Michael Ismerio

Welcome to my site. It's here to promote the projects I'm currently working on as well as document the ones I've worked on in the past. It's a chronicle of my explorations in calling square dances, making shoes, teaching fiddle, performing music, building instruments, organizing communities, studying nature, and being a wandering hobo.

It's part resume and part history project. But mostly it's here to inspire.

I hope you like it.  Let me know.  michael.ismerio@gmail.com


Upcoming classes and workshops in 2017:


Aug. 8-11 - Internal Stitch Down Shoe Making Class, Barnardsville, NC


August 28th - Sept. 2nd - Art of Mentoring, Farm and Wilderness, Plymouth, VT


Sept. 12th - Opening day of the Wild Leaders Adult Nature Immersion Program, near Asheville, NC


Sept. 24-30th - Old Time Jam Camp - John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC


Oct. 12th - 15th - Scandinavian Turn Shoe Making Class, Barnardsville, NC  


Nov. 2-5th (new dates) - Internal Stitch Down Shoe Making Class, Barnardsville, NC


Dec. 7-10th - Scandinavian Turn Shoe Making Class, Barnardsville, NC


What's New?

April 2017 - Support me on my Vision Quest Ceremony Fundraiser


In May I will set off on an 11 day vision quest ceremony with 4 days of fasting and solitude in nature. To do this I will need support from community. My intention is to seek a vision that will support both me and my community, as well as inspire others down the path of healthy rites of passage.

At 21 I realized I had never spent more than a day alone in my entire life. I decided to venture into the Olympic National Forest for 10 days of solitude. By day two I was talking to myself out loud. Society told me that was abnormal behavior and I knew not know what to make of it. After 3 days of hiking I decided to climb a peak to see if I could view Mount Olympus. As I climbed the slope got steeper and steeper until eventually I was face to face with a rock wall. I turned around and realized my descent was just as steep. On the side of that mountain I finally felt fear. The fear that if I tumbled down the mountain and broke my leg no one would no where I was. Or even worse, what If I died out there? I was three days hike from my van. I decided to give up my 10 day solo and return home.

At the time I considered leaving early a failure. But now, many years later and with an understanding of rites of passage, I look back at it as a phenomenal success. It required risk and bravery, and far exceeded anything I had done before. And most importantly, I realize now that no one was there to guide me, support me, witness me, or point me in the right direction. Without that support, I did the best I could have done.

I now know that what experienced was a vision quest. One I created from an internal knowing of what my soul needed. But, with out guidance I didn't know that a vision quest could be so much more. It could be a conscious shedding of the old and welcoming of the new held, supported, and witnessed by a village. And It could be guided by someone who had been down the path before me and knew what I would encounter.

Synchronicity recently introduced me to a man named Kedar Brown. I knew upon meeting him that I wanted him to guide me on another vision quest. He was thoughtful, gentle, intentional, spiritual, and humble. He has guided many people down this path and been down it himself many times. And to top it off he leads his quests in the same valley and along the same river where I live in North Carolina. I can seek a vision in the very place where I would put that vision to action.

A vision quest is not just about serving my self, it is also about serving my community and humanity as a whole. I feel strongly that my life path is leading me toward supporting people through vision quests and other healthy forms of rites of passage. I seek to be a role model showing others that this path exists. My own quest will not only move me forward on this path but also ensure that I have done my work before helping others on theirs.

Since this vision quest is also for my community I feel called to reach out for a tangible show of support and to know that my community wants, needs, and values this vision.

There are several ways you can support me.

First and most pressing is financially. This guided vision quest costs $2000 and I need help paying for it.
Second, I ask that if you don’t know about vision quests and healthy rites of passage that you begin to familiarize yourself with them and how necessary they are for our healthy evolution as a species.
Third, I invite you to pray, eat, and drink for me on May 27-30th while I am alone on the mountain.

I thank you so much for your support and witnessing of my journey.


Jan 2017 - Spring and Summer Shoe Making Classes are now posted

Check out my shoe making page for more details.


Dec. 2016 - Wild Leaders Adult Immersion, a radical expression of hope

A wise friend recently shared these words that really struck a chord with me: “It feels like a radical expression of hope for a conscious person to choose to have a child in this time."

The co-creation of the Wild Leaders Adult Immersion, my most ambitious offering to the world to date, is my radical expression of hope. A hope for a future where humans view themselves as one with nature rather than above it. A hope that the nature-connected leaders of tomorrow will have a positive impact. And a hope that we are handing future generations a viable planet.

This immersion is a 9 month journey into Deep Nature Connection, Culture Repair, and Authentic Leadership, all of which are near and dear to my heart. Once a week a small group of participants, along with Luke Cannon, Sara Callaway, NikiAnne Feinberg, Clint Corley, and myself, will come together to support each other on our quest to be fully alive and fully human.

I invite you to support this dream by checking out the website, spreading the word, joining us in this immersion, or supporting others to be on this journey.


