Creek Folk Music
| Deep Creek
3627 105th St.
Preston IA 52069-9617
Phone: (563) 689-6691
Email: Pat Walke
After many years of good times, the Mooney Hollow All-Night Barn Dance is no more. There are a variety of reasons why it wasn't able to continue, mostly conflicts with other events in the region. "Mooney Hollow" used to be the only event in the area that featured old time music and dance. Now there are many such events going on, which is good for the old time and dance community. The Mooney Hollow All-Night Dance served its purpose, to help people of like-minded musical tastes to find each other, to play music together and dance.
Here's a history of the dances, as written by myself for the Old Time Herald. This is the unedited version that I sent to the Old Time Herald in June of 1993:
The Mooney Hollow All-Night Dance
By Pat Walke
At 8 pm on Saturday evening, Gail Hintze of Bishop Hill, Illinois, stepped up to the caller's mike. A string band from Eastern Iowa, The Ridgerunners, was ready to play on the wooden stage that was designed to look like a back porch. Dancers were finding partners and organizing themselves out on the floor. The Mooney Hollow All-Night Barn Dance was underway!
The Mooney Hollow All-Night Barn Dance is held every year on the third Saturday of May at the Mooney Hollow Barn, a renovated diary barn on Highway 52, between Sabula and Bellevue, in Eastern Iowa. The site is dominated by the 30 foot tall full-color fiddle painted on the silo, right next to the barn. Mooney Hollow is about three hours west of Chicago, four hours east of Des Moines.
On May 17th of this year, the barn was opened for the dance at 2 pm by Mike Mumm and myself. We brought the kitchen and registration supplies. This year we found Bill Hart and Karen Pierce already carrying the sound system components up the stairs to the stage area when we got there. That surprised us, because we knew they had done the sound the night before at the Scattergood Dance, run by Dan Treadway. I suppose they figured that as long as everything was collected in the van, they may as well just bring it to Mooney Hollow and set it all up again. Bill always does a fine professional job with the sound system.
During the afternoon, the jam session began near the potluck tables and kitchen area, of dulcimers, fiddles, mandolins, guitars, keyboard and banjos. The stage, dance floor and loft area are all on the second floor, in the main part of the barn. The handmade rustic tables and chairs along the sides of the dance floor are in the parts of the barn that used to be the side sheds and hay lofts. The potluck tables and kitchen are just off of the dance floor. Many windows allow both sunlight and air to stream into the area on the south side of the building.
As Mike prepared the beverages in the kitchen and I set up the welcome table, the early-arrivers swept the dance floor. The owners of the barn, Judy and Marv Manning, told me that we could open up the loft. I pushed up the door at the top of the stairs, hooked it, and took a look at the floor and tables. They weren’t too dusty, but I swept the floor, and one of the dancers, Jack, wiped off the tables. The rafters of the rounded barn roof arched overhead. The old hay rope and the carrier for the hay forks were still hanging from the iron track. The old hay door was closed, permanently. Looking toward the stage, I saw the huge exhaust fan above the stage area and remembered that dancers like cool air and hastened downstairs to find the switch for the fan, and to turn on more lights for the loft area. Later on that evening, one of the dancers set up a video camera in the loft to record the proceedings. It’s a great place to watch the dance and listen to the music.
Free camping space was available on a grassy hill just to the west of the barn. During the afternoon, the participants stopped in upstairs at the barn, left their potluck donations on the table or in the refrigerator, paid up, and headed out to the grassy area to set up camp. As folks came up the stairs, the first thing they saw was the "Welcome to Mooney Hollow All Night Barn Dance" banner. Right there in the old ticket booth area, I maintained the mailing list an old IBM laptop. The band and caller signup clipboard was on a table along the north wall, along with newsletter subscription forms, Mooney Hollow T-shirts, coffee mugs, flyers from other local dances and maps.
The potluck began between 5:30 and 6 pm, with two tables of goodies. The Deep Creek Folk Music Connection, the monthly folk music and dance newsletter that I edit, sponsored the dance, and this year we provided a smoked Muscovy duck. The beverages were all free for the participants of the dance. Besides the juice, water and tea, Mike provided a steady stream of his fresh home-roasted coffees all night.
