appalachian music. Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, she’s played Celtic Connections, Hardly Strictly, the Newport Folk Festival, Rockygrass, Tønder Festival and Winnipeg Folk Festival.
Nic Gareiss was described by The Irish Times as “the human epitome of the unbearable lightness of being.” The Boston Herald called him “the most inventive and expressive step dancer on the scene.” He creatively re-engineers musical expression by taking cues from a number of dance traditions. Originally from Michigan, he was commissioned by the Cork Opera House in 2011 to create and perform two new, solo, percussive dance pieces in celebration of composer Steve Reich’s 75th birthday. His setting of Reich’s piece “Clapping Music” for percussive dancer and video installation was hailed by The Irish Times as “a left-field tour-de-force with irresistible wow factor.” In 2013, Gareiss served as community liaison for the Wheatland Music Organization’s 40th-anniversary production, Carry It On…, supervising a cast of 70 nonprofessional dancers from rural communities across Michigan. He received a traditional arts commission from the Irish Arts Council to create an evening-length, fiddle-and-dance-duo show with Caoimhín Ó Raghalliah. The resulting piece, Mice Will Play, had a sold-out run at the Project Arts Centre during the 2013 Dublin Fringe Festival. In 2015 and 2016, Gareiss was recognized by Michigan State Museum’s traditional-arts program as a master traditional artist. He holds degrees in anthropology and music from Central Michigan University and earned his master’s in ethnochoreology at the University of Limerick. His thesis, based on ethnographic work with LGTBQ, competitive-step dancers, was the first piece of scholarship to explore the experience of sexual minorities within Irish dance.
As usual, Oly Old Time Festival will feature traditonal dance styles including flatfooting and square, Cajun and honky-tonk along with the music of Les Coeurs Criminels. A trio comprisng multi-instrumentalists Brian Lindsey, Jesse Partridge and Alex Sturbaum will be a sight to behold, keeping toes tapping to traditional songs.
The tradition of the “crankie” continues. Each year, festival organizers and “crankists” Shanty Slater and Emily Teachout teach a class on how to make and perform a “crankie.” A crankie is a visual-art form that became popular in the mid-1800s. It’s basically an illustrated scroll that tells the story of a ballad or fiddle tune. It’s illuminated from behind and unrolled before an audience. In the modern era of scrolling through electronic screens, it’s a captivating, refreshing way for an audience to engage with music. It requires people to draw close, be quiet and slow down. Slater and Teachout will lead the performance of Friday’s workshop creation for all to enjoy.
Oly Old Time Festival
7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 – 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17
First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St. SE, Olympia;
South Bay Grange, 3918 Sleater Kinney Rd. NE, Olympia
Free – $20