March 2016 -  Shoe Classes Scheduled for the rest of the year

Well, I am feeling pretty proud of myself; I managed to figure out my teaching schedule for the rest of the year and it's only march.  Four days of shoe making is something most people have to budget time and money for so I am doing my part to to help you plan ahead by posting my schedule for the rest of the year.  Is 2016 the year you make your own pair of shoes?  I hope so.  All the dates are on my Shoe Making page.

January 2016 - Settling into Barnardsville

It took 8 months but I finally feel settled into my new homestead in Barnardsville, NC.  Since May I have dropped trees, cleared an old logging road, set up my outdoor bed, flattened the cabin and outdoor kitchen site, set the new locust posts, set up a yurt workshop, disassembled my cabin in Asheville, moved it 20 miles north, to Barnardsville, set it back up, and then finished the season building a wrap around deck.


The actual cabin moving took 12 days with a massive amount of help from my friends and one tractor (Thank you sweet friends!)  The rain gods had a bone to pick with me and graced me with afternoon thunderstorms every single day starting as soon as I got my roof off.  At one point my cabin looked like a miniature swimming pool with several inches of water; I'm looking for new wood flooring.


But thankfully the hard work is behind me.  Now I get to enjoy living on the side of a mountain, in an amazing valley, surrounded by amazing forests and a wonderful community of friends. I still have big plans for a pop-out bedroom, an outdoor kitchen, a wood-fired hot tub, and many other projects but there is no urgency.  I think I will sit for a while first.

June 2015 -How to move a modular cabin in just 4 days

Two and a half years ago I built a tiny modular cabin knowing full well that I would have to take it apart and move it one day.  Well that day has come.  Fortunately, I am moving my cabin to an absolutely dreamy spot on the side of a mountain in Barnardsville, 20 miles north of Asheville, NC.  My new home is walking distance from a swimming hole, has plenty of bottom land for gardening, and is surrounded by forest.  It's everything I hoped for.

On June 30th i will start taking apart the cabin.  I am hoping to get it down, moved and reassembled in 4 days.  The only way I will be able to pull that off is with a lot of community support.  So if you have some time and would like to help out I would really appreciate it.  Let me know if you can.

March 2015-Operation Shoe Making Classes

Well, after a bit of an emotional, hard, and bumpy winter I am so appreciative to finally be back on top of my life and blazing forth with my newest passion; teaching shoe making classes.  I just finished my 2nd class of the year (in Washington, DC. pictured above) and I leave tomorrow for my 3rd (at the John C. Campbell Folk School)  In April I am teaching at Earthaven Ecovillage and then in May I get to teach right up the road from my new home in Barnardsville, NC just north of Asheville.  And it just gets better! I will soon be renting a yurt to house my workshop and teach classes in.  Once I have a real workshop there will be no end to the craziness I can dream up and offer to my community.  If you are interested in shoe making classes please get in touch and let me know when you are available, my schedule is very flexible.  Or, if you want to set up a class for me in your town I can come to you.  Check out my shoe making page for more details.

July 2014 - Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

I have been busy recently with shoe making.  I just finished this pair of leather bottom dance shoes; my first time having really nice dance shoes. 

I made this pair in the workshop of another Asheville shoe maker named Jessica Brommer.  These shoes were made using a wooden last; a different process than what I normally use and one that allowed me to be much more nit-picky than I usually am.  Jessica makes some fancy shoes. You can check out her work here

I also taught two really fun group classes.  One was at the John C. Campbell Folk School in the far western corner of North Carolina. The folk school is one of my favorite places to teach and to learn.  It's great place for a focused learning environment. 

The other class was right up the road from my home at the Firefly Earthskills Gathering.  The community around firefly is quickly becoming my family and these days I am jumping at any excuse to hang out and share skills with the folks that frequent these gatherings.

Everyone in both classes finished their shoes and seemed really happy with how they turned out.

Both venues were excellent places to cross pollinate with other classes and other teachers.

I have a bunch of classes scheduled for this fall.  check out my calendar.


February 2014- the original Dickel Brothers first time on the interweb.

The Original Dickel Brothers Reunion was a great success and super fun to boot.  We are now officialy on you tube so check it out.  Here is a clip of me singing Devilish Mary.

You can watch the whole concert at the Portland Old Time Music Gathering here.

January 2014 -

Dickel Brothers Return From The Grave

It has been over a decade since the five original Dickel Brothers all played on the same stage together.  That will change on January 17th as we reunite to play the Portland Old Time Music Gathering.  In order to facilitate getting us all to Portland as well as getting us into the studio to record a few new songs we have set up an Indiegogo funding campaign  complete with special prizes including a test pressing of our 2nd LP and a live performance at your workplace or home.  We will also be playing at the Red Flag bar in Portland on the 19th and a secret show on the 18th that we will announce that day. It would be great to see a bunch of old faces at the shows.