The participants came from the eastern half of Iowa, northern Illinois or southern Wisconsin. The price was $15 for potluck and dance for non-subscribers, $10 for subscribers to the Deep Creek Folk Music Connection. The musicians and callers were encouraged to sign up for the one-hour time slots at the registration booth. As soon as they got off stage, they were entitled to their money back.
The dance itself started at 8 pm and the last set ended a little after 1 am. Generally, the music played at the dance was a mix of old-time and contradance music. At this last dance in May of 2003, The Ridgerunners, comprised of Gary and Bill Hart, Karen Pierce, Keith Haworth, Eric Backus, and Keith Yoder, played the first set. The second set was played by The Good Old Way, with David Gardner on fiddle, Annie Grieshop on piano and myself on banjo. The Bow-Mites followed. In that group Art Lang, from the Chicago area, was on fiddle, Keith Yoder on guitar, and myself on banjo. Usually, Cathy Ciolac plays mountain dulcimer in the Bow-Mites but she was unable to attend this year. A group that actually met and started their band at Mooney Hollow about three years ago, Just For Fun, played in the eleven o’clock slot. The people in that group are Linda Slack on fiddle, Chris Clark on mountain dulcimer or guitar, Jean Duncan on bass and Lottie Trudell on tin whistle. Yvonne Price plays harmonica and Lila Gehner plays banjo but they were unable to attend Mooney Hollow this year. The midnight to one o’clock slot was taken over by the members of the jam session that had been going on downstairs all evening. A little after midnight, Mike went downstairs and yelled "We need a band! Get upstairs!" Soon, Tom Potter, Eric Backus, Art Lang, Keith Yoder and Chris Clark were assembled on stage to finish out the last set. Tim Jenkins, of Gays Mills, Wisconsin, showed up around that time. He called the dances from the floor.
In its beginning years, the Mooney Hollow All Night Dance was bigger, with more dancers and musicians from further away. Now, the number of participants has been around 40 or 50 people. This was the first year we really only had one seasoned caller, Gail Hintze, show up at the beginning of the dance. It wasn’t fair to expect her to carry the load for the whole evening because she had called the whole dance the night before at Scattergood School near West Branch, Iowa. Gail did call the first set and Kathy Kaiser, from Dubuque, Iowa, called the next one. Mike Trudell, from Rock Island, Illinois, Sue Engelbrecht, from Dyersville, Iowa, Wendy Barth, of Cedar Rapids, and Mike Mumm called their favorite dances during the next sets. Gail filled in here and there, and later on, Tim Jenkins, who is also a professional caller, did some calling from the floor. I believe this was the first year that we had so many people call their first dances at Mooney Hollow.
The dance was over at 1 am, but the jamming continued until about four o’clock in the morning. We’ve always thought that jamming had to be a part of the process and we have never discouraged it, even while the dance was going on upstairs.
After everyone had a chance to get a little sleep, they were welcomed to a "cold" breakfast of granola, fruit, bagels, English muffins, sweet rolls, orange juice, milk or a cup of good strong coffee from the potluck area on Sunday morning. The owners of the barn run a cafe downstairs year-round, in what could have been the old milking parlor. We, as the dance organizers, supplied the "cold" breakfast as part of the registration fee, but many of the barn dance participants take advantage of the inexpensive, generous portions of a hot farmer’s breakfast on Sunday morning in the cafe downstairs or even stay for lunch as things are being cleaned up and put away upstairs in the barn.
The 1993 Moony Hollow All Night Dance was featured on the Iowa Public Television "Living in Iowa" program hosted by Morgan Halgren. For a few years after that, Mike and I brought along a VCR so that out-of-state participants could see themselves on the taped segment. A blurb on the barn dance flyer invited participants to bring any videos they would like to share with others. The corner of the barn where the VCR was set up was popular on Sunday morning as folks would get breakfast and curl up to watch "Sprout Wings and Fly" or "Talking Feet." Now, the jamming begins during and after breakfast and goes until it’s time to leave. Sometimes a dance may form on the dance floor.
