Posts Categorized: People

Seed Savers Exchange Benefit Concert: Q&A w/ Lissie!

 

Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) near Decorah, IA will once again host an incredible lineup of mid-western musicians for an on-the-farm benefit concert, Saturday, August 3, 2019. The benefit concert is hosted in the natural grass bowl of Lillian Goldman Visitors Center on the SSE Heritage Farm, offering a magical setting for some of the mid-west’s best roots musicians, including; Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles, LissieDavid Huckfelt of The Pines, Pieta BrownMichael Rossetto, and Special Guest Mr. Greg Brown. Tickets are available at this link for $25 in advance, $30 day of at the gate.

Seed Savers Exchange has been providing a home and outlet for heirloom and open pollinated varieties of seeds since 1975, encouraging gardeners and farmers worldwide to grow, harvest, and share heirloom seeds, as well as recount the inspirational stories behind them. SSE aims to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

“For Lissie, her past—the last decade or so, to be specific—is something still very much alive and open to interpretation and rephrasing. With the release of When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective, Lissie is poised to show listeners that her past is hardly static, that the songs she wrote nearly 10 years ago are still fresh and vibrant, evoking feelings old and new.

In the eyes of the midwestern songstress, who in recent years made a conscientious return to her roots with the purchase of some 50 acres in northeastern Iowa, the operative metaphor at work in her career—and in the creation of the retrospective album—is something deeply entropic: gardening.

“When you garden,” she says, thoughtfully, “it’s like all of the things you eat and grow are beautiful, and as they die and decompose, that carnage becomes the food for the plants you grow next year. When you’re out in nature and there’s four seasons, you see the cycle… It spurs my creativity to see how life becomes death becomes life. It’s this beautiful, comforting thing because it’s a constant.”

And that entropic beauty shines through in her work on When I’m Alone. When you listen to the lush, atmospheric arrangements of Lissie’s best-loved, most career-defining tunes, you can almost hear the “carnage” of each past moment and remembered feeling coalescing to form this beautiful, dark tempest of emotion and memory.” (Red Light Mgt.)

Inspire(d) would like to thank Lissie for taking a few moments away from her garden in NE Iowa to answer a few questions in advance of the Seed Savers Benefit Concert.

Inspire(d): What’s the most fun or rewarding thing you’ve ever grown?

Lissie: I get really excited about broccoli! It’s usually one of the first things my garden produces and it’s so gratifying to see the little head start to form & grow.

Inspire(d): Why does the work of Seed Savers Exchange spark you?

Lissie: New growth from the Earth & gardens’ represent hope for me. When I visit Seed Savers and see the wide array & diversity, visit Diane’s garden and tour the old trees, I dream of a brighter future & getting my hands dirty!

Inspire(d): In the beginning of Seed Savers Exchange, it was a stash of morning glory and tomato seeds that Diane Ott Whealy’s Grandfather brought over from Germany that started the organization on it’s path. Has anyone ever handed down a seed or a story about a garden variety to you?

Lissie: No but I wish! I loved reading Diane’s book about the birth of SSE. I’ve got a healthy crop of Grandpa Ott’s morning glories taking over my garden right now!

Inspire(d): Seed Savers now has over 20,000 plant seeds in their collection – hundreds which have gone to the Svalbard Gobal Seed Vault in Norway. Any favorites you hope are in that stash, or specifics you can’t imagine the world without?

Lissie: I actually performed at the Polar Jazz Festival in Longyearbyen & what a magical place & idea! That all this rich diversity of food is being protected & preserved, is so important! I love the classic German Pink tomato but really think that all 20,000 are essential. With a changing climate, who knows what challenges agriculture will face! Variety seems key to adapting!

Inspire(d): You might know that Seed Savers has an amazing orchard with over 1,200 varieties of Apple Trees. It’s quite a place, encompassing many varieties that have all but disappeared – with a long view plan for revitalization. Are you more of an apple pie or apple crisp type person?

Lissie: Apple pie! But if I can cheat, apple sauce all the way!

Inspire(d): Hopes, wishes, or dreams for the 2019 Seed Savers Exchange Benefit Concert?