Nov. 2013 -

The Return to China

I am back in China again for a very different trip then my previous trip 2 years ago.  This time I am traveling all around the country performing for and calling dances for predominantly Chinese people.  I am half way into a month long tour and so far the response has been amazing.  Myself and my cohorts, Beijing's Hutong Yellow Weasels, have been able to get huge numbers of Chinese people dancing in auditoriums, bars, and even on the streets.  More stories and photos to come when the tour is done.


Oct. 2013 - My very own email newsletter!

If you want to know more about my shoemaking classes or just see the new designs as they role off the line then please sign up for this email newsletter.  If you sign up make sure and add michael.ismerio@gmail.com to your address book so my newsletter does not end up in your spam folder.

Subscribe to my shoe making classes newsletter


Sept. 2013 - First Shoe Class a success!

I just finished teaching my first shoe making class which went incredibly well.  Four students, including a 13 year old, all finished their shoes in four days.  And they all fit!

Many more classes to come. Get in touch.



Sept. 2013- New Fiddle Videos

I recently realized that there was not much on the internet that showed me playing fiddle at normal fiddling tempos so I asked my friend Bruno to film me playing some fiddle tunes.  There are six videos on my YouTube channel for you to check out.

June 2013 - Shoe Making Classes

Starting in August I will be teaching shoe making classes out of my home in Asheville, NC.  I will be teaching two different styles of shoes; a 10th century Scandinavian style Turnshoe with recycled rubber soles (above) and a more modern style shoe with Internal Stitches and a commercial Vibram Sole (below).  The uppers are made of American Bison leather and could last a lifetime if properly cared for.  Both styles are hand stitched with minimal machine usage.  I provide all the materials and tools.    The class takes four days and can be spread out according to your schedule.  The cost is $300-$350 depending on materials used. Get a hold of me if you are interested

This class is also mobile.  Let me know if you would like me to come teach in your area.

April 2013 -  The Cordwainer

Most people are familiar with the term Cobbler, which is someone who repairs shoes, but fewer are familiar with the term Cordwainer, which is someone who MAKES shoes.  My shoemaking workshop is now up and running in a some what open air work space at the end of my driveway.  I hope to have it sealed and heatable by next winter but for now spring is here so who needs walls.  All the tools I need are within 10 feet of my workbench.  Podcasts are streaming. The weather is perfect.

I am now taking custom shoe orders as well as teaching shoe making classes.  Let me know if you are interested.

Jan. 2013 - Bill "Bubba" Martin - King of Squares

(The following is the memorial speech at I gave for my friend and mentor, Bill Martin, who passed away this past September.  I gave the speech at the 14th annual Portland Old Time Music Gathering to a crowd filled with his friends and loved ones)

I met Bill Martin in the late 90's in the freshly opened warehouse space of Stumptown Printers. Bill was immediately warm, friendly, interested and excited in meeting us young musicians who had just appeared on the Portland scene. At that time the number of Portlanders active and passionate about old time music appeared to be only around a couple dozen. Half of those folks seemed to be in hibernation from the thriving scene that existed here in the late 70's... The other half was my generation; young, dreamy, enthusiastic, and trying to get a handle on what southern music was all about. Bill found our energy contagious. He immediately recognized the need to connect our northwest brand of southern music with the southern dancing he was so excited about and he set about to convince us youngsters to make it happen.

In 1999 - after our second pilgrimage to that dusty, thorny, field in Weiser, Idaho known as Stickerville - Brian Bagdonas and I began organizing the first Portland Gathering, which we called the Throbfest after the pulsing mega jams that used to occur there which we loving called throb-jams. Bill, along with his wife Nancy, came to that first gathering in Jan of 2000. On his cello and his tuba he would bow and honk out the bass notes along to fiddle tunes...all the while infusing every jam with his surly happiness. By the end of the weekend we knew that Bill would be involved in whatever came before us. By the following year, with Bill at the helm as dance master, we began incorporating square dancing into the Old Time Gathering, as well as a regular part of our communities fabric. That connection of music and dance can't be underestimated. It is the glue that has held this community together for over a decade - and it's a glue that has inspired countless communities all over the country.

Around the same time that Bill joined our group he started two other seemingly humble projects; a website and a weekly email newsletter. The website was a trusty amalgamation of information and goings-on about about square dancing, southern music, and our local scene. But the newsletter was his voice. It was pure Bill; funny, grouchy, irreverent, optimistic, unapologetic, fatherly, repetitive, passionate, forgetful, satirical, compassionate, wise, humble, critical, and loving. But most importantly, it was a consistent, weekly reminder of Bill's values and his dreams for our community. That voice quickly became the voice of the Portland gathering and the voice of our community to the rest of the country. I learned as much about Bill from those newsletters as I did from all the hours spent with him. And I believe that Bill's strong, constant voice over the last decade is what has enabled our community to achieve the cohesiveness it has achieved and to create the joy it has created.

