Folks started to arrive at The Barn in San Marcos to shoot a pilot for a History Channel series called Barn Dance. They brought with them a buzz of excitement that could be felt in the air. Donna Hawkins, Whirlaways Co-President and Palomar Square Dance Association’s mover and shaker, had promised them a great time, the possibility of the face-time on a television show, and dancing to live music. Ron Nelson, the director and creative mind behind the project, had met with the three callers early in the morning to explain what was going to happen. I was one of those callers.
Turn back with me a couple of months before the big day. I was chatting on the phone with a friend – one of the other callers. My eyebrow inched upward when Pat Carnathan first mentioned the idea of playing a live music dance for a television show. As the owner and creative genius behind Shakedown Records, a popular square dance music label, Pat is no stranger to the music or live performances for a dance. I, on the other hand, had only one such dance under my belt for which Michael Kellogg and I hired a band to play while we called. This I explained to Pat.
Undaunted, he grilled me with questions about how well I played the guitar. Could I play solid rhythm while I called? Reluctantly I told him I could probably manage that. He explained what the upcoming dance was all about and assured me that we had plenty of time. Events unfolded over the next couple of weeks until finally Vic Kaaria, Pat and I gathered at Pat’s house for our first rehearsal. I brought a banjo, a pair of guitars, both acoustic and electric, and a chromatic harmonica. Vic brought a couple of nice guitars and a PA system. They had the whole place wired for sound when I walked in. It was rather like the fly being invited into the parlor.
I have to admit, we had a great time, but things didn’t shake-down the way I expected. For one thing, Vic was signed up to play lead, which I felt was probably a bit beyond me. I played Bluegrass, and Jazz standards, not Rock and Roll, and I was not an expert at playing driving leads. We tried various things, and Vic and Pat seemed to spend a lot of time making eyes at one another. By the time we were finished with the session, they decided I was to be the lead player, and that the banjo should be used on the Fleetwood Mac tune. Vic was ecstatic to once again be the “rhythm guy,” and Pat was satisfied that we could pull it all off in time. I walked out shaking my head, wondering if they had planned it all in advance.
After several more rehearsals, a lot of hard work, and a little luck of the Irish, the big day arrived. We gathered at the Barn and found ourselves listening to suggestions from Ron about various topics. Shauna Kaaria was elected to be our roadie, and she sat down to woman the sound board. I mentioned that buzz of excitement the dancers brought with them, and it only served to enhance my nervousness about playing lead guitar. I didn’t want to let them down.
While we went through a few of our numbers to check the sound, some of the dancers huddled around the doorways and watched. We were sounding pretty good from where I was standing, but there were a few things to correct. Charlie Robertson listened and offered corrective advice, and I was feeling a little more confident that we could pull it off when we were finished with the sound check.
The dancers took the floor, among them my wife Heather and 7 year old daughter, Cathrine. Pat and Vic created an instant rapport with those assembled, and Ron explained to everyone what the project was all about. You can see his address in the Outtakes Video.
We played 5 tunes, and treated the whole affair like a real dance, although due to some technical difficulties, we had to start a song or two over from the beginning. The dancers seemed to really enjoy it, and I admit I was able to relax and have a good time too. When the hall emptied of dancers, we had to play it all again so the crew could get close-ups of the band. I’m not sure who’d want to see my mug plastered across a big screen, but I’ll trust the editors to decide what’s entertaining.
At the end of it all, I was exhausted, but I was smiling. It’s a great feeling to be able to come back into an activity and be welcomed with such open arms. Some folks remembered me from my earlier days as a Caller. Donna remembered that I had called at the Fiesta in San Diego. Charlie came up and said, “Wow!” He complimented me on my banjo playing. He also shot a collection of photos for me with my camera. Thanks Charlie.
Recently I’ve been asked about other live music events, and Pat is considering it. There may be something in the wind. I remember that excitement that the dancers had. I remember that same feeling from the days I first started dancing. There were big dances in those days, and that buzz was with us. If we can create it again, whatever happens, I believe, will be worthwhile.