The Pinewoods Band

by Tom Pixton

Live music at FAC Pinewoods had been a tradition long before the Pinewoods Band officially started in 1991. Susan Worland, Patrick Yacono, and Ralph Iverson had all participated in live music sets since before 1990. Barbara and I recall attending our first FAC Pinewoods in 1986, when we had been dancing for only a year and being delighted with the energy and immediacy that live music had over the recordings.

When I began playing the accordion in 1990, little did I know the opportunities it would bring me. I saw it as a more portable and less cantankerous instrument than the harpsichord, which had been my main instrument up to that point.

Pinewoods Band 1991

The Pinewoods Band in 1991, with Yves Moreau

In those days there was very little sheet music available for the dance tunes heard at the typical FAC dance parties. When I acquired my first Apple computer at Harvard where I was working in 1990, a Macintosh IIsi, I soon found a music typesetting application and began churning out simple scores of tunes I heard at folk dance parties. I'd borrow a vinyl LP from Conny Taylor, transcribe a dozen or so tunes, and exchange the record for another the following week. Soon I had a binder filled with hundreds of tunes, arranged alphabetically.

Marianne Taylor saw this binder when I was playing for a Thursday dance in the spring of 1991 and offered to include me in the upcoming Pinewoods to be part of the band providing some live music sets. It wasn't clear to me if this was because of my accordion playing or my binder of tunes

At any rate, I made 6 copies of the binder and showed up at Pinewoods in June of 1991. Besides Susan Worland, Patrick Yacono, Pete Campbell (of North Carolina, who had played in previous years), and myself, Barbara played bass as an unpaid member. Ralph Iverson showed up with instruments shortly before the first dance was to begin and asked "can I play in the band?" And so the Pinewoods Band was started.

Pinewoods Band 2007

The Pinewoods Band in 2007

At that time, the Pinewoods C# band shell was a fraction of its current size. It had a very low ceiling, having been designed for one upright piano and one fiddler. Barbara had to unscrew one of the ceiling lights in order to make room for her upright bass.

Furthermore, a trapezoidal floor plan angled out towards the hall so the front of the stage was much wider than the back. The design originated in the pre-sound-system era, the angled walls intended to project the music out into the hall. However, in effect the reverse happened, channeling the noise of the dancers into the band shell and onto the hapless musicians. Our repertoire of diverse styles, dynamic instrumentations, and delicate vocal work was severely challenged.

Nevertheless, the band enjoyed an overwhelming reception, in particular by the two teachers that year, Yves Moreau and Roo Lester.

Pinewoods Band 1991

The Pinewoods Band in 2010, with Catherine Miller

The entire FAC dance repertoire had recently been transferred from vinyl records to cassettes, and we had to share a set of shelves along the back of the band shell, on which sat many storage boxes each containing several dozen cassette tapes. There seemed to be a lot of anxiety about these cassettes, at what point we would we run out of tunes, and when would we want to take a nice long break so these very important cassettes could be put back into service.

After a few evenings, the programmers began to suspect I wasn't going to let them use their cassettes. While we had our music binders, I knew everyone in the band played well by ear and could improvise anything. I recall a tune on the program board that Patrick quickly said wasn't in the binder. I began to play it and said, we'll play it anyway. And so the Pinewoods Band took its first journey.

Pinewoods Band 1991

The Pinewoods Band at the 2011 Blowout at Payson Park Church

That August, 1991, I was asked to submit a band budget for the 1992 season. My roster comprised six members, 2 more than in any previous year. This budget was soundly rejected, and the committee then went on to their next task of reading and analyzing the reviews from the Pinewoods sessions recently concluded. The comments about the band must have been significant, because the committee eventually did approve that budget. For the 1993 season, I added a 7th musician and there was no objection. And by that time, we weren't sharing the stage with those cassettes!

Since that time, The Pinewoods Band has provided the music for all seven nights at Pinewoods as well as for many events throughout the year, in Massachusetts as well as in other states and in Canada. We've been privileged to share music and camaraderie with so many, and to participate in an engaged and vibrant community that sustains us all with friendship, shared vision, and a sociability that is increasingly rare in our world.