Along the way Bill was a constant part of my life. When I formed the Government Issue Orchestra, he was there to bow his cello and play ten dollar gigs with us youngsters. When I started calling square dances, he was there to guide me and give me opportunities to practice. When we started a nonprofit music and dance organization, he was there to help. Bill's close friends called him Bubba so we named our organization Bubbaville, in order to fully entrench him as our spiritual leader. Bill was a friend, a mentor, a co-conspirator, a dreamer, and an inspiration.

I like to remind people that no one person created this gathering. And no one person created this community. This community was created by everyone in this room, and everyone who has ever been in this room, or come to one of our dances, or jams, house parties, chili cookoffs, movie screenings, or workshops. But it's really hard for me to imagine all of us being in this room here together if it hadn't been for the support, encouragement and guidance of Bill Martin. I miss you Bill.

Dec. 2012- Almost Home.

Last weekend I had a very successful work party that saw the floor of my cabin going down and the walls going up in one day.  The community spirit present on that day was amazing.  Thank you all for your help!  A few days later a smaller crew helped lift the very heavy roof onto the walls; no small feat.  In the next few days I will install the windows and the door and then I will finally have a heatable space to get me through the short but looming winter.  Thankfully the gods were smiling upon me and gave me an amazingly beautiful November to build in.  Now I can spend the winter slowly finishing my cabin.

Nov.2012- my 8x12 portable cabin

I am a week away from raising my tiny cabin.  I've been scavenging materials all summer and framing out the wall panels for the last few weeks.  Once I put the exterior sheathing on I can do the trial run assembly in the warehouse where I've been building it.  Next Sunday is the house raising party.  You should join us.



It is a simple concept: a cabin that can be assembled and disassembled by three or four people and moved with just a pickup truck.  It is coming together nicely.  26 wall, floor, and roof panels that screw together. slide in the windows.  put on the metal roofing.  and then I'll have my very own home that I can take with me when I go.  Not that I am planning on going anywhere.









Aug. 2012 - Building Roots

I've just finished the first in a hopefully long series of projects aimed at setting down roots in my new home of Asheville, NC.  Where did I start?  with a bed, of course.  I've always wanted an outdoor bed and now I live in a place where I can sleep outside eight or nine months of the year.  While the leaves are out I can't see any other buildings. The drawers underneath are for clothes and books. There are bird feeders on two sides.  The corner benches are seating; eventually I'll build more bench seats around the circle.  So far I haven't had any problems from critters. My sleeping platform easily comes apart and can be moved should the need arise.  And yes, i do have a mosquito net.  I took it down for the photo. 

I've already started my next project; an open air wood shop where I can start building the succeeding project: an 8x12 modular cabin that can be assembled and disassembled by two people and transported with just a pickup truck.  The design is coming together.  Hopefully I will build it in October. Hopefully the cold weather will wait until I'm done. Little by little I'm working towards an 8x16 cabin on a flatbed trailer; but that is years away.

July 2012- Just a little bit longer

For those of you eager to view the square dance videos that I uploaded to the internet, unfortunately you will have to wait a little bit longer.   The donor of the video has requested that I find a less public forum for displaying the videos then my YouTube channel.  The videos will eventually be housed here on this website but the anticipated site remodel that will make that possible won't happen until this fall so until then you will have to be patient.  Thanks.

UPDATE:  Unfortunately, the owner of the copyrights to the videos I was hoping to post on my website has decided to pursue other avenues for displaying the videos. They will not be coming to this website.  bummer.

April 2012 - Very Short Fiddle Lessons

This winter I made some instructional fiddle videos to share my teaching techniques with others.  Here is one video.  The other two can be found on the Living History page or on my YouTube Channel.  Let me know what you think about them.

April 2012 - Square Dancing in the 80's

I just finished a month long fellowship at Berea College, Kentucky watching archival footage of square dances and editing that footage into usable snippets that I can upload to the internet.  In the coming months I will be uploading 54 videos and creating a square dance callers resource page to my site.  This will coincide with a remodel of my website so it will take some time but in the end my site is going to be much more user friendly.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the owner of the copyrights to the square dance videos I was hoping to post on my website has decided to pursue other avenues for displaying the videos.  They will not be coming to this website. bummer.

March 2012-

Terlingua Ghost Town

On my cross country tour this winter the most fascinating and unexpected stop ended up being a former ghost town near the Texas-Mexico border called Terlingua.  Terlingua is the closest town to the entrance to Big Bend National Park.



The town was created during a quicksilver boom in the 1880's and then abandoned in the 1940's.  In the '70's river guides navigating the Rio Grande took over the old trading post as their base of operation.  The town now has a population of 40 people but the old porch of the trading post and the four nearby bars act as the social hub for the innumerable desert rats spread throughout the area.


Every evening locals descend upon the porch to drink beer, socialize, play music, and watch the amazing sunsets casting their glow on the Chisos mountains that jut up from the desert floor. The ghost town feels wild and raw and fairly lawless; even the sheriff is a fiddle playing regular on the porch.  Terlinguas' isolation from any large city makes it truly a distant, foreign land.


