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It’s hip to be square: Old-time music is new again

Vancouver trending: Square dancing and old-time music makes a twang-y resurgence

Paul Silveria with his banjo.

James Murray/Submitted

Paul Silveria with his banjo.

At a local hall, hundreds of people from the young and hip to older traditionalists, some dressed in full vintage, others in jeans and T's, are dancing and laughing. Hanging on the caller's every word, they move in unison to the twang of banjos and fiddles.

Old- time music and square dancing scene has a whole new generation of followers in Vancouver.

"The Vancouver scene is building," according to Paul Silveria, a.k.a. Professor Banjo.

He bought a banjo "on a whim" 15 years ago, and discovered the growing old -time scene in Portland.

“A local dance caller took me under his wing. The thing that really pulled me in was the social aspect of the music and dancing. People had house parties and played music together as a way of hanging out."

He moved to Vancouver five years ago and joined forces with local musicians Kori Miyanishi and Chris Suen and has been putting on dances and growing the scene ever since.

Siveria calls dances at events like the Fringe Festival, UBC FarmAde, the annual Cultch square dance, and Mission Folk Fest. He also puts on a monthly series at the Wise Hall from fall to spring; brings a square dancing program to schools across the province; and plays banjo for adults and kids when he has the chance.

Around town, old-time string bands like the Royal Coachmen, the Wooly Bears, and the Heretics play regularly, Pacific Bluegrass and Heritage Society host weekly jams at the Anza Club and at Trout Lake in the summer months. There is a bi-monthly dance at Kitsilano Legion and monthly old-time dances at the Wise Hall (the next one is Oct. 21).

Dancers with caller in foreground.

Aaron Barna/Submitted

Dancers with caller in foreground.

On Oct. 22, the 4th annual East Van Opry, put on by fiddle Kathleen Nisbet, will be held at the Rio, showcasing bluegrass, early country, rockabilly, and Western swing.

Vancouverites seem to especially enjoy participating in the dances, which come from a time "when people played and danced together as their entertainment, " noted Silveria.

He thinks a love of old-time music persists "because when people see that they can dance together, or pick up an instrument and learn to join in, I think it really sparks people's interest. When people come to a square dance, they see folks of all generations dancing together, and that's a fun and rare thing."

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