There are all sorts of traditions that are alive and well at the Folk School. The Brasstown Fire Department always brings the firetruck to spray down all the children during Little/Middle Folk School, we always dance the Salty Dog Rag during the evening break at Saturday night dances, and the Brasstown Brigade always helps us bring in the New Year with their black powder muskets. One of my favorite Folk School traditions is the Brasstown Follies, the talent show that happens each Winter Dance Week the night before New Years Eve. For as long as I’ve been coming to Winter Dance Week, the Follies have been organized and MC’ed by Carl Dreher – dancer, musician, magician, and all around Brasstown enthusiast. So enthusiastic, in fact, that he and his wife Charlotte Bristow recently retired and decided to move here from Texas. Let’s meet Carl…
CC: When did you first start coming to the Folk School? Was it for Winter Dance Week, or to take another class?
CD: I believe it was 1993. I saw an ad for Winter Dance Week in the Country Dance & Song Society (CDSS) newsletter, and saw that Bob Dalsemer (the Music and Dance Coordinator at the Folk School at the time) was in charge. I knew Bob from serving on the Board of CDSS, and that was all the recommendation I needed to know that it would be a fun week. So I loaded up my truck and drove out. Except for one year when my wife Charlotte and I decided to stay home for Christmas (a big mistake, I SO missed everyone!) and one year when I was sick, we’ve been coming continuously since then.
CC: Tell us about your interest in music and dance? What musical instruments do you play and what kinds of dance have you done?
CD: I’ve always had music in my life, with my parent’s encouragement. Neither of them played any instruments that I can remember, although I still have my dad’s harmonica. My parents loved German music and bought my brother an accordion…is that child abuse?…but he didn’t take to it, so I picked it up. (Not easy…it was a full 120-bass “Billy Baldwin” Har-har.)
I started the trombone in 7th grade. (My parent’s reaction was “What? The trombone?! But you have an accordion!”) I continued playing it all the way through college and then grad school at the University of Virginia. There was a very fine concertina player at U.Va., which inspired me later to buy an instrument and some books and learn it. The melodeon came next out of necessity, since I wanted to start a Cotswold Morris side and I was the only musician (that’s being self-flattering) in the group. Next on the list are the banjo and the ukelele, which are hiding in a closet, waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting world. I intend to make use of Folk School classes to get started on those. Wow, accordion, trombone and banjo. The Big Three of social-pariah instruments.
As for dancing, I started contra dancing with the Charlottesville group. My roommate also joined that group, first as a guitar player, and then as a dancer. (The man is 99% blind and yet is an amazing contra dancer!) After we left school, we stayed in touch and went to some summer camps together. It was at Pinewoods that I got interested in Morris and especially Rapper sword. I returned three years in a row to take the Rapper class, writing down everything that was taught and talking to anyone who would tolerate my incessant questions. Eventually, I bought a set of swords and started a team in Dallas.
In Dallas, there was no contra dance at all, so I joined a newly-formed Scottish Country Dance group eventually becoming a fully certificated Royal Scottish Country Dance Society teacher. In the meantime, enough non-Texan “imports” got together to start having a once-a-month contra dance in conjunction with the Lone Star State Dulcimer Society meeting, and that became the North Texas Traditional Dance Society. We had some of the first dances at the dance floor I built above my garage.
I also slowly became more and more interested in English Country Dance, with its intricate choreography and music, and that has become my main interest. But as you can see from the above, that may change someday.
CC: Did you start the Brasstown Follies, the open talent show that happens during Winter Dance Week? How did it get started and how has it evolved?
CD: No, it was already running when I first arrived. It was held in the basement of Keith House, believe it or not! The room was filled with chairs and the performers had an area about an 8×4 feet. I did my magic-show schtick the first year, and the second year, Bob Dalsemer asked me to MC the show. I’ve been doing it ever since. Once Davidson Hall was built, I expanded the show (without permission, of course). I had a friend in Dallas, who is a professional scenery painter, design and paint the backdrop, and I’ve been slowly bringing other attractions, like the lighted “Brasstown Follies” marquee, and last year, the two possums with search lights that mimic a Hollywood grand opening.
One thing that has changed at the Follies is that in early years we had performers from the community who were not students at Winter Dance Week. We also had many locals just come to the show. I’d love to see that again. Start passing the word!
CC: Some say that your magic tricks and jokes are the highlight of the Brasstown Follies. How long have you been a magician?
CD: Some people need to get out more often. I’ve been doing magic tricks since I was about 10 years old, like most young boys. I just never grew up.
CC: You’re a Folk School board member now as well. How’s that going?
CD: The first year was a learning experience, understanding how things are done here. I previously served on the CDSS board for four years, and participated in the restructuring of how that group worked with a board of directors, so I had some background already in how a non-profit works with its board. I’m now chair of the long-range planning committee. As trite as it sounds, it is a true honor to serve.
CC: What prompted your family’s decision to move to Brasstown?
CD: Oh my, a hundred reasons. I’ve been wanting to live here since that first week at Winter Dance Week in 1993, when I realized what an amazing community this is. Then a few years ago, we were invited to travel to England with the local Morris Dance teams. Nanette Davidson wrote, “You two are like family anyway, why don’t you join us.” That really DID make us feel like family and we got to know everyone much better. Then Charlotte decided to retire, we had another 100-degree summer in Dallas, and the market for vintage homes in our conservation-district soared.
The timing was perfect. We came in April for the English Country Dance Weekend and spent the following week house-hunting. Once word got out that we were looking, everyone in the Folk School community started feeding us information about houses for sale, and even houses not-yet for sale. Sure enough, it was local Folk School family that we connected with through the grapevine, and made a deal. And here we are!
CC: Now that you live here, you’re a regular band member for the Brasstown Morris dancers. What instruments do you play for them?
CD: Concertina for the Rural Felicity Garland Dancers, melodeon and trombone for Dame’s Rocket Clog Dancers and Sticks in the Mud Border Morris.
CC: You’re also interested in vintage cars, right?
CD: Yes, I have three vintage cars, all British of course. Plus three motorcycles, one British and two Italian. I’m currently reconfiguring a blacksmith shop on our new property into a car restoration shop.
CC: Anything else you want to tell us about yourself?
CD: Mind your own darn business!
Watch a video of Carl calling the figures for a performance of his Rapper Sword Dance Class during the new Year’s Eve celebration, Winter Dance Week 2013. J. D. Robinson plays the fiddle:
Winter Dance Week is fast approaching with all kinds of new class offerings this year like Carl’s English and American Technique Class. The Brasstown Follies will follow its most recent tradition of being held on December 30 at 10:30pm in the Music Studio on the 2nd Floor of Davidson Hall on the Folk School campus. Come join us – maybe this will become your new favorite holiday tradition as well!