Mark Lewis is one of the locals there and a great old time fiddler.  He spends his days leading river trips and his evenings playing fiddle on the porch waiting for other locals to catch the old time bug; or for traveling musicians to stop in for a visit.  It's out of the way but definitely worth the trip.

I just posted a photo show of my cross country desert trip here; check it out.

January 2012- Get In The Square Dance Van

After nearly 8 years of bumming rides off of others I have finally rejoined the world of car ownership by purchasing a low mileage '85 Toyota van.  I'm very much in honeymoon stage with my van right now but I'm going to put it to the test by driving nearly 4,000 miles on a winter square dance tour from Portland, OR to Asheville, NC through the southwest and Texas. I'll be leaving Portland on Jan. 24th.  Let me know if you are on my route.

January 2012- Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship

Amazing! I just found out that my proposal to Berea College's Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship was accepted.  I will be spending the month of March deep in the archives in Berea, Kentucky researching traditional Appalachian square dance callers and east Kentucky dance communities as well as trying to document some current Kentucky callers.  My research there will eventually lead to a square dance callers resource page that will soon materialize here on my website.

November 2011- Shoemaking: The Sequel

Fall on the west coast. It may not be as spectacular as the east but it sure is pleasant and mild. I made it back to Portland to study shoe making again and finished my third pair of shoes. Once more I studied with Jason Hovatter at Laughing Crowe Leatherworks. And once more I'm delighted with the results. I've found the whole shoe making process to be incredibly empowering. So much so that I'm now in the process of getting set up so that soon I will begin teaching others to make their own shoes.

July 2011- Beijing Nights - Old Time Hits China

In May I was invited to China for two weeks to call square dances for Americans living in Beijing.  A generous businessman named Mark Atkeson had square danced at his wedding 20 years ago and decided to spread the joy to his friends in Beijing.  He teamed me up with a top notch crew of American musicians living and working in Beijing.  Matt Forney, the banjo player, was my host and teacher.  A journalist in Beijing for the last 20 years, Forney was able to answer my innumerable questions about China with incredibly detailed responses as well as insights into their cultural context. 

Fiddler Amy Gardner, guitarist Kirk Kenney, and bassist Jackson Garland rounded out the team and together we performed 2 two hour concerts and got people moving at two square dances, one of which was in a former Daoist temple.  Any night that we weren't performing we would meet up at a bar and play music until the wee hours only to repeat it the next evening. It has been years since I had been part of a band and it felt amazing. By the end of my stay we were an impressively tight band.  For two weeks they lead me by the hand through Beijing showing me around, educating me, making me laugh, ordering for me, and translating everything with incredible enthusiasm.  Many thanks to my crew in China.

I have posted a photo show of my China trip here.

May 2011 - I'm in China!  Calling square dances.  More stories soon.


March 2011 - The Ancient Art of Shoe Making

The latest endeavor in my quest for handmade everything has led me down the path of shoe making.  In January 2010 I met Jason Hovatter who teaches shoe making and leather working out of his home workshop in Portland, Oregon.  This winter I made it back to take one of his classes and make my own shoes. There is nothing like having a pair of shoes made to fit your own feet.  I fell in love with the process and ended up making two pairs of 10th century Scandinavian turn-shoes.   Check out the photo show I just posted of the whole process.  I hope to get set up soon with a little shoe making workshop of my own. 

Check out Jason's classes in Portland and go make some shoes of your own.

Feb. 2011 - Let's Go Bloomington - Square Dance at the Bishop Bar

Let's Go Bloomington, a local cable access arts & entertainment show, aired this story about our monthly square dance featuring Brad Leftwich & the Hogwire String Band

Feb. 2011 - The Porch Swing - Real Stories By Real People

Bloomington is lucky enough to have an incredible community radio station, WFHB, that is chock full of great shows including a top notch Old Time Music show called Train 45.  A group called the Bloomington Story Tellers Project recently started a weekly show called the Porch Swing that features local people telling true, unscripted stories on the radio.  This past Sunday they aired a story I told them about being robbed on the beach while naked by three young boys on horseback during my first ever trip to Mexico.  It's episode 17 if you go looking for it.

Feb. 2011 - Musical Fluency - Excuse me, Do you speak fiddle?

Music is a language.  Old Time fiddle music is a dialect of that language.  When I think about it that way it changes the way I view Old Time music and the way that I teach it.  I recently teamed up with my friend Willem Larsen to redesign my Old Time Bowing workshop based on the realizations that he has made teaching spoken language.  Willem is part of a really exciting project called Where Are Your Keys? who's goal is to help establish thriving  language communities with efficient learning and teaching techniques.  The project was originally designed to help revive endangered indigenous languages but has grown in scope and is now being applied in broader communities.  One thing they have figured out is that learning is faster when it is fun and done in groups, essentially learning should be a game.  My workshop has always been a version of follow-the-leader but with Willem's help we have figured out what helps people learn and what gets in their way and adjusted accordingly.  Willem posted this video of our results based on the workshop I did recently in Portland, OR.  The workshop was really fun to teach and the response was incredibly positive.

