Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle on May 16, 2002
One contra dance and Celtic band is on the private party circuit too - May, 16, 2002
The contra dance band The Flying Garbanzos will continue the regional contra dance circuit this summer while also playing at parties, weddings, assisted-living centers, or anywhere live in their hometown of North Adams. They enjoy fiddling old Celtic reels and Appalachian standards just to brighten the day.
"We should put a sign up that says we'll play for smiles," says percussionist Josh Pisano in a recent interview with part of the band.
It all started after violinist Eric Buddington biked through North Adams on a 1997 trip and decided to stay. He met bassist Dale Ott (who called Eric a "recovering classical player") and guitarist Tony Pisano, Josh's father, and a band emerged naturally about a year ago.
"We didn't really sit down [and] say we want to start a band," says Tony. "It just kind of happened."
Everyone had Friday mornings off, so Appalachian Bean Cafe on Main Street in North Adams hosted some morning music. With acoustic instruments and a minimal style, the Garbanzos say they're pleased to play for fun, often barefoot. Listeners might buy their first album, Windsor Lake, find out about their schedule, or just walk by, never to appear again. Ott likens the band to Joni Mitchell's song "For Free." A clarinet player toots out his notes on a street corner while Mitchell shops for jewels and plays for "fortunes / And those velvet curtain calls."
"[The song] had a couple other underlying themes about business and music ... and how she couldn't play with him because he's playing for free. But we like being that guy," says Ott.
Josh says they don't try to draw attention to themselves, but one thing does: the name.
"Everyone loves it," says Ott. "More people comment on our name." Parents ask about birthday parties because it sounds fun, Tony says. He came up with Garbanzos because many contra dance bands have some food in their name, like Rhubarb Pie from Western Massachusetts. And Flying sounds like trapeze artists.
"We should learn to juggle," says Josh. "Three balls, guitars, a violin ... the bass would probably be a little difficult," he adds, smiling.
Contra dancing is similar to square dancing. Callers instruct couples on forming patterns and dancing through them while pairing with others. The Garbanzos perform the third Friday of every month at St. John's Episcopal Church in North Adams, and various times in Saratoga, Albany, Pittsfield ‹ or anywhere within one hour's drive.
"Everyone in the whole contra dance culture is friendly," Tony says. Without much money to pay them, the hosts sometimes buy supper or give free food.
"We're always willing to negotiate and barter," Ott says.
The Garbanzos have their regular jobs ‹ Tony has worked with sheet metal 27 years, while Josh assists people with mental illness. Ott calls himself a "struggling free-lance writer" with a niche in biomedical articles; and Buddington works with computers, designs software and volunteers at the public access cable station.
They also enjoy the outdoors, recording their first album while camping at Windsor Lake in North Adams. The album has some countryside songs, too, in "Swallowtail Reel," "Connaught Man's Rambles," and Tony's song "Pickin' at the Hoosic Tunnel," written while camping nearby.
"I walked to the tunnel with my mandolin, and just fiddled around," he says. "To me it was like people were working in the tunnel pounding the rails ... picking the rocks. A lot of songs are written like that."
For special events in addition to contra dancing, The Flying Garbanzos will play for Riverfest in May, the yearly festival for Hoosic River Watershed Association. And summer will include an appearance at the summer series in Adams while perhaps recording another album. The album Windsor Lake and contact information is available at Papyri Books in North Adams and Toonerville Trolley in Williamstown.
Return to the articles section of the contradancelinks.com web site.