Missoula Old Time Social

The Missoula Old Time Social features free workshops led by veteran musicians.

One thing to know before this weekend's Missoula Old Time Social: What old-time music is, really.

You can think of the music — from Southern Appalachia — as a relative of bluegrass, said organizer Chelle Karcher. There's the same instruments and some of the same songs, but it was designed to be played at dances, a main form of entertainment. You had a fiddler, and a caller, and that was what people did when they got together, she said.

It's the third annual social, which is now a nonprofit, Lake Missoula Old Time, with a fiscal sponsor, the Missoula Community Foundation. The volunteer-driven group puts on square dances around town. The social was started by Karcher, who plays fiddle with the Beet Tops, a local old-time string band.

She modeled the event on socials in other cities, which are kind of like a music festival but far more participatory.

The event has a free concert on Friday at the Top Hat; on Saturday, an afternoon's worth of free workshops, where people of all ages can learn about specific instruments (clawhammer banjo), styles (string-band classics), singing (yodeling, shape-note singing), and dancing (Appalachian flatfoot dancing), and then an evening square dance and cakewalk.

It's also a very participatory event, Karcher said. People who play instruments or those who don't are all welcome, across all age brackets.

Local businesses sponsor the event, which allows them to have the event downtown, and put it on free of charge. (The evening dance is $5.)

Many of the band members are teaching the Saturday workshops, plus informal jams in between.

The band Squirrel Butter is a Seattle old-time duo of Charmaine Slaven, a Stevensville native, and Charlie Beck. They'll play for free at the Top Hat on Friday, and again at the evening dance on Saturday, plus teach workshops.

"They could probably teach every workshop we're doing," Karcher said. The group has been featured on Prairie Home Companion.

Master fiddler Mike Williams of Helena has been playing for 40 years. He'll teach and play with the Primitive Stringband on Saturday night. Steve Laster, his bandmate, will teach clawhammer. Sally and Steve O'Neill of Bozeman will give an intro to old-time guitar.

"All of these people play five different instruments," Karcher said.

Bill Siems of Spokane will give a workshop on cowboy songs of Montana. "This is something he's been doing his whole life. It's pretty special we get to have him here to share," Karcher said.

Aaron Jennings of Missoula will give a yodeling workshop.

At the evening dance in the Governor's Ballroom of the Florence Building, they'll have a square dance complete with a caller.

"If you can walk, you can square-dance," she said. "You can make square dance complicated if you want, but what we're doing is traditional Southern square. It is made for beginners."

Plus, there's a cakewalk, where people have the chance to win a cake.


Go to missoulaoldtime.org for more information and full workshop descriptions.

Friday, April 26:

Family-friendly Concert at the Top Hat with Squirrel Butter, 6-8 p.m., all ages, free.

Saturday, April 27:

Free workshops from 12-5 p.m. at the Downtown Dance Collective and the Loft.

12-1 p.m.

Stringband classics with Mike Williams and Steve Laster

Beginning clawhammer with Dan Stone

Cowboy songs with Bill Siems

Fiddling for kids with Chelle Karcher

1-2 p.m.

Fiddling with Mike Williams

Carter family songs with Charmaine Slaven

Old-time guitar with Steve and Sally O'Neill

Banjo uke and ukulele with Bill Lacroix

2-3 p.m.

Shape-note singing with Jessica Catron

"Going Across the C" with Charlie Beck

Slow jam with Sally and Steve O'Neill and Alan Sillars

3-4 p.m.

Appalachian flatfoot dancing with Charmaine Slaven

Clawhammer banjo with Steve Laster

Beginning fiddle with Annie Caires

4-5 p.m.

Family dance with Bev Young

Three-finger banjo with Charlie Beck

Old-time mandolin with Brian Herbel

Yodeling with Aaron Jennings

Community Square Dance and Cakewalk

7-11 p.m., Governor's Ballroom, Florence Building

All ages with a caller. No-host bar.

Doors and opening band at 7 p.m. and dance at 8.

Openers are the Primitive Stringband. Callers are Charmaine Stevens and Caroline Stephens. The square-dance bands are the Beet Tops and Squirrel Butter. Admission is $5.