Old Traditions in New Times: CROMA Festival Echoes History

By: Riley Ann

In the heat of summer, hundreds of people from the East and West Coasts and beyond gathered in the hills outside Berthoud, Colorado to celebrate the traditions of Old-time music and dance.

A jam at the CROMA 2017 merch table.

A jam at the CROMA 2017 merch table.

The Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) celebrated its 8th annual festival at Parrish Ranch, and while for some, barn dances and pre-World War II fiddle tunes may seem anachronistic in 2017, this property offers the perfect environment to stop time and celebrate these traditions. In fact, that’s exactly what the property was established for over half a century ago.

The late 1950s were more than ice cream socials, Elvismania, and record parties. It was one of the contemporary heydays of Old-time music and square dancing. Competitive square dancing was serious business for some, and in 1958, Vaughn Parrish built a barn on his ranch specifically for square dancing. People flocked in from across the United States (even beyond the border from Canada) to spend a week or two practicing their square dancing skills. Many of them competed in square dance competitions throughout the nation.

Terry Parrish, the current owner of Parrish Ranch and son of Jean & Vaughn.

Terry Parrish, the current owner of Parrish Ranch and son of Jean & Vaughn.

Today, Vaughn’s son Terry runs Parrish Ranch and is thrilled to host the annual CROMA fest as well as weddings, camping outings, and other special events throughout the year. At the Friday night barn dance, Terry stepped up to the microphone and shared, “My mother and father would be so happy to know that this festival happens on their property. It’s exactly what this place was built for.” The crowd cheered, and Terry even joined squares throughout the night, laughing and chatting with attendees, which included ticket-holders alongside the festival’s performers.

This year’s festival brought various scholars and performers of Old-time from across the nation, predominantly the Ozark and Appalachian regions of the United States, to offer diverse programming throughout the weekend.

Callers and cloggers: Phil Jamison & Dot Kent join the New Smokey Valley Boys for a number.

Callers and cloggers: Phil Jamison & Dot Kent join the New Smokey Valley Boys for a number.

Phil Jamison, author of Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance and professor of mathematics and Appalachian music and dance at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, taught a workshop on flatfoot dancing (also known as clogging). He shared how not only Old-time music, but also flatfooting and square dancing, have rich African-American roots, and how those traditions merged with European and new innovative styles in the time to create a rich tradition that’s truly American.

The Ozark Highballers had a friend join their show for some flatfooting.

The Ozark Highballers had a friend join their show for some flatfooting.

Kim Lansford and Aviva Steigmeyer (of Preservation Guitar Company and performer with the Ozark Highballers) shared the histories and nuances of ballads and led a sing-along in a workshop before performing a set together on stage.

The New Smokey Valley Boys had callers; flatfooters Dot Kent and Phil Jamison join them.

The New Smokey Valley Boys had callers; flatfooters Dot Kent and Phil Jamison join them.

The New Smokey Valley Boys offered a workshop on fiddle/banjo duets, a common means of instrumentation for house parties when, as fiddler Andy Edmonds described, “They’d throw all the furniture out in the yard and have the fiddler and banjo player face each other knee to knee in the doorway between two rooms, and each room would have a caller, so they’d have two different dances happening, but everyone could hear the same music.”

Jesse & Emily.

Jesse & Emily.

Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller offered several workshops, spanning duet singing, fingerstyle guitar, and West Virginia fiddling in addition to performing sweet, heartbreaking, and foot-stomping duets.

The Saturday night cakewalk was a hit. The music stopped just in time for this festival-goer! 

The Saturday night cakewalk was a hit. The music stopped just in time for this festival-goer! 

With over 30 workshops, daily main stage performances, nightly barn dances, kids’ programming, and community meals (a Thursday potluck and a Sunday morning pancake breakfast), this year’s festival continued to expand upon the quaint beginnings of the CROMA into one of the best festivals in Colorado, and arguably the best Old-time festival in the nation.

Aviva Steigmeyer & Roy Pilgrim of the Ozark Highballers join in on the festival dancing.