Lissie: I feel very honored to be a part of the SSE world now and to share the bill with a legend like Greg Brown & alongside so many artists I admire! I hope for good weather, some collaborations perhaps & united good vibes! And I hope that lots of money is raised to continue to support their incredibly important efforts!

*

(To read an interview with mid west musician David Huckfelt about his connections to Seed Savers Exchange, please click here.)

Seed Saver Exchange Benefit Concert
Saturday, August 3, 2019
Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles
Lissie
David Huckfelt of The Pines
Pieta Brown
Michael Rossetto
Special Guest Mr. Greg Brown

3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA
5pm gates, 7pm show
Tickets available seedsavers.org/concert
$25 advance / $30 at the gate
(563) 382-5990
https://www.seedsavers.org/

Seed Savers Benefit Concert: Q&A w/ David Huckfelt

Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) near Decorah, IA will once again host an incredible lineup of mid-western musicians for an on-the-farm benefit concert, Saturday, August 3, 2019. Seed Savers has been providing a home and outlet for heirloom and open pollinated varieties of seeds since 1975, encouraging gardeners and farmers worldwide to grow, harvest, and share heirloom seeds, as well as recount the inspirational stories behind them. SSE aims to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

The benefit concert is hosted in the natural grass bowl of Lillian Goldman Visitors Center on the SSE Heritage Farm, offering a magical setting for some of the mid-west’s best roots musicians, including; Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles, Lissie, David Huckfelt of The Pines, Pieta Brown, Michael Rossetto, and Special Guest Mr. Greg Brown. Tickets are available at this link for $25 in advance, $30 day of at the gate.

David Huckfelt, photo by Graham Tolbert

Dave Huckfelt, of The Pines, was kind enough to take a few minutes to speak with Inspire(d) about why Seed Savers Exchange holds a special place for him. Huckfelt, a native Iowan, has been touring, writing, and performing beautiful, haunting tunes across the country for years – including a recent stint on Isle Royale, America’s most remote and least visited national park in mighty Lake Superior. Six hours by boat off the Michigan coast, Isle Royale is the largest island in the world’s largest freshwater lake, an isolated stretch of wilderness seemingly forgotten by the 20th century (to say nothing of the 21st). There, as an Artist In Residence selected by the National Park Service, Huckfelt spent ten hours a day for two straight weeks writing in solitude, channeling the mysterious and lonesome island’s spirits into his stunning debut solo album, ‘Stranger Angels.’

Huckfelt’s music is authentic, honest, and filled with a passion that makes him a natural fit to be a part of the SSE Benefit Concert. Inspire(d) would graciously like to thank David Huckfelt for his work, art, and time in answering the following questions:

Inspire(d): What’s the most fun or rewarding thing you’ve ever grown?

DH: In Clay County, Iowa, near Spencer where I grew up, I watched many of the small-scale family farms in the region swallowed up by giant ag corporations, crop diversity plummet, and hard working families have to get in line and accept GMO corn and soybean fields just to stay afloat. Wal-Mart & Home Depot moved in, and our main street was devastated; no more movie theater, no more hotel, no more shoe stores and little grocers. My best friend lived on a third generation family farm, their lane was a half a mile long because there weren’t even sections yet when their great grandfather homesteaded. Every year when they planted their massive fields of hybrid GMO corn, they’d always save a little parcel of land near the house for their heirloom sweet corn seeds.  I’d help plant & will always remember the first day when it was ready to pick & eat, by far the best tasting corn I’ve ever had.

Inspire(d): Why does the work of Seed Savers Exchange spark you?

DH: America has terrible amnesia. We forget, we throw away, we trample under-foot. Many friends of mine made a decision somewhere along the path that the best way to resist the trends of environmental collapse and the best place to make a stand was by starting an organic farm, a CSA, a farmer’s market. And it feels like you’re going up against the giants of the whole world. Then you turn around and realize Seed Savers has been there the whole time, they have seeds for you, and they’ll get’em to your door so you can get them in the ground. It’s the feeling of being supported by the generations, and it addresses the red alert of climate change head on.

Inspire(d): Seed Savers now has over 20,000 plant seeds in their collection – hundreds which have gone to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. Any favorites you hope are in that stash, or specifics you can’t imagine the world without?