One change I made is that I have posted Mp3's of the tunes and the bowing rhythms that I teach in the bowing workshop on the Living History page of my website so instead of taking up valuable workshop time recording tunes you can now download them or listen to them before you even show up.

Jan. 2011 - Square dancing on the little screen

These days calling square dances is one of the main things that keeps me busy and moving around the country but I realized that I didn't have any good visuals for someone interested in square dancing but unsure of what a modern traditional square dance might look like.  Well, Doug Plummer, a fabulous Seattle videographer was kind enough to put together this short video of me calling a dance at the Portland Old Time Music Gathering back in 2009.   Check out my Square Dance Caller page for more info

Michael Ismerio, caller from Doug Plummer on Vimeo.

Jan. 2011 - Hearth Music Listening Lounge

After many years as the music director for the Seattle Folk Life Festival, my good friend, and fabulous human being, Devon Leger has gone solo and created his own music and arts promotion agency called Hearth Music. Along with an incredibly flattering bio of me Devon has created a space for my music in his "listening lounge" where I get to rub virtual elbows with the likes of Caleb Klauder, Black Bird Raum, The Haints, The Water Tower Bucket Boys, Pokey LaFarge, Squirrel Butter, Famille Leger and a bunch more of the finest roots musicians in the North West. Take a peak at it. You just might stumble upon your new favorite band.

Dec. 2010- The world gets smaller

I've just moved into my smallest living space yet.  It's interior dimensions are 7.5 by 7.5 feet for a spacious 56 square feet of personal space.  I built a loft that folds up  to give me more daytime workspace and installed an indoor propane heater to enable me to stay cozy despite the 3 degrees that it dropped to last night.  I've begun surrounding my shack with bird feeders so that I can claim ornithological studies as I lay on my loft and stare out the window.  With the loft folded up I could probably host a four person jam session but will have to stop short of a square dance.

So far Indiana is giving me the sunny snowy weather I was hoping for.  People warned me of gray weather akin to the northwest but so far so good.  We got about 5 inches of snow the day I took this picture and it's been sunny ever since.  Hopefully it will stick around.

Sept. 2010 - Lotus

A big reason for my moving to Bloomington, Indiana is the impressive amount of musicians and the incredible support for music that exists here.  One of the main manifestations of that support is the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival.  For four days downtown Bloomington is taken over by music and musicians from all over the world. Twenty five artists performed on eight stages within a few blocks of each other right downtown.  Thousands of wrist-banded people traveled from stage to stage  listening to which ever band caught their ear.  The festival is all volunteer-run with 400 volunteers taking part this year; including me.  It was my first year and I was really impressed with both the incredible organization of the festival as well as the high quality of the music.  I'm a sucker for world music so I was in heaven for days.  Some of my favorites included:  Cimarron- a Joropo band from Columbia whose music is closely related to Son Jarocho from Mexico.  Vishten- playing traditional music from the Prince Edward Islands, Canada,  Barbara Fortuna - a stunning acappella quartet from Corsica,  and Genticorum- a fiddle driven trio from Quebec. 

July 2010 - Back up and Push

I  just returned from the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington where my friends Jason and Pharis Romero (banjo and guitar) released their brand new CD "Back Up And Push"  Jason and Pharis traveled the west coast backing up and recording one tune each with some of their favorite fiddlers spanning from San Francisco to Vancouver, British Columbia.  It is a fabulous CD and I was fortunate enough to be included in the project. 



Here is my recording of "Shipping Port" from the CD.


March 2010- Spring in Indiana

Spring hit today, March 16, in Bloomington, Indiana, my new home of eight days. The Red Maples were the first to blossom; little red nubs of color amidst the gray tree line. The Robins and Cardinals have been singing for days. It reached sixty degrees today and everyone was outside. Bloomington is a small town and you see everyone you know out on the streets; a trait that lured me here. I just spent twenty five months on the road, traveling all over the US, three months in South America, and a little bit in Canada. I'm exhausted and ready to settle down. I'm ready to have a home, a room, a kitchen, a community... People ask why Bloomington? The short answer is that I like the people. People are friendly here, real friendly. That makes it easier to be the new kid in town. And the music! There seems to be way more musicians here than most towns this size.   I'm calling my first public square dance here this Friday with the hopes of making it a monthly dance. So far the odds seem good.


January 2010 - A Week In The Village.

