Two Axes of Contra Bands

May 19th, 2023
contra, music
In a conversation a few days ago I was thinking about how I mentally categorize contra dance bands, and I think I have two main axes:
  • How serious? Towards the less serious end you might see a band go into a squared up pop tune, suddenly start playing kazoos, or generally goof around. Towards the more serious end you have respectable bands that don't draw on tricks or novelty for their appeal.

  • How traditional? Specifically, how close is their music to what has traditionally been played for contra dances? A more traditional band might play fiddle tunes from New England, Quebecois, Cape Breton, or other similar traditions, backed up with guitar or piano. A less traditional one might play klezmer, swing, rock, reggae, or EDM.

I made a chart:

Click through for a version with names on hover and links to the bands: interactive.

These aren't the only axes; I also care a lot about how well a band succeeds at what they're going for, whether I like what they're going for, and how well the band adjusts their playing to support the dancing. But these are either awkward to graph (I'm not going to tell you how I'd order all contra dance bands from best to worst) or I don't have a good sense for a lot of bands (some of these I don't have strong memories of dancing to).

Some of the placements are debatable, and I haven't thought that long about these; feel free to try to convince me to move things around!

(The top right corner is a bit messy, with several bands that are both pretty serious and pretty traditional. Ordering there isn't especially meaningful, and is mostly so they're not too stacked on top of each other.)

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