DH: The heirloom tomato varieties are my favorite; cherokee purple, cherry roma, Italian. I love the names, but it’s sad we have to designate them as “organic” or “heirloom”. I wish we could just call them tomatoes and then have names for the GMO frankensteins, like “science tomato” or “flavorless lab rat romas”.

Inspire(d): You might know that Seed Savers has an amazing orchard with over 1,200 varieties of Apple Trees. It’s quite a place, encompassing many varieties that have all but disappeared – with a long view plan for revitalization. Are you more of an apple pie or apple crisp type person?

DH: Crisp me up.  The world is a mess, and so should my desert be.

Inspire(d): Hopes, wishes, or dreams for the 2019 Seed Savers Exchange Benefit Concert?

DH: I hope the prairie-glow pink and orange lights up the hill-side all around the barn, and hundreds of people come out to take in the songs & sounds, born of the Midwest, and put their shoulders to the wheel of supporting this beautiful organization. I hope spontaneous collaborations arise, and that Greg Brown plays ’til the sun comes up. And I hope we all eat heirloom tomatoes until next years concert.

(To read an interview with mid west musician Lissie about her connections to Seed Savers Exchange, please click here.)

Seed Saver Exchange Benefit Concert
Saturday, August 3, 2019
Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles
Lissie
David Huckfelt of The Pines
Pieta Brown
Michael Rossetto
Special Guest Mr. Greg Brown

3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA
5pm gates, 7pm show
Tickets available seedsavers.org/concert
$25 advance / $30 at the gate
(563) 382-5990
https://www.seedsavers.org/

Steps Back in Time: Foot-Notes + Highlandville Dances

Highlandville in 1991 / Photo courtesy Beth Hoven Rotto

Foot-Notes Scandinavian Music Keeps Dancers Turning at Highlandville Schoolhouse

BY KRISTINE JEPSEN

As the summer sun dips behind the bluffs in Northeast Iowa, cars nudge along the shaley white gravel to Highlandville, a quiet hamlet on South Bear Creek, one of Iowa’s most pristine trout fisheries. Drivers who haven’t been here before take the turns cautiously – cell reception and GPS mapping having dropped off miles ago – drifting slowly by the historic hospital building-turned-B&B, past the landmark Highland General Store and Campground, ‘til you can see your destination – Highlandville Schoolhouse – just across the creek, its porch light shining like a beacon.

If your car windows are down as you drive in, you’ll hear the draw immediately: A fiddle, mandolin, guitar and upright bass – the acclaimed Decorah band Foot-Notes – are tuning up, and laughter and conversation spill through the open schoolhouse windows, where an eager crowd of all ages lines an open dance floor. Then, with a long draw across the fiddle strings, the first dance tune unfurls, in perfect time with the steps of partnered bodies. Another Highlandville dance is in motion.

It’s fun, yes, and welcoming – partners glad-hand away from each other as dance steps pick up. But deeper is the feeling that these celebrated events create a live connection between this Scandinavian community’s heritage and its future, as the music is passed down, measure-by-measure, artist-to-artist.

According to Foot-Notes founding fiddler, Beth Hoven Rotto, Highlandville School dances started around 1974 – before Foot-Notes time – when fiddlers Bill Sherburne and Johannes Sollien (and their bands) crossed paths with artists Dean and Geri Schwarz, who ran a pottery school in Highlandville, and Luis Torres, a local history professor at Luther College in Decorah. Acclaimed poet Joseph Langland, originally from the area, and his brother Walter (and Maurice) Langland of rural Highlandville also had a hand in rallying the community to share traditional waltzes, polkas, two-steps, and schottisches. The schottische, which can baffle the first-timer, is a partner dance akin to American square-dancing, but with few called figures and more trading places – sometimes partners – as the whole dance turns counterclockwise around the room. Left and right steps, turning steps, and hop steps are its trademarks.