I spent this past week in Portland participating in a five day skill share organized by TrackersNW called the Nature of the Village, The week was loosely structured but jam packed. It was organized using a model called Open Space that uses few rules but requires the participants to take ownership and responsibility for what they want to learn and what they want to share with others. Each day was decided and organized by those who were there to learn and share. It worked amazingly well and I saw energy, knowledge and creativity bursting out of people as the week progressed. In five days I learned about knot tying, knife sharpening, bird language, bow making, wilderness survival kits, making red cedar tincture, awareness games, bow-drill making, and coyote skinning, And that was just the workshops that I attended. I missed out on many more. I also shared with people my knowledge of making tin can wood/gas stoves and singing in three part harmony; both of which were well received and appreciated.  The constant throughout the week was the building of a 25 foot Umiak, a traditional skin-on-frame whaling boat, that utilized energy from the entire group over the course of the week. By Friday the wooden frame was complete and ready for the skin. Friday night capped off the village week with a wild and local foods potluck, a talent show, and me leading folks through some square dances.

I have a few days to rest before the next jam packed social event, The Portland Old Time Music Gathering which, starts this week. It will be crazy, fun, and socially overwhelming as usual. And, of course, chock full of amazing music.

Next stop Louisiana. See you there?

December 2009

I tend to be a seasonal wanderer who easily falls into routines.  I'm upholding my late fall routine with another visit to British Columbia and my dear friends Jason and Pharis Romero on Vancouver Island.  They were keeping busy building Jason's 200th banjo.  I was helping out around the shop by day and playing music by night.  Jason and Pharis are two of my very favorite musicians and I look forward to this time of year with them. 








October 2009

This is my friend Greg.  He is a gem of an individual.  He lives in Bloomington, Indiana where he recently out did himself as one of the best hosts ever.  I had my own room, he took me swimming in the infamous Bloomington rock quarries (shown below), he sewed up the butt of my pants that were wearing out, and he helped me edit, crop, tweak, and color correct the two newest photo shows that I just posted on the photos page. They are photos of a canoe trip and the human powered carnival; both of which took place in the wilds of Vermont.  Greg is an amazing photographer. see for yourself:  www.gregclarkephotography.com.

After an amazing summer of bicycles, music and eastern woodlands, I myself am back on the west coast.  I'll be here for most of the fall and winter.  I hope to see you while I'm here.

June 2009

I just posted photos of my South America trip on the photographic evidence page of my website.  Now I am spending the summer riding my bicycle around the eastern U.S. visiting friends, watching birds, going to music festivals, and swimming.  Let me know if you are hanging around Indiana at all.







March 2009

I'm currently wrapping up two months in Brazil where I have been traveling and meeting my fathers side of the family including my three half siblings that I have not seen since I was a child. This is a trip I have procrastinated for 18 years for no good reason. Now that I'm here I'm wondering why I didn't contact my family years ago, especially since they live two blocks from the beach in Ipanema, Rio de Janiero.

It's been really amazing to get to know my brother and sisters and learn about my father, a man I barely knew. We've been combing over the scrapbooks and sharing the few stories we know of that elusive man. The biggest surprise to me is finding out that my father in 1958, at the tender age of 22, convinced the Rio de Janiero newspaper he worked for to fund him while he attempted to hitchhike around the world in 800 days. They agreed and he set off heading south through Argentina then up through Chile and the rest of the countries in South America until finally giving up in Panama almost a year after leaving Rio.

I'm going to have to do some library searching to find the dispatches he sent back to be published in the newspaper, but my family has tons of clippings from newspapers around the continent announcing the young explorers arrival in each country. It is pretty funny to read his quotes as unofficial ambassador of Brazil saying such things as "Women in Brazil don't have to work, the men do it all" and "the workers of Brazil are paid enough to meet all their needs". Even in 1958 that was probably a mouth full.   The photo above is my father somewhere in South America.  Cool bike, eh?

March 2009 - Not Your Grandparent´s Square Dance.

A seattle videographer Doug plummer just made this great four minute video about square dancing in Portland featuring interviews with Bill Martin and myself.

Not Your Grandparent's Square Dance from Doug Plummer on Vimeo.


March 2009 - The Swinging Pendulum of Luck (Brazil Notes)

I guess I have to admit that my normally sharpened travel senses were getting a little dulled. Since I arrived in Rio de Janeiro I had been lulled into the ease of depending on my Portuguese – speaking, Brazilian, half brother, Fernando, to do all the talking and logistics for the both of us, allowing me to space out and forget that I too had responsibilities.

After a week in Rio getting acquainted with my paternal family my brother decided to accompany me to the organic cacao farm/ permaculture project in the state of Bahia that I would be working on for the next three weeks. The farm, Fazenda Abracadabra, is an hour walk from the nearest town. On that walk I commented to Fernando about the extra weight of carrying my fiddle strapped to my backpack and how some times I questioned whether it was worth lugging around all the time.

We arrived at the farm in time for lunch, coffee and afternoon socializing.
After several hours it seemed an appropriate time to introduce everyone to my fiddle, except that my fiddle was not strapped to its customary place on my pack. I had left it on the bus along with my journal.

I was bummed but trying to stay calm.

I was trying to figure out what to do while simultaneously realizing that I had paid so little attention that I didn´t even know where the bus was headed.

