DUMMERSTON — When Brattleboro residents and musicians Rachel Bell and Becky Tracy heard about Vermont's apple crop devastation, the fans of Scott Farm Orchard decided to do something about it.
"We were so distressed to hear how they lost 90% of their apple crop this year due to the deep freeze in May [see sidebar, this issue], so we wanted to do something to help," notes Bell.
The two members of the musical duo Eloise & Co. invite the public to Scott Farm Orchard on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 3:15 p.m. for some bal folk music.
"Bal folk are French traditional social dances, and it always has a really welcoming community party feel," Bell says. "There will be food for sale, too."
Those participating are welcome to bring instruments for a French tunes jam session, which will be followed by a community dance at 4:30 p.m.
Eloise & Co., with Bell on accordion and Tracy on fiddle, started in 2016 and released an album - More, Please - in 2018.
"I played music all my life," says Bell. "I was really serious about piano but fell into accordion accidentally when I was in college and fell in love with it. I got swept up into this collaborative and creative dance music that we play."
Tracy came from a musical family in Simsbury, Connecticut.
"I studied classical music through school, but when it was my turn to do whatever I wanted to do, I chose this music," she says. "I was 9 years old when I chose fiddle. My older sisters played violin, one played viola, and one played cello."
"We've been dreaming of getting this kind of French dancing into the area for a long time, so we're thrilled that it's finally happening," adds Tracy.
'The dances are so fun and easy'
The Commons met up with Bell and Tracy recently to hear some bal folk music, learn all about this upcoming benefit concert, and learn more about Eloise & Co.
"Dancing bal folk is super accessible and is open to all ages," Bell says. "We teach everything, and the dances are so fun and easy."
She explains that "bal folk is French traditional social dancing with a contemporary twist and with other European influences."
The huge variety of dances range from raucous, energetic dances to beautiful, meditative dances, all in "lots of different configurations including circles, lines, spirals, and couple dances," she says.
"You don't have to show up with a partner, because a lot of the dances don't even require a partner, and when they do, you're invited to ask anyone in the room to dance," Bell continues.
"We'll teach every dance, offering the basics for beginners as well as some new dances and new variations for those who have been dancing for a while," Tracy says.
"We'll play authentic French traditional music (and some of our own compositions based on that style) on accordion and fiddle," she adds.
From the perspective of Scott Farm Orchard, a grateful Simon Renault, the general manager, called the benefit "amazing and super generous."
"Having grown up in France, I love that style of music and the dancing that goes with it," Renault says.
In fact, Tracy says that during a previous performance at Scott Farm, she and Bell noticed that Renault "knew the words to some of the tunes that we play because he's from Brittany, [France]."
"We did a video at Scott Farm last year and thought it was a great excuse to have that party-like atmosphere again," she says.
She and Bell "have always felt that connection to the farmers," she says. "We feel so connected to the food around here. We go to farmers' markets."
And, she says, the two had "that sense that they are hurting and this is something we can do, which is in our wheelhouse."
So they will.
Orchard Aid Benefit Concert
Other local musicians will also offer their time and energy to help raise funds for several local orchards whose apple crops were devastated this year.
Orchard Aid - a live day of music - will benefit five local orchards: Dutton Berry Farm, Green Mountain Orchards, Harlow's Sugarhouse, Scott Farm, and Dwight Miller Orchards.
The concert will take place at Retreat Farm with performances by Pete Bernhard (singer/songwriter for The Devil Makes Three), Slow Pony, Zara Bode and Stefan Amidon, Vermont Timbre, Hazelnuts, Peter Siegel and Friends, Madame Sherri's Bathwater Guzzlers, and Jatoba.
The concert takes place on Sunday, Oct. 1 from 1 to 7 p.m. at Retreat Farm on Route 30 in Brattleboro, and tickets cost $20. Those younger than 12 may attend for free.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit retreatfarm.org/gatherings/orchard-aid.
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Bal folk at Scott Farm Orchard, 707 Kipling Road in Dummerston, takes place on Sunday, Sept. 17 with the jam session at 3:15 p.m. and community dance at 4:30 p.m. Suggested donation from $10 to $30 per person. Appropriate for all ages. Rain or shine. Food will include crêpes, savory hand pies, cider, hard cider, baked goods, and apples.
For more information and to purchase advance tickets, visit scottfarmvermont.com/bal-folk-9172023.
Eloise & Co. plans to return to Scott Farm Orchard in Dummerston and Broad Brook Community Center in Guilford with more bal folk Dancing in October (date to be announced) and on Sunday, Nov. 26 and Sunday, Dec. 17.
This The Arts item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.