Go Listen Boise's Grand Ol' Time 

It's hip to be square

Don't confuse bluegrass and old time music. Though both styles feature fiddles, banjos and mandolins, the end products are worlds apart. Old time is the front-porch-strumming, working man's dance music, while bluegrass has more in common with jazz and its furious, virtuosic instrument solos. Online, the rifts between these two styles run hilariously deep. On bluegrasswest.com, they break it down as: "A BG band tells terrible jokes while tuning. An OT band tells terrible jokes without bothering to tune." Or "BG band members never smile. OT band members will smile if you give them a drink."

To help dispel stereotypes and introduce old time music to Boise audiences, Go Listen Boise has linked arms with Boise Weekly, the Linen Building and the Record Exchange to put together Grand Ol' Time, a monthly concert series and square dance.

"We had the idea of doing a square dance, but doing it more than once so that it could sort of catch on a little bit and we could expose the community to this genre that doesn't really have a face here yet," said Ali Ward, Go Listen Boise organizer and percussionist for local act Hillfolk Noir.

For the inaugural event, locals Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats and Bill Coffey will get toes tapping before the Hokum Hi-Flyers storm the stage for the square dance. Dorothy Shue, a founding member of the Idaho Folklore Society, will call the dances.

"For old time square dancing, you just teach everything on the spot," said Shue. "You try to make it as easy as possible so everyone can just get up if they have a basic idea of right and left."

For those who are rusty on their square dancing terms, here's a little background. There are two types of square dancing: traditional and Western. While Western square dancing is exacting and often performed to recorded music, traditional square dancing is done with a live band and is much more laid-back, allowing anyone to participate. Both styles feature a caller--someone who yells out dance moves over the music--to explain each move ahead of time.

"It takes about five minutes, and you explain to people what a dosado is and how to swing their partner and swing their corner. Just basic things that maybe some people learned in fourth grade," said Shue. "There is something called 'rattlesnake twist,' 'duck for the oyster' and 'dive for the clams.' Just goofy old things, and there's set calls for them."

But if you're quaking in your cowboy boots at the thought of attempting the rattlesnake twist with a complete stranger, Shue has a word of advice: "relax." Half of the fun of traditional square dancing is making mistakes.

"People are always shy about getting up, but there's just no rules and nobody is grading anybody," said Shue. "A lot of times it's as much fun when you make mistakes as when you don't. We're not looking for perfection at all. I just like to see people having a good time, and usually people are always smiling when they're dancing."

According to Ward, square dancing is no longer the outdated, dowdy dance associated with grade-school gym class. With square dancing clubs popping up everywhere from Portland, Ore., to San Francisco, the dance is becoming no longer, well, square.

"Apparently, it's a pretty young hip thing that's happening right now on the West Coast," said Ward. "It seems like Boise would be a great place for some of these bands to come and be able to book shows. If there's a crowd there of people that get it and are turned onto it, then we can broaden that whole genre. I think there's a lot of those bands that ... probably drive right through town."

Ward's husband, Travis, upright bassist, guitar player and vocalist for Hokum Hi-Flyers, also hopes that Grand Ol' Time will help create an old-time revival. Or at least attract some young blood.

"It's cool to introduce new people to it," said Travis. "The genre is going to remain intact forever; there's always going to be the people like me ... who have the gene that makes you love the old time music so much."

Part of the mission of Go Listen Boise is to facilitate and support the proliferation of local music. In addition to securing local openers for Alive After Five again this year, the organization also recently started a successful street busking campaign, Boise Buskers: Making Change in Boise, "to educate and promote the idea of busking in the streets of Boise." From broadening people's misconceptions about street corner performers to introducing younger audiences to old time music and the art of square dancing, Go Listen Boise is helping to enrich Boise's local music scene.

"Really, every local music event is kind of a Go Listen Boise event," said Ward. "It's about activating the audience members and the musicians to work together and support this culture."

And while the Wards are already some of the younger players in the local old time revival circuit, they hope to introduce the music to even younger generations. At the inaugural Grand Ol' Time, the duo plans to dosado with their three young kids in tow.

"The music is pretty infectious, and Boise's such a good fit for it because it's so family oriented," said Ali Ward. "It's very much community building, family oriented, old-time fun."

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