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:

"Let's Build An Album Together!": Riley Ann's Latest Project Is All About Fem Rock

By: Claire Woodcock

Colorado's Riley Ann is ready to release her latest batch of songs. There’s just one problem:

“I want to move forward with not only recording this project, but also my whole music career. But when there are so many bands willing to play for so little, it’s hard to make a living as an artist. If you turn down a non-paying gig, there’s someone else behind you who’s willing to play for exposure. It undercuts everyone else and it really has a negative impact on the entire music community.”

Riley Ann’s path from fiddling folk in Illinois with The Matriarchs to her dynamic one-woman folk rock band paved her route to Colorado. Since her move in the fall of 2015, her presence and drive have initiated various collaborations, like her Old-time duo The Darling Ravens, and a new bluegrassy pop trio, DJ Meow Mix & the Grabbers.

“Although I have several musical projects going, this album is my passion project. Now that I’m back from tour, I’m getting an all-female rock band together. My new tunes need a full band, and that’s the perfect way to showcase them live.” she recently told me.

Riley Ann.

Riley Ann.

Her story of how, in a year, she became a vocal advocate for musicians to get paid a living wage for their art, is a story that many music transplants in Colorado’s bumping scene have had to grapple with.

“Artists deserve to get paid for their art. Playing simply for exposure devalues the music,” she said. “And when that mentality spreads, how do musicians make a living? It’s not going to be through album sales or digital sales. On Spotify I get one-tenth of a cent per listen. You can’t make a living on that.”

Riley Ann launched her Kickstarter campaign in November, teasing her first single “Bloodhounds,” which was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jay Elliott (IntroVertigo Recording) and Dominick Maita Mastering, both of whom are based in Boulder, Colorado. The single is an authentic sample of Riley Ann’s new sound from the forthcoming album, which features a full rock band.

“Bloodhounds” is dark and gritty, with roots in Old-time and a heart in rock’n’roll. Riley Ann’s single was recently featured on Colorado Sound as part of Chris K’s Colorado Playlist. Her vocals are vibrant, carrying the same electric currents in the realm of female frontwomen like Angel Olsen, St. Vincent or Mount Moriah.

“I’m excited to get these songs out into the world and I don’t want to risk having to record them one at a time as I can afford them,” she reasons. “Because the longer I wait, the longer they’re going to sit, and the more dated they’re going to sound. They sound current, they sound contemporary, and they just fit right now within this renewed appreciation for the fem rock scene. It’s kind of like when Mumford & Sons came out. Everyone tried to sound like Mumford & Sons, but by the time everyone began to sound like Mumford, it was too late.”

Riley Ann’s presence in the Boulder music scene is remarkable. Not only has she founded the Coalition of Women Songwriters organization, where she’s connecting female musicians with jam and performance opportunities, empowering them to tour, write, and negotiate a living wage for their art. She also volunteers with Girls Rock Denver, a nonprofit camp that helps teen girls find their voice and form bands and collaborations. Riley Ann has proven herself throughout the past year to be a musician dedicated to building up the community around her.

“I don’t want to nickel and dime this album, I want to do it right,” she says. “And using crowdfunding is the way for me to expedite this whole process and get these songs out into the world as soon as possible.”

Riley Ann’s Kickstarter campaign ends in just a few days, so make sure to give it a view to see her rewards and show support. Donating to a local artist means you’re donating to the Colorado music scene! More about Riley Ann and her music can be found on her website.

-Claire

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

CROMA Festival Celebrates 7th Year Next Week of Bringing Old-Time Music to the Rocky Mountains

By: Riley Ann

In 2010, three individuals were determined to initiate the only Old-Time music festival in a 1,000-mile radius, and they’ve been doing it ever since. This July will be the 7th annual Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) festival in Berthoud, CO from July 6th-10th. The festival features a variety of performers from across North America, including Foghorn Stringband (self-identified as “Ass Kickin’ Redneck Stringband Music”), Erynn Marshall & Carl Jones, the Red Squirrel Chasers, the Bootlickers, Spencer and Rains, and Vesta Johnson accompanied by her grandson, Steve Hall. The festival also hosts a variety of workshops, including an introduction to flatfoot dancing, how to “call” Old-Time dances, instrument and regional tune showcases, and varying levels of instrument instruction, like clawhammer banjo and fiddle bowing styles. See the full schedule of the festival here.

Foghorn String Band.

Foghorn String Band.

One of the most anticipated parts of the CROMA festival are the barn dances, which are held Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Attendees can look forward to instruction of each dance prior to songs starting, in addition to having a caller “call” or announce (and even sometimes sing) each move of the dance to the crowd. Dances vary from squares to full-group circles and reels (lines).

“It’s the opportunity to bring people together to share and celebrate Old-Time music,” said Bob Zuellig, one of the founding members of CROMA. The festival has gained national attention and draws people from across the country, which is in alignment with the non-profit’s mission: to preserve and present Old-Time music. “Personally, I have formed some awesome friendships with folks from other parts of the country that otherwise wouldn’t have come together,” he said.

The Bootlickers.

The Bootlickers.

Despite the feel-good atmosphere and growing success of the festival, it doesn’t come without its challenges. “Honestly, we had absolutely no idea what the heck we were getting ourselves into - how much work it would take, if anyone would show up, if it would stick... Today there are six of us who continue do most of the heavy lifting in organizing, and planning is pretty much year-round for a few of us,” Zuellig said, “The hardest part is we are unable to completely support the festival solely through ticket sales and [so we] rely on donations and fundraising for over a third of our budget. We have some awesome sponsors that have been with us since the beginning, and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Watch a video from a CROMA festival goer:

Tickets are still available for the festival next week, and range from $20-$125 depending on what portions of the festival you want to access. Children 15 and under are free to attend, and seniors are eligible for a discount. Purchase your tickets here! Individuals and bands may sign up for the newsletter, and businesses can learn more about membership benefits, including advertising, right here. I will be bringing you festival coverage on CROMA next week, so stay tuned!

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

All photos per CROMA and the artists featured. This article was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.