Aviva Steigmeyer & Roy Pilgrim of the Ozark Highballers join in on the festival dancing.

While you count down to next year’s festival in 2018, you can keep up with CROMA’s barn dances, fundraisers, and other special events on their website and by signing up for their newsletter. Dances throughout the front range can be found here, which also includes the Westminster dance, the only regularly scheduled dance that mixes squares, contras, reels, and circle dances.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All photos per the author. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Old-Time In The Rockies: CROMA Gears Up For Annual Festival

By: Riley Ann

Since its inception in 2010 with just three individuals, the Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) continues to expand in breadth and depth. Their eighth annual festival is less than a month away, and it’s guaranteed not to disappoint. 

For a taste of old-time before the festival, CROMA is hosting a fundraiser this Sunday, June 11th from 12PM-9PM at City Star Brewing in Berthoud. The day features live music starting at 2PM, which includes performances from The Fiddle Dogs, The Brownsville Thomcats, and Ryan Drickey (of FY5) and Dusty Rider (of The Railsplitters) and friends, in addition to an old-time jam. The silent auction includes artwork from Nick Bachman and Howard Rains, CDs from David Bragger and the Field Recorders Collective, music lessons from local teachers (including yours truly), and items from local businesses, including Spirit Hound Distillers, Cajun Moon Design, Peet’s Coffee, and a chance to win a pair of tickets to this year’s CROMA festival. City Star is also donating $1 for every beer sold during the event, and Curbed Hunger will be on-site serving food all day.

A barn dance at CROMA last year. 

A barn dance at CROMA last year. 

You’ll also have another chance to dust off your boots before the festival at the next CROMA barn dance, which is being held on Friday, June 16th at The Music District in Fort Collins from 7PM-930PM. Admission is $10 for adults and $25 for the whole family (kids 12 and under are free), and all dances are taught, so no experience is necessary! This event is just a taste of the nightly barn dances at the festival. 

One of the stages at the 2016 CROMA festival.

One of the stages at the 2016 CROMA festival.

The CROMA festival kicks off on Wednesday, July 5th and runs through Sunday, July 9th. Veteran festival-goers will still appreciate the intimacy of the festival, diverse workshops, rollicking nightly dances, and jamming alongside lovers of old-time from across the country in the paradise of Parrish Ranch. However, this year’s festival will offer new aspects, including kids’ workshops and open stage times, couples dance workshops (like the Schottische, two-step, and waltz), and more diverse instrument workshops, like an old-time harmonica workshop led by Seth Shumate of The Ozark Highballers.

The lineup this year includes a variety of bands that hail from Galax, Virginia, West Virginia, and various parts of the Ozarks, including Eddie Bond and the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters, The Ozark Highballers, Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller, and The Musky Dimes and Lansford and McAlister. Dance callers include local favorite Larry Edelman of Denver, Dot Kent of Chicago, and Phil Jamison of Asheville, North Carolina. Additional instructors include Joanie and Steve Green, Tony Holmquist, and Barbara Rosner

While day passes are unlimited, camping tickets nearly sold out last year, so get your tickets early here. Volunteer positions are still available in exchange for day passes, and you can find out more by contacting CROMA here. If you are interested in joining the CROMA community, especially in regards to grant writing, social media and design, or other capacities, you can connect with them here. More information about CROMA is available on their website.

-Riley

Find out more about Riley on her blog.

All photos per the author. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.


Check out our coverage of CROMA last year for a taste of this year's sweetness:

Fostering American Roots: CROMA Is Keeping Old-Time Music Alive in the Front Range

Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains playing twin fiddles onstage at CROMA Festival. Later, the two hosted a workship titled, "Backing Up A Fiddle With A Fiddle."

Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains playing twin fiddles onstage at CROMA Festival. Later, the two hosted a workship titled, "Backing Up A Fiddle With A Fiddle."

