From our first meeting at Flatfoot Flatbush's inaugural celebration in December of 2014, I knew there was something very special about Daniela Muhling and Megan Downes, Executive and Artistic Directors (respectively) of New York's City Stompers. As the city's only organization solely committed to the preservation and performance of Appalachian clogging and traditional American flatfooting, they have created a buzzing culture of passionate and talented dancers, promoting their work in competitions, jams, and performances city-wide often with the aid of old-time's finest musical talent. Their festival this Memorial Day weekend is no exception.
City Stompers will be hosting a wide variety of workshops, performances, dances, and jams with the aid of ace fiddler Nate Leath and fourth-generation string-pickers David and Danny Knicely. Coming all the way from the Shenandoah Valley, the trio are often noted for their tight, inventive bluegrass and authentic old-time music, making them the perfect accompaniment for square dancing and Appalachian clogging with an improvisational twist. Don't believe us? Take a listen to Nate and Danny playing "Tennessee Fox Chase" at the Carver Center in Purcellville, Virginia.
City Stompers have 4 days worth of activities planned for the Appalachian- minded, including a dance jam TONIGHT at Jimmy's No. 43 in the East Village (the rest are listed below, many of which take place at The Jalopy Theater in Red Hook). We at Porch Stomp can't wait to catch some great music and dance this weekend! In the meantime, I had the opportunity to ask Daniela and Megan a few questions about the origin of City Stompers, their connection with these masterful players, and even about their up-and-coming CD release due out soon:
Porch Stomp: So, how did there come to be such a flourishing Appalachian dance scene here in NYC? How did City Stompers come to be?
Daniela Muhling: Well, City Stompers was founded as a dance school in 2004 by Mary Beth Yakoubian who saw a need for clogging classes in New York City. She taught the classes herself, bringing in guest teachers from time to time from a circle of people she met at music festivals such as Swannanoa. When she decided to retire in 2011 the group’s future became uncertain, but the students were deeply committed to continuing their weekly involvement with clogging. One of the teachers that Mary Beth brought on board brought a style of dance to the group that was unanimously chosen as the preferred style: Southern Appalachian Flatfoot Clogging, or flatfooting. That teacher was Megan! As a team, we are expanding the offerings of the City Stompers which has grown to be much more than a school. Partnering with organizations such as the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and outstanding roots musicians from NYC and beyond, City Stompers now brings the joy of square dancing and flatfooting to communities in all the boroughs of NYC through our free summer square dance series. The City Stompers monthly Hoedown gives city folk an opportunity to experience the joy of communal music and dance!
PS: And from my experience the music is always particularly incredible. I'm curious about how the connection with Nate, Danny and David came about. Can you elaborate?
Megan Downes: Danny and I have worked together for many years, originally brought together by traditional/innovative music and dance company Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble when I joined in 1995. Around 2002, Music Director Mark Schatz called Danny in to play with him and Jon “Baltimore Johnny” Glik. Footworks was still performing dates with a concert show they developed in 2001, Tim O’Brien and The Crossing, but was moving on to build a wholly new production with Washington D.C.’s StepAfrika! called SoulMates. Danny and I have also worked together onstage with James Leva and Al Tharp in Purgatory Mountain, and with the Furnace Mountain band.
PS: So, with everything going on this memorial day weekend, tell us why we need to make one of the concerts or workshops!
MD: Danny, David and Nate play together with a sense of timing and a sense of humor born of deep familiarity and kinship. Their individual skills are unparalleled, and it’s fun to see them interact. The music workshops are an unusual opportunity to spend an hour or two with musicians who have spent their entire lives playing music at every opportunity. Their craft has been honed as they’ve taken bluegrass to new levels onstage, or by the campfire, or playing oldtime tunes with the family, and woodshedding constantly because they can’t leave the instrument aside. Not all traditional musicians are good at breaking down what they do, but Danny and Nate are well-loved as teachers. Nate will play for the flatfoot workshop as well, so folks can have a good time trying out their feet as rhythm instruments.
PS: Finally, a CD? Why the need for music recorded specifically for dance?
DM: Danny, Nate and David recorded some traditional tunes for Megan to play in flatfooting class every week. Those tracks quickly became “Dance Tunes for the City Stompers”, released on CD so that the musicians and dancers in our community would have tunes to play along with at home. The CD package tells you what key the tunes are in and what the tempo range is. You can practice all the new rhythm skills you learn in music and dance class. The tunes are a collection of oldtime standards and other favorites played at varying speeds.
This CD will be available for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday events.
Take a look at the list of events for this Memorial Day weekend and put them on your calendar. This festival is one not to miss!
Wednesday, May 25th
9:00 pm to midnight
Hoedown at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village - 43 East 7th Street
Live music by Danny, Nate and David for squares and stomping!
No cover, just buy a drink to thank Jimmy’s No. 43, a long-standing friend of the arts.
Friday, May 27th
Flatfooting class with the City Stompers taught by Megan Downes with live music from Nate Leath,
David & Danny Knicely at Chelsea Studios - 151 West 26th Street, Manhattan.
Register at citystompers.org
Saturday, May 28th
Concert by Danny, Nate, David and Megan with special guests City Stompers at Jalopy Theatre and
School of Music - 315 Columbia Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Square Dance & Open Jam at Jalopy
All dances called by Megan Downes, no experience necessary!
Sunday, May 29th
Workshops at Jalopy Theatre & School of Music - 315 Columbia Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Oldtime Rhythm Guitar & Bass workshop with David & Danny Knicely
Oldtime & Bluegrass Fiddle workshop with Nate Leath
Bluegrass Mandolin workshop: Danny Knicely’s Hot Licks & Cheap Tricks
Flatfooting workshop with Megan Downes & Nate Leath
Free Open Jam
For more information, feel free to contact City Stompers at the phone or e-mail below:
Daniela Muhling - (347) 926-3264
Go to jalopy.biz for ticketing