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WOW Hall
WOW Hall hosts a Willamette Valley Old-Time Social square dance May 6 and its annual Woodmen of the World historic exhibit for First Friday ArtWalk and throughout May

The regional old-time scene is going to have one big hearth to gather round May 5-8: the inaugural Willamette Valley Old-Time Social put on by Eugene’s Mud City Old-Time Society. For the uninitiated, old-time music is an acoustic tradition of American music. Fiddle and banjo are the stars, making the sound a perfect catalyst for square dancing.

And old-time is not bluegrass; it gave birth to bluegrass. Old-time focuses on community and participation, regardless of skill level, more than performance.

“Old-time is different. You don’t have to be super good to be able to play, but it also invites experts,” says Brandon Olszewski, one of the volunteer event organizers. “We want to bring new people into the community.”

Olszewski says that while many of the elders in the community play together consistently, the younger old-time players are scattered. “There’s all these young people in the community playing traditional music, but we rarely play together,” he says. “Why can’t we get these people together maybe more consistently?”

And thus the Willamette Valley Old-Time Social was born. The old-time scene has proven so fertile up and down the West Coast, Olszewski says, because it’s spotted with fountainheads of the genre.

There are “people who have been playing these instruments for 30, 40, 50 years and the opportunity to play with those people …” Olszewski trails off. He ticks off names like the Eugene-based Sam Jones and Bob Marquis, who studied with Appalachian fiddle and old-time master Tommy Jarrell, and Portland’s late King Bubba (né Bill Martin), a legend in West Coast old-time culture.

Jones and Marquis will be playing the social along with a slew of other bands and musicians from all over the West: Squirrel Butter (who appeared on A Prairie Home Companion last summer), Yodelady, Hokum Hi-Flyers, John Hatton, The Eugene City Barnstormers, Amy Hofer, The Bow Weevils and many more. The event is also packed with open jams, square dances and workshops on everything from clogging to clawhammer banjo.

While the social runs Thursday — kicking off with a free concert by Dirty Spoon, Breakers Yard and South Hills String Band 7 pm at First National Taphouse — through Sunday, the main showcase is noon to midnight Saturday, May 7, at The Vet’s Club (1626 Willamette), capped off with the biggest square dance of the weekend.

“Bring your instruments,” Olszewski says. “You can hang out and jam with everybody.”

Visit for details and tickets; $10-$35.

The valley is ever-so-popular this weekend as the Willamette Valley Music Festival returns to the University of Oregon campus noon to midnight, Saturday, May 7; free. Look for the jazzy Seattle songbird Katie Kuffel, local favorites Medium Troy and The Bohemian Dub Orchestra, Eugene hip-hop group The Nouns (who won Ethos’ latest Bandest of the Bands competition) and do not miss the shining hip hop of Sol. See for schedule.

The annual historic Woodmen of the World exhibit is up and running for the month of May at WOW Hall, featuring photos (one pictured here), posters and signs from the beloved venue’s history. WOW Hall is also hosting its annual membership meeting 7 pm Wednesday, May 11, with a preceding social at 6:30 pm, for members to, among other things, elect positions to the board of directors; free and open to the public, but only Community Center for the Performing Arts WOW Hall members can vote. Rumor has it there’s going to be a shake up.

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