In the early years, we tried to hold workshops like other dance weekends, but that was pretty much of a failure. The original concept of this dance has always been that the participants should come to play the music or call or dance, that everyone could do everything. Therefore, there are no paid bands, callers or workshop presenters. Their payment is that they get their money back when they get off stage. Over the years, we’ve been told that we should hire this or that band or caller, but we’ve stuck to this format of pickup or local bands and volunteer callers. Having so many beginner callers this year, from the pool of musicians and dancers, we think, is a good sign of a viable dance community. Besides that, we never wanted to make the local bands feel bad by paying someone else to come in and play essentially the same music, and we really didn’t want to bother with figuring out which band was "better" than another and, therefore, worthy of payment! We’ve watched other folk music or dance organizations struggle with this issue over the years. The Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association, for instance, lets local bands or bands that belong to the club play on the main stage at their yearly festival every other year, just to try to keep everyone somewhat happy. We’ve seen other old time music and dance organizations completely disintegrate and spin out of existence over these issues about who gets paid and who doesn’t. This "community" concept has worked for us. I think we all get along pretty well.
In this part of Iowa, barn dances, in real barns, and house parties, with visiting neighbors, relatives and friends, were historically a part of the rural social life in the 1920s and 1930s. When Mike and I perform, we usually ask if any one in the audience has ever gone to a barn dance or a house party. Four or five hands always go up. Dances were also held in one room country schools, the last of which closed around here in the 1960s. So, this dance is a reflection of those dances, held by farmers, who got together when the work was done. Now we just say that it’s up to the participants to come and invent their own fun. If they want to learn something from someone, all they have to do is go up to that person and ask.
You may be wondering how or why a full-blown all-night dance got started in Eastern Iowa. The major reason was because many of us had already been to our first all-night barn dances, right in our own back yard, when the mountain came to us. When Bonnie, Howard and Rhys Jones (yes, the Rhys Jones, who won the fiddling contest at Clifftop in 2002!) moved out here to Clinton, Iowa, from Chicago many years ago, they missed the barn dance scene they had enjoyed in Chicago. They persuaded the Chicago Barn Dance Company to have its Breaking Up Thanksgiving Dance Weekend in Clinton a couple times (the last one was in November 1986), as well as a spring dance. Those dances were held at the Clinton Boat Club, a two-story building right on the Mississippi river front. The whole upstairs story of the Boat Club was the dance floor, with a large screened-in porch overlooking the river along the entire east wall. The huge wooden dance floor was filled with dancers, many from Chicago, and the old-time music was some of the best in the Midwest, with the Volo Bogtrotters and Mark Gunther on hand, among others. Downstairs, the potluck table was laden, and the jamming went on all night. We locals all thought we had died and went to heaven!
Meanwhile, the River City Friends of Folk Music was co-sponsoring concerts in Clinton at the Nature Barn near Eagle Point Park. After too many sporadic attendances, we decided to stop offering the concerts, but because we had booked the barn for one more month, one last fling of River City Friends was in order. Jim Peart, Bill Mort, David Evers, David Layton and Bob Richards had a reunion concert of their old string band, Barn Dance. That was Jan. 19, 1989. Bonnie Jones came to the concert and was inspired to use her dance community contacts to stage an all-night dance in the Clinton area, possibly at the Boat Club, using the musicians from around here. She discovered that the Boat Club was not available, but she found that neat barn with the fiddle on the silo, further up the Mississippi River.
Now, you must realize that most dances around here are with mainstream country and western or rock bands and everybody goes home when the bar closes, at 2 am. The Mooney Hollow owners, Marv & Judy Manning, didn't quite know what was going to happen when a couple showed up from Clinton and wanted to rent the barn for 24 hours, from 2 pm on Saturday until 2 pm on Sunday. However, the Mannings went along with it, and, because they both play old-time country music, they had a great time jamming during that first dance, and Judy even danced a few times. Now, they're both very supportive of this yearly event. Bonnie managed to get that first Mooney Hollow All-Night Dance on the Chicago Barn Dance Company calendar. The first dance in April of 1989 had about 140 participants, with folks from all over the Midwest. It was a success.
