Captain Fiddle Music logo


Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

By Ryan Thomson


These memories were recalled when I visited some of the many contra dance pages on the web, and sent letters to the owners:


Hi Gary, I just found your page. Its great! reminds me of a dance I once played for in Isla Vista in the 70's. It was out doors in a grassy field, Joe Taulane was calling, I was playing fiddle, and we did a circle dance "big set," and counted, at one point, over 400 people in the circle. I played a number of dances in Santa Barbara. 

My friend, David Gibbs, had a airplane, and he would fly us up from San Diego for the Friday night dances. The airfield was next to Isla Vista and Joseph, who was going to college there at the time, would drive over to the field and pick us up in his bright blue 56 chevy! 


Dear Jeff, I got a message from Gary Shapiro about a book that you are doing about Southern California contra dancing. I was involved in the scene quite a bit in the 70's. I attended my first contra dance in 1973-1974? with Mary Gray Taulane, Joe Taulane's sister, whom I was dating at the time. 

I became a regular, started learning how to play banjo and fiddle, and moved into a house with John Tuoey and Mike Mulderig. I had a tape of Fred Brunnig playing New England Contra dance tunes, that I got from John, and I listened to it many many times, and eventually learned every tune. 


At one point when the folks from La Jolla Country dance orchestra discontinued their regular dances, I was so disappointed that I started up a new contra dance series at San Diego State University(then called San Diego State College), at which I was a student. 

The first band consisted of myself on guitar, with David Brown on fiddle, Pam Ostergrand on banjo(The Chicken Cheek Tweakers), and other guest musicians. I reserved the former women's gym on campus for our weekly dances, and when it became too warm to dance indoors in the summer, we moved out onto the basketball court and danced there throughout the summer. 


Other people that became involved with the San Diego State dances were Gary Moore on fiddle, Judy Lipnick on fiddle, Mike Schway on fiddle, Ed Cormier on banjo, Barsha (last name?) on accordion, and others. Two women whose last names escape me(Marge and Laura) did much of the calling, and at one dance when no one else showed up to call, I called my first contra dance. (I still have one of the original posters that I hung in a glass case at the SDS student center advertising the weekly dances) 


In 1976, the local dance scene was in a bit of disarray as I recall and at the end of the summer I packed up my instruments, books, and typewriter, and drove to New Hampshire to be in the middle of the thriving dance scene there. I had only been in NH a couple days, living in a tent in the woods, when I saw a notice that Dudley Laufman was doing a dance at the Durham Grange. I walked in with my fiddle, and Dudley looked at my case and asked me If I knew "Farewell to Whiskey," since he was without a band. 


I took out my fiddle and played my first dance in New Hampshire and have been living there ever since. I started a weekly contra dance in Newmarket, NH, which went on for several years until the Town Hall burned down. 

regards, Ryan Thomson.

This article by Ryan J Thomson, 2001

1970's Contra Dance Scene in Southern California

Captain Fiddle Music      Copyright ©     

email address for Captain Fiddle Music