From top: 1. Foot-Notes – Beth Hoven Rotto, Jon Rotto, Bill Musser, and John Goodin. 2. A Highlandville Dance in 1990, with Bill Sherburne on fiddle. 3. Beth and Jon’s daughter, Ingrid, sleeps in Bill Musser’s bass case during a dance. (Photos courtesy Beth Hoven Rotto’s awesome scrapbook)

 

It was about mid-century, says Foot-Notes bass player and Spring Grove, Minnesota, native Bill Musser, that the, uh, reserved Norwegian Lutherans loosened up a bit about the ‘impropriety’ of partner dancing, and the Highlandville Dances became an intergenerational draw. Older dancers, including locals Arnold Munkel and Lester and Genevieve Bentley, taught younger ones, with a palpable urgency to ensure that new enthusiasts understand the freedom and festivity of folk dancing. Born into a very musical farm family, Bill attended the early events. “I remember dancing past midnight sometimes,” he explains. “Just couldn’t get enough of it!”

Foot-Notes rhythm guitar player Jon Rotto (married to Beth, above) agrees that the opportunity felt extraordinary from the very beginning. “When I first discovered the dances in Highlandville, it was a huge relief over the ‘sock hop’ stress of having to make up your own moves to the rock music of high school and college,” he says of his days drifting the back roads to the schoolhouse as a student at Luther College. “The simple set of moves for each type of dance is predetermined, yet your creativity can take you beyond the basic dance, once you’re familiar.”

Highlandville School itself, built in 1911 and in service until 1964, commands a kind of reverence, Jon continues. “It’s not unlike a church, with its high ceilings and pendant lights – a vestige of an earlier time, with its outhouses and lack of indoor plumbing. Soon a sense of adventure starts lifting you along.”

Writing from his current home in Lørenskog, Norway, Jim Skurdall, Foot-Notes’ original mandolin player, says he never got over the lucky happenstance that seemed to crop up around traditional folk music – and the people playing it – in this corner of the Driftless. As a stranger road-tripping through Decorah in 1990, he – and a mandolin rented from Kephart’s Music – were invited off the cuff by Jon’s sister-in-law, Liz Rog, to what would be the first ever Foot-Notes tune-tooling session.

From top: 1. A Highlandville Dance. 1. An illustration of a Highlandville Dance by Decorah artist Carl Homstad.

 

“After a potluck dinner, we struck up some music and exchanged a few tunes, but we didn’t know yet it was the start of something,” says Jim. The music itself convinced him to cancel his trek to the East Coast and stay – for what would be decades. Like the other members, he went on to pen tunes for the group and became beloved for his singing of old tunes in their native Norwegian. “I always enjoyed watching folks coming into the schoolhouse for the first time, usually with big grins on their faces, looks of amazement. The atmosphere says: ‘You’re new at this? So are we! Jump in!”

But – none of it happens without the live dance band, the music a bright torch passed on by Bill Sherburne and other old-timers. The person carrying that flame is fiddler Beth Rotto. In the 1980s, Beth was a violinist at Luther College and folk dance enthusiast. She sought out Sherburne directly when she heard murmurings of his retirement and asked to apprentice with him as part of an Iowa Arts Council grant.

“My heart sank, though, when I arrived at Bill’s door, and he looked less than enthused to see me,” she explains. “But everything changed when I brought Jon in on guitar, and suddenly, we had a band. Bill started preparing for our visits, often presenting tunes he claimed he hadn’t thought of in years. I attempted to copy everything about how he played – not just the music, but his bowing and sometimes even the set of his jaw. After our apprenticeship ended, I continued to play beside him for the rest of his life.”

Beth is Norwegian-modest about the music transcription she performs – a process she has mastered to Foot-Notes benefit, developing a shorthand for taking down tunes she hears on recordings, from other musicians, and at festivals. She’ll jot down chord progressions, writing the letters above or below the last to indicate which way the melody is moving on the scale. Then, as the tune repeats itself, she’ll sketch in how the measures break and other phrasing tips to jog her memory when she goes to reproduce it on her fiddle. “Usually by the third pass through – dance tunes tend to cycle in threes – I’ve got it,” she explains.

Beth Hoven Rotto’s music methods

A peek into Beth Hoven Rotto’s music methods / Photo by Kristine Jepsen

 

This skill is the key – it’s how folk music gets etched into recorded history and rejuvenated as new players take it up. All the Foot-Notes members are attuned to it, listening for pieces they haven’t heard before. “In the early days, Beth would call and leave messages on my home voicemail with a melody to a new tune,” Jim Skurdall says. “I would work up harmony lines and leave a message back. Then when we all got together to play, we had a new tune well underway.”