I still had my ticket with the bus company´s telephone number and my brother had a cell phone so we tried to climb up the nearest hill to see if we could get his phone to work. no luck. We returned to the fazenda then finally walked an hour back into town to try to use the lone pay phone.

On the walk I had to come to terms with the idea that my fiddle was gone forever. And my journal as well. I had heard so many Brazil crime horror stories that I couldn´t imagine that there would be a lost and found somewhere containing my lonely fiddle. It was gone and I would just have to deal with it. I was trying to be as calm as possible and not freak out. Ironically just before boarding that bus I had emailed a friend, whose fiddle I loved, to tell her that her fiddle had inspired me to start searching for a better fiddle of my own. I had no idea how soon that search might begin.

We arrived in the dirt road town of Agua Fria where we hatched a plan to call Fernando´s mother for telephone calling assistance since we were limited by a crappy pay phone and a dying phone card. The moment she answered the phone I saw a bus rounding the corner into town. I frantically ran into the road flagging down the bus. It was the same bus we been on but this time going the opposite direction. The bus came to a stop and the driver held up my fiddle and journal; six hours after I had left them on the bus. If we had arrived minutes later we would have missed that bus.

Absolutely amazing. I guess my fiddle wants me. and my journal too.

But the pendulum did not stop swinging there. Only a week later, due to one misstep, I fell into the river with my brand new mp3 player in my pocket. I tried to shake out as much water as I could but the thing seemed toast. Two days later I tried to play my fiddle but the back started peeling open in the intense heat and humidity of Brazil.

Luckily after two weeks of drying out my mp3 player came back to life. My fiddle on the other hand would sit idle collecting tropical molds for two months while I searched out a luthier to glue it back together. There are not many violin shops in Brazil. Perhaps the weather has something to do with it.

Up next: Argentina and Chile

You can check out the Fazenda Abracadabra at:
Or their photos page:


Fall 2008

Rumours are spreading that I've emigrated to Canada. It's not true, but I'll probably be spending more time there. I spent one month this fall helping out and hanging around the work shop of Romero Banjos on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The shop is the husband and wife team of Jason and Pharis Romero and they graciously took me in and gave me a little trailer to live in while I watched and learned the art of fine instrument building. I followed through the whole banjo building process while they did a limited edition run of banjos.  On the side I managed to finish a banjo of mine that I had started with Jason a year earlier. We spent every day together for an entire month and by the end of it we didn't want to kill each other. That's much harder than building banjos. Check out their website at www.romerobanjos.com


Mexico Tour Update from May 2007

This is an old update but I like it so I figured I'd keep it here.

Hello friends, I just returned from an amazing 7 week tour in Mexico playing electric guitar with my friends the Can Kickers, an old time/punk band from Connecticut

Can Kickers in Oaxaca cityWe were on tour with a band from Mexico City called Polka Madre y La Comezon in their white Chevy van they dubbed "Moby Dick". We were at minimum 9 people in the van and peaked out at a cozy 15 people piling in along with all our equipment, a neon "Polka Madre" sign, and boxes of animal-bone stage props.

Through a combination of lot's of phone calls, emails and a willingness to play anywhere Polka Madre managed to set us up an unheard of 27 shows around mexico.

We went from fancy bars to dive bars, to punk shows in squats, a small village festival on the coast of Oaxaca, in a park full of families, in a bookstore, in plazas and streetcorners, in community centers, and on a beach filled with international backpackers and mexican hippies.

We played in Xalapa, Cholula, Oaxaca, Juchitan, Mazunte, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Morelia, Guadalajara, Acapulco, and about a dozen shows in Mexico City.

Going in to it we had no idea how people in Mexico would react to our music but our shows were really well recieved. And in some cases the energy and dancing were crazier than anything I've seen in the states in years. At a punk show in Mexico City I was lifted above the audience and crowd surfed for the first time ever.

There were, of course, a ton of amazing experiences between all the waiting around for things to happen. We went to the butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan and saw millions of Monarch Butterflies floating around waiting for winter to end so they could head back north. In a squat in San Luis Potosi I taught the incredibly enthusiastic, self-described "Hobbit Punks" how to dance the Virginia Reel. I visited Las Grutas de Tolantongo, which is a hot springs waterfall that shoots out of the mouth of the cave and turns into a river of warm water. And flows down through an amazingly deep canyon. In Oaxaca City we were treated like ambassadors and spent the several days wandering it's streets which were even more beautiful by night. In Juchitan we played a festival of resistance for a 70 family village that was fighting to keep a shimp factory farm from taking over their land.

And on the beach in Mazunte, my favorite beach in the world, I reached heaven while seamlessly spending 5 hours playing fiddle in a beach jam session that started with the Can Kickers playing old time music, than morphed into Polka Madre playing eastern European music and finally into a Son Jarocho (traditional music from Southern Veracruz) jam with a group of random musicians who were drawn our way. The whole while an endless stream of beer and mezcal was presented before us to keep the music going.
oh, and I got to chill at my mom's house north of Mexico city.
you can check out the bands at: