Open Band

Open Band night means no pre-arranged sets, no rehearsed repertoire, just in-the-moment, straight-from-the-heart dance music played close to the floor!

If you have never played in an Old Farmer’s Ball Open Band Night, you are in for a treat!  Bring your instrument, your tune list, and a friend, and come on out for a truly unique musical experience.  If you want to be sure to play in the first half, be there, tuned up, and ready for sound check at 7pm.

If you are wondering how the OFB open band works – read on.   

Here’s how open bands work at a contra dance: the caller shares the dance choreography with the band leader, who then checks in with the band to figure out what tunes to play.  Different leaders do this in different ways, but all of them will invite you to make tune suggestions from the common contra dance repertoire that fit the choreography. Some will send around a list for you to list some favorite tunes, others just ask for suggestions.  Once the leader decides the medley, they make sure everyone knows what we are going to play, and off we go!

No worries if you don’t know the tune. You have lots of options – play backup, take a break from playing for that tune, or leave the stage and do a dance or two. You will also have a better chance of knowing the tunes if you bring a list of the contra dance tunes that you know and then speak up when asked for tune suggestions.

If you feel the need to prepare for the dance, you can make a list of all the common contra dance tunes that you can play up to the dance tempo – about 115 to 120 beats per minute. Think about including tunes on your list that are “friendly” to a group of musicians of varied abilities and experience.  Friendly tunes use traditional phrasing, chord, and melody patterns and are in the “people’s keys” – D, A, G, Am, Em, Dm.  Pick a nice variety of tunes – major and minor keys, more and less notey – marches, single and double jigs, laid-back and driving reels, and hoedowns. And pick tunes from a variety of traditions – New England, French Canadian, Cape Breton, Irish, and Appalachian.

You might want to organize these tunes into marches, jigs, and reels, and be sure to write the key by each tune title. This way, if the leader needs or asks for a “jig in A” or a “march in Em”, you will be able to quickly find and suggest a tune that you know meets the need.  Remember to include some common waltzes in your list too.

If you are not sure you know what tunes are in the common contra dance repertoire, here are some examples below.  This list is not complete or exclusive – but will give you a good idea of the types of tunes that contra dance musicians play.

  • Amelia’s Waltz G
  • Ash Grove G
  • Benton’s Dream Am
  • Bonapart Crossing the Rhine D
  • Brenda Stubbert’s Am
  • Bus Stop Am
  • Chorus Jig D/G
  • Cliffs of Moher Am
  • Cold Frosty Morning Am
  • Connaughtman’s Rambles D
  • Cooley’s Reel Em
  • Durang’s Hornpipe D
  • Far Away Bm
  • Father Kelly’s G
  • Fisher’s Hornpipe D
  • Fly Around My Pretty LIttle Miss D
  • Flying Home to Shelley G
  • Forked Deer D
  • Gaspe Reel D
  • Girl I Left Behind Me G
  • Growling Old Man, Grumbling Old Woman Am/A
  • Highlander’s Farewell Am
  • Homage a Edmond Perizeau A
  • Hunting the Buffalo A
  • Irishman’s Hearts to the Ladies A
  • Julia Delaney DmKitchen Girl A/Am
  • Kesh Jig G
  • Lamplighter’s Hornpipe A
  • Maid Behind the Bar D
  • March of St. Timothy G
  • Margaret’s Waltz A
  • Merry Blacksmith (Paddy on the Railroad) D
  • Midnight on the Water D
  • Morrison’s Jig Em
  • Nail That Catfish G
  • North Carolina Breakdown G
  • Off She Goes D
  • Old French D/A
  • Old Grey Cat Em
  • Out on the Ocean G
  • Quarry Cross Em
  • Red Haired Boy A
  • Redwing G
  • Reel du St. Antoine A
  • Reel de Montreal G/D
  • Reconciliation Reel A
  • Road to Lisdoonvarna Em
  • Rory O’More G
  • St. Anne’s Reel D
  • Sandy Boys A
  • Seneca Square Dance G
  • Shandon Bells D
  • Sheehan’s Reel G
  • Shenandoah Falls A
  • Ships are Sailing Em
  • Spootiskerry G
  • Spotted Pony D
  • Star of the County Down Am
  • Swinging on the Gate G
  • Tam Lin Dm
  • Temperance Reel Em
  • Tennessee Waltz G
  • Turkey in the Straw G
  • Waiting for Nancy
  • Walker Street (The Traveller) G
  • Whiskey Before Breakfast D
  • Yellow Rose of Texas D