To date, Foot-Notes has more than 120 pieces on “active” recall, including polkas, waltzes, two-steps, schottisches, authentically Norwegian melodies, such as, “Orevalsen” and “Klemmet Ole,” and a group of songs they lovingly refer to as “miscellaneous.” Among them is the “Butterfly,” a tune that picks up in pace and intensity until dancers are fairly flying around the room. At one 1994 performance in the newly restored barn at Luther College, a dancer came down so hard he put his leg through the floor (unhurt, though!). “We refer to that dance as the time Foot-Notes brought down whole barns,” Jon jokes, though most performances – for private parties, weddings, anniversaries and other celebrations – don’t usually get so rowdy.

Foot-Notes at a 2019 Decorah graduation party

Foot-Notes at a 2019 Decorah graduation party / Photo by Kristine Jepsen

 

In 2015, commemorating 25 years together, Foot-Notes hosted the World’s Largest Schottische, with 1,881 registered dancers during Decorah’s annual Nordic Fest. See the video and purchase the World’s Largest Schottische dance tune at www.footnotes.dance/. The band has produced four full-length records so far, one of which, My Father Was a Fiddler, includes a companion tunebook. Foot-Notes also contributed to the 1996 Festival of American Folklife CD, Iowa State Fare: Music from the Heartland, a project of Smithsonian Folkways.

But the best introduction, if you’re so lucky, is to hear Foot-Notes in their native habitat – at a Highlandville Dance. As the night winds down and dancers begin to gather their discarded shoes and sweaters, or perhaps, to collect sleepy small children from the nests they’ve made in coats in the corner, you’ll hear one signature tune without fail: Highlandville Waltz. Penned by then-college-students, Greg Huang-Dale and Erik Sessions, this lilting dance signals the close of a sweet summer respite. It’s not the end, per se, but a gentle send-off, as for old friends. “Until next time,” it suggests, when no further words come.

“I can’t express it very well, but the value of community dancing is undeniable,” says current mandolin player John Goodin, who is beloved by his fellow band members for his ability to sub in and improvise on virtually every instrument between them. “Every single time, I come home a happier, healthier, and better person, thankful that I could be a small part of that special experience,” he says. “It is always a Good Thing.”


Kristine Jepsen is born-bred a Band Geek and considers the Highlandville dances, local contra dances, and other active musical treasures to be the most valuable assets of the Driftless community. When not barefoot on a wooden dance floor, she’s writing for literary journals and small businesses, with a deepening interest in life stories, end-of-life poetry, and other creative work as part of palliative care. More at kristinejepsen.com.

UPCOMING DANCES

June 22:

Highlandville School Dance, 8-11pm
Directions: Map/GPS “Highlandville General Store” at 3497 Highlandville Rd, Decorah, Iowa
Wear layers (dances get warm!) and shoes you can turn/spin in (or take off, if it suits you!)

July 27:

Nordic Fest Street Dance, 8:30-10:30pm
Courthouse Square, Main Street,
Decorah, Iowa
More at www.nordicfest.com.

July 28:

Nordic Fest Street Dance, 7-10pm
Canopy 2 – Intersection of Water and
Washington streets, Decorah, Iowa
More at www.nordicfest.com

To keep time with Foot-Notes performances, join the public group on FaceBook: www.facebook.com/groups/footnotesfans/

Or find them online: www.footnotes.dance

The New Ole Hendricks Orchestra

Fiddler Beth Hoven Rotto is also in another band, The New Ole Hendricks Orchestra. Watch for their CD release concert in Decorah later this summer.

The recording features tunes rediscovered in a most amazing tale stretching across continents and generations painstakingly researched and reimagined by a surprising assemblage of far-flung performers.

Master fiddler Ole Hendricks (born 1851 in Norway – died 1935 in Minnesota) left a dancehall full of rare tunes in his 97-page, handwritten tunebook, which has miraculously survived and is now revived by Norwegian fiddler Vidar Skrede, local musician Beth Hoven Rotto, and seasoned performers Amy Shaw, Chris Bashor, David Tousley, and special guest, Bob Douglas.

CDs for both The New Ole Hendricks Orchestra and Foot-Notes are available at Vesterheim Museum Store and Oneota Community Co-op in Decorah or by contacting bethrotto@gmail.com.