Later that year, the Jones family moved to Des Moines for another job opportunity, and without their expertise and contacts, the Eastern Iowa all-night dance just about died off for good. No one in River City Friends thought they could tackle putting on an all-night barn dance. However, spring rolled around again, and some kind of gathering seemed to be in order. That year was the third and last RCF picnic at Spragueville that just about blew everyone away, literally. More about that later! The next spring, in 1991, Mike and I put on the first Mooney Hollow All Night Dance, with Bill Mort's help. Bill had managed the Stone City General Store for a number of years, including masterminding a historic concert by Doc Watson, Greg Brown and Dave Moore, that was taped for Iowa Public Television. He contacted Marv & Judy Manning, who were receptive to the idea of another all night dance. Bonnie contributed the mailing list and told Mike and I what we had to buy and what we had to do. The flyers were made up, sent out, and a listing on the Chicago Barn Dance calendar alerted the dance community. Again, it was a success. Bill Mort wasn't able to help with the dance the next year, in 1992, so Mike Mumm and I tackled that one by ourselves. It’s been a yearly dance ever since.
While the early Clinton all-night dances were going on, the River City Friends of Folk Music was just beginning. The club began in May of 1985, when I set up a card table at the Art in the Park in Clinton, Iowa, to see if anyone was interested in joining. To attract attention, I played clawhammer banjo all afternoon. Six people signed up and the club was born. In June, I began to print a newsletter on a monthly basis. One of my frustrations with being a fan of old-time music was that I was missing folk events such as concerts or festivals because there was no network for that kind of information in Iowa. That was in 1985, in the pre-Folk Alliance, pre-Old Time Herald days.
I first went to Willow Folk Festival in 1978, but that was after at least two years of seeing the event covered in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald AFTER it happened. I finally got an address and a phone number, and found out when the next one was scheduled. I made sure I attended. That is where I first met many of the local musicians who were playing old-time music. During those years I found out about the Rockford Folk Festival and discovered the thriving Madison Folk Music Society in Wisconsin. I ran across a copy of Aural Traditions, a one-page newsletter packed with Chicago-area events and venues. Aural Traditions still prints a comprehensive Midwestern festival guide for the summer. Because I had a mountain dulcimer, I was interested in festivals or events that featured that instrument. The Dulcimer Player News has been indispensable. Likewise, because I played autoharp, the Autoharpoholic was great for listing festivals. Now, it seems that this information is so easy to come by, mostly via the Internet and email, but I remember when it wasn't. I began the newsletter on an old Commodore 64, just because it was a whole lot easier than typing it up on a typewriter--but not much! Those were the bad old days, printing the newsletter out on a dot matrix printer. It seemed that I was always running out of ink. As I remember, it took several minutes per page.
As for any meetings or minutes or Robert's Rules and by-laws, those ideas quickly fell by the wayside at RCF meetings. For those early members of RCF, the main reason for get-togethers or "meetings" was to play music. A few enthusiastic all-night parties were held on a monthly basis in the early years, with people coming from Illinois and Iowa to play music until the wee hours. Some folk clubs get very organized right away and go on to do great things like put on a festival or a concert series, but RCF has always been a little too haphazard for that. For one thing, from the beginning, the emphasis has been on old-time music, not location. The subscriber-members lived all over the Midwest. Monthly meetings just became impossible.
Though the newsletter met the needs of the folks who wanted information on festivals or events, many of the members decided that the Willow Folk Festival was so much fun that it should be duplicated. Because David Evers was into buckskinner rendezvousing (fur-trade era reenacting), he knew about a site on the Maquoketa River near Spragueville, Iowa, that was used by 'skinners for their rendezvous. He contacted the farmer who owned the land, and RCF had its first folk festival on September. 5-7, 1987, complete with workshops. Well, it turned out to be a picnic in a beautiful open field next to the river with a big jam session. There were no big crowds of people because the "festival" was back in a farmer's field. You had to open and close the gate, (after reading the threatening sign) drive along the dirt road through the gully, skirting around a bluff along the river to the big grassy field. Buckskinners are used to such things, but not the general public. Still, it was a memorable event for those involved. The event was repeated the next year, but, the weather was rather cold. The kids got into a hornets' nest at the end of the day on Sunday, which put a damper on the participants' enthusiasm.
