Drawing from Appalachian, New England, French Canadian, and Celtic traditions, as well as jazz, pop, rock, and world beats, the Contrarians offer a blend of their own original tunes and other contra dance favorites. They travel far and wide from their base in West Virginia.to perform in concert and for contra dances
December 20, 2007
When the need arises, this four-man band blends fiddle, piano, guitar, mandolin, trumpet, clawhammer banjo and tenor banjo.
The result is a very musical, layered mix of traditional and modern tunes with 12 originals written by fiddler Paul Epstein, guitarist Gary Reynolds and mandolinist John Longwell. Rounding out the quartet is bassist Will Carter.
Reynolds’ wonderful piano playing adds the right backup and bounce to the medley “New Year’s Day/Kate and Roses/Penina’s Wedding.” “New Year’s” and “Penina” were written by Epstein.
There are a couple of waltzes, “Waltz of the Floating Bridge” and “Waltz to Remember.” The former has some lovely mandolin, the latter some very powerful fiddle.
“Spootiskerry/Wizard’s Walk/Sligo Creek” is another nice medley. At times, the band shifts gears like a jazz quartet. These guys do a lot of listening, and leave each other lots of room.
And lest no stone is unturned, “Crockett’s Honeymoon/George Booker” are two old-time favorites.
Throughout, the music is anchored by Carter’s able bass playing.
The CD was recorded and mixed by Bob Webb in Charleston.
If you can’t make it to the release party, The Contrarians CD is available at Taylor Books, online at myspace.com/contrarianswv or http://pages.suddenlink.net/contrarians, or for $17 (which includes shipping) from Paul Epstein, 112 Potterfield Drive, Charleston, WV 25314
— By Paul Gartner
The Contrarians hail from the Mountain State of West Virginia. As their name implies, they are a contradance band and they take a decidedly more aggressive approach to dance music.
The band consists of Will Carter, bass; Paul Epstein, fiddle; John Longwell, fiddle, mandolin, and tenor banjo; and Gary Reynolds, piano, guitar, trumpet and clawhammer banjo.
The CD opens with a trio of tunes, “New Years Day/Kate and Roses/Penina’s Wedding”; the middle tune is traditional and it’s book-ended by two tunes written by Paul Epstein. What a surprise to hear Gary’s trumpet on the final klezmer related tune written for the wedding of Paul’s brother Matt to Penina. “Shenandoah Falls/Through the Gates” follows and the Contrarians show their West Virginia roots. No light hearted diddly-diddly music here: just strong renditions of two fine dance tunes.
A bit later, the listener/dancer is treated to the medley of “Mingo/Uncle Paul/Wild Bill Hiccup.” The first tune, written by Paul, was inspired after visiting the Brazen Head Inn in Mingo, WV. The second and final tunes were written by Gary. The first is dedicated to old-time West Virginia banjo player Paul Gartner, and the significance of the title of the final tune is rather obvious when heard. It has a quirky rhythm that must cause panic to dance callers who are unfamiliar with it.
Another set that is sure to delight the dancers are the two jigs “Rolling Waves/Black Cat Jig” teamed with the final tune, rearranged as the “Black Cat Salsa.” It’s wild and it really cooks!
The CD concludes with Paul’s “Waltz to Remember” with
its Central European style. It’s an elegant way to draw to a
close a collection of fine traditional and contemporary dance tunes
from the Contrarians, a quartet of very talented musicians.
He says what makes The Contrarians different from a lot of bands is that while no one is adverse to making money, it’s never been what the band was about. The Contrarians are a little older, a little settled and everyone is pretty happy with their day jobs.
“Will is an attorney. I’m an elementary school teacher at Ruffner Elementary. John is a cabinetmaker; he owns Green Creek Woodshop. “Gary, he’s what we call the successful musician among us. He’s a stay-at-home dad. His wife has a good job,” Epstein said over the phone recently during a quick break in the school day.
They’re settled, but they’re not lazy. The Contrarians are regulars at FOOTMAD dances, and they travel to other cities in the region to play contra dances. The band will also release its first CD Friday, Dec. 21. The recording includes original material composed by the band.
The Contrarians began and evolved almost parallel with the growth of FOOTMAD. Epstein, a fiddle player, was instrumental in the creation of the organization in the early ’80s and was the group’s first president.
He and mandolin player John Longwell were some of the original musicians who played music for the contra dances. Bassist Will Carter started playing FOOTMAD events after he graduated law school in 1989.
“It was sort of a pickup band,” Carter explained. “Anyone who wanted to could just show up. But by the early ’90s, it seemed to me it was the same guys who just kept coming around.”
The band lumbered on happily without an official name for a few more years before FOOTMAD organizers pressed them to get one.
“They said they needed something for the fliers,” Epstein said. “So, somebody gave us a name. We were called the Trusty House Band.”
In 2000, guitarist and keyboard player Gary Reynolds joined the band after the death of original THB guitarist Hunt Charach. Shortly thereafter, band members decided to change their name to be more reflective of who they were.
“We got a little more organized,” Carter said. “We started calling ourselves The Contrarians, after the music we played.”
The Contrarians play a mix of bluegrass, roots music and Celtic tunes, among other styles. Carter estimates the band has roughly 30 song sets, each composed of two to three songs running 10 to 15 minutes each. They adapt the songs to fit the dance moves taught at each contra dance.
“The fun part for us is when we have one of these dance weekends,” Epstein said. “We get booked to do those sometimes and a lot of what I like to call ‘dance gypsies’ come to these things.”
The “dance gypsies” are the contra dance fanatics. They travel, sometimes from significant distances, to dance. It’s a passion, and they’re good at it.
“The music and the dance just comes together,” he said. “We’ll watch them, and it will be like synchronized swimming. All the movements will be in sync. We’re part of that and can improvise. That’s one of the great parts of what we do.”
Carter agrees. “Musically, the chance to craft your own sound is very satisfying.”
Carter and Epstein say life in a part-time band is fun. The Contrarians have been around in one form or another for 20 years now. Everyone, they say, is content to keep trudging along.
“Music is something I’ve done all my life,” Epstein
said. “The times I haven’t been doing it, haven’t
been playing publicly to some degree, there’s always been something
if you go
The Contrarians CD release concert, 7 p.m., and contra dance, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20. St. John’s Episcopal Church, Quarrier Street and Leon Sullivan Way. Concert only, $5; with dance, $7. Call 415-3668 or visit www.footmad.org.