It takes a community to keep a tradition alive- and only a generation to lose it. As Ray Bradbury said, “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” The same is true with music. With the advent of the internet, recordkeeping of cultural and artistic mediums has become exponentially easier, yet without direct engagement, some of these mediums are fading into the vague shadows of history. Such is true with Old-Time music. Without passing on the tunes, learning the dances, or even just having a public platform to share the traditions, Old-Time music faces the challenge of being passed down, not as a footnote of music history, but in young people’s hearts and in their blood.

A scene from the crowd at CROMA festival.

A scene from the crowd at CROMA festival.

Fortunately, opportunities to experience this part of our culture still exist, including in the heart of Colorado’s Front Range. Just recently, hundreds of people flocked to the festival put on by the Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA). Tucked away in the hills outside of Berthoud, Colorado, the festival is hosted at Parrish Ranch. Originally established more than half a century ago for people from across the country to learn and practice square and folk dances, the property is an Old-Time paradise now, complete with a dance hall, a dining room for workshops, a beach, and even an open-air kitchenette for tent campers.

Rina Rossi's clogging workshop.

Rina Rossi's clogging workshop.

What’s notable about Old-Time (including this particular festival) is how community-oriented the culture is. In addition to a festival-wide potluck, three nights of barn dances, and even a pancake breakfast on the last day of the festival, CROMA offers diverse workshops for people to learn something new. Rina Rossi, the bass player for The Bootlickers, and the caller for the Thursday night barn dance, noted the impact of these opportunities: “I think what makes it so different from other festivals is that you can learn how to participate through workshops, and that’s what gets people to come back: because they’re engaged.”

An afternoon barn dance was held at CROMA festival especially for families. Dances that are less complex were taught so young kids could follow the dance and have fun.

An afternoon barn dance was held at CROMA festival especially for families. Dances that are less complex were taught so young kids could follow the dance and have fun.

Workshops are not just limited to people new to Old-Time dancing and playing. Sammy Lind, fiddler and banjo player for Foghorn Stringband, approaches workshops in a way to help veteran players augment what they already know and do. “Playing the music so much, I hear things that are common struggles for people, and I like to share ways I’ve found my way out of them. I still consider myself to be a student, and I was really, really serious about it when I did start to learn it at 18 [years old],” he said.

Sammy Lind's clawhammer banjo workshop at "The Gathering Place" on the beach.

Sammy Lind's clawhammer banjo workshop at "The Gathering Place" on the beach.

In addition to these formally organized activities and performances, a major part of the festival is the jam scene. The tunes started early in the morning and lasted well past the sun coming up the following day, and they were even joined (and initiated) by the performing artists. As Lind put it, “The festival is made for people to just hang out together in different jams, and it kept happening for us. I got up to get coffee and I ended up jamming, and when I was going to pack up and take a nap, I ended up in another jam, and [that’s] just how it happened all day until I went to bed around two in the morning”. The intimate size of the festival certainly makes it conducive for artists and attendees to sit interspersed in the same circles, blurring the lines of a typical festival’s artist-versus-ticket-buyer distinction. For me, it was both humbling and an honor to sit in with artists I admire so much, and for them to be so casual and welcoming for anyone to join. I truly felt like part of a community at CROMA.

Parrish Ranch at sunset.

Parrish Ranch at sunset.

Some worry that Old-Time is struggling to survive, but Rina, who got involved with the Old-Time community in her college years, offered her take: “Nationally it seems like there’s a really healthy age demographic where there’s lots of 20 and 30 somethings, and every age group is represented, but it seems like in different localities it varies. Some people will say, ‘We don’t really have a lot of people who are younger in our scene’, but up in Minneapolis we really do have a lot of young people coming in,” she said. As long as opportunities like the CROMA festival exist to continue fostering a sense of community for all ages, Old-Time will endure the passage of time.

The Bootlickers entertain the CROMA crowd. 

The Bootlickers entertain the CROMA crowd. 

To learn more about Colorado Old-Time jams, community barn dances, upcoming festivals, and how you can support the Central Rockies Old-Time Association (nonprofit), visit the CROMA website.

See more of my photos from CROMA here. And check out the festival's photos here.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

All photos per the author. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.