The third and last attempt at an RCF folk festival was in June of 1990, which is still talked about by those who were there. The weather was windy, rainy and cold. Tornado and severe thunderstorm watches were in effect for most of the weekend. It didn‘t rain that much but it was very windy. One member brought a huge green Army mess tent and sometimes everyone had to hang onto the edges of the canvas, just so it wouldn't go sailing away. However, everyone sang and danced, cooked their meals together, and tried various ploys, all unsuccessful, to get the rain and wind to stop over the weekend. Karen Impola had just taken over the daily folk music program at the public radio station, KUNI, in Cedar Falls, and was out to see what kind of folk scene existed in Iowa. She made it through the gate, down the road and around the last corner. Whenever anyone ventured in, everyone came out of the tents, all shouting and waving our arms, yelling, "Don't stop!", for if anyone did, they'd be stuck in that big mud hole at the entrance. Karen got the same hearty welcome! The Saturday night dance was held, all right, and the next day when the tent was taken down, there was a big flattened-out circle in the grass where everyone had danced, looking like an alien had landed.
The name, River City Friends of Folk Music, was changed to the Deep Creek Folk Music Connection in May of 1994. I had gotten a new 486 multi-media PC, with a hard drive, modem, the works, in the fall of 1993. I began to use Microsoft Publisher software. With the marked change in the look of the newsletter, it seemed like a good time to change the River City Friends of Folk Music name as well. "River City Friends" had the connotation of Clinton, Iowa, and Mike and hadn’t lived near there in years. We’d been living near Preston for about five years on the Goose Lake road. Deep Creek flows through the ancient riverbed of the Mississippi, and it's a half mile from our farm house.
Probably because of the failure of the Nature Barn concerts, we know all too well that a person can't just go rent a hall and have a successful event unless some traditions are in place. In this area, many of the participants at Mooney Hollow had experienced those wonderful Breaking Up Thanksgiving dances at the Boat Club in Clinton. Many of the "local" musicians were used to the Willow Folk Festival, where musicians got in for free if they played on stage for 10-15 minutes. The Mooney Hollow All-Night Dance merely stretches the sets out to an hour, adds a caller, many good dancers, something to eat and drink, and the facilities for camping and jamming.
Another strength of the dance is that it is an all-nighter. Because it lasts longer than a few hours, people are encouraged to travel longer distances and stay over. Best of all, to those who literally weathered the Spragueville RCF folk festivals, though the rain and storm may hinder some jamming outside, the Mooney Hollow Barn is nice and dry for the duration of the whole dance!
The Mooney Hollow All-Night Dance is the most successful venture of the Deep Creek Folk Music Connection. The receipts from each dance finance the next one. However, no matter what kind of planning or work has been done or not done, by 8 pm on Saturday night, the dance is on its own. By that time, everyone who was coming to the dance has already shown up and if they're not dancing, or calling or playing on stage, they've found the jam session downstairs or out in the campground. It's a time of meeting old and new friends, catching up around the potluck tables, or playing tunes with a favorite fiddler or banjo player.
The dance was officially done at 2 pm on Sunday afternoon. Mike and I had packed all the paraphernalia into the RV and the car. Bill and Karen had all of their sound equipment loaded into the van. Mike was about ready to head back to Preston. It was a time for good-byes, and everyone was on their way home. I went downstairs to pay Judy for the 24-hour rental of the barn. She marked the next Mooney Hollow All-Night Dance on her calendar for next year, the third Saturday in May.
Though the Mooney Hollow All-Night Dance is now a thing of the past, I'm sure the good times will live on in our memories. I'm sure, if you were a participant of the dance, you probably have another whole set of memories! If you would like to share your memories of a favorite year at the dance, please email me and I'll add them to this site. Thanks for coming to the dance and I hope you always had a good time.
by Pat Walke on June 24, 1999 firstname.lastname@example.org