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Interview with John Kirk

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Interview with John Kirk



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Skidmore-Saratoga Memory Project


DS 113A: Storytelling Interviewing, Skidmore College


Oral History interview with John Kirk, musician and contra dance instructor for The Flurry Festival. Talks about the changes to the festival that have occurred over the years in terms of audience, music types and dance styles.




Tess Olcott


Saratoga Springs -- Flurry Festival -- History


Original recording 16 bit 44.1KHz

Date Created


Oral History Item Type Metadata


Tess Olcott


John Kirk


Arthur Zankel Music Building, Room 325 at Skidmore College

Original Format

Digital audio recording


58 minutes

Time Summary

Interviewee: John Kirk
Interviewer: Tess Olcott
Location of Interview: Zankel Music Building, Room 325
Date of Interview: 12/2/2016
00:00:00 Header
00:00:18 Introduction – Born in New Finland, Canada, father in the Air force so grew up around the world. Moved to the states when he was 11. Grew up in turbulent times.
00:01:32 The 1960s were a time of great music, his sisters music collection got him started in music, and she taught him guitar. He got his own guitar at age 9. It was organic from there, self-taught. In college he got his first banjo for $40, led to listening to more banjo recordings which had mandolin and fiddle so he learned those also.
00:4:47 Came to Skidmore when wife started teaching banjo, still teaches in Vermont – music history and instrumental music, has been teaching for 9 years at Skidmore. Loves teaching college students because of their enthusiasm, likes to teach how to learn music. Being able to teach and having students show appreciation gives great joy. In the 1950's you could not study jazz because of its stigma, enjoys seeing the growth of music.
00:10:21Playing in a group near Albany and was asked to play in the Flurry Festival at a junior high school. Calls contra dancing while playing the fiddle. The festival was on a much smaller scale. It was 1987, the first year it started.
00:12:30 Calling dancing is very common in traditional music and many international dances. In America, it started with dancing masters. There was different organized dances for English, Irish, etc. that colonists brought here. Masters would travel around calling dances, still happens today. The tradition is held. There are several different formations and music types. There is a huge contra dancing society, one of the main reasons for the Flurry. Explains how contra dancing works. Recent Flurry now have gender free dances.
00:18:12 Changes to the Flurry after the move – More space, more variety, more performers, more people. All new dances, new workshops, new instruments. Talks about each new dance, especially international dances. Having it in the middle of winter brings people out and about.
00:22:21 Going to the flurry – overwhelming, sounds from everywhere in every move. Explains the process of looking at a program and deciding which events to go to because there are so many events, you have to plan ahead or else you may miss something amazing. Endless opportunities even for beginners. Always something to do throughout the whole weekend. Young people people now outnumber the people who have been going for years.
00:27:36 Being part of the community – people that go that he plays with that he has known for 40 years. Great to get to visit with old friends. It is always fun to go to the big sessions where a lot of things come together.
00:29:22 How the younger generation effects the feel of the festival – Higher energy level, great to see the change in music. There are always new ways of playing music. Seeing new innovative ways of playing music.
00:32:37 – Big changes to the festival – change happens gradually, but seeing all new forms of international music is exciting. Sometimes get so caught up in appreciating the music and don't notice all of the change until later. Contra dance is still the big social dance. At the very first flury, the danced the finish write off of the gym floor, including the logo.
00:35:34 Doing the festival with wife is priceless. They get to do all of the events together is always fun.
00:36:20 Favorite things to go to at the Festival – Loves the impromptu sessions in the hallway, the percussive dance, and several of the international dances. Went on a tour around the world and got used to hearing music in a new way.
00:38:56 The changing community – mostly in numbers. Incredible population. Diversity has also increased. Especially with gender. Also talks about Irish set dancing. People are coming from farther away, the social media presence is expanding. They have a house full every year which has turned into a tradition.
00:41:53 Affect on Saratoga – Had to battle for space every year. Main street and downtown businesses have been really supportive. Brings in a lot of people to the city.
00:43:20 Other traditions – At the end of the festival, the next conference is a Baptist gospel revival conference. People at flurry are all tired and a mess by the end and the Baptist group is all dressed very nicely. Its funny to compare the two. People make friends very quickly at the Festival. Political, social, plans and networking talked about. There are struggles too, but they all disappear post partum
00:46:37 Other challenges – Staying hydrated and nourished. Trying to get everywhere. Deciding where to go. Very few artistic problems
00:47:59 Favorite memory/story - Lots of favorite things, playing with legendary mandolin players and Peter Davis. Every percussive dance performance is worth seeing. To be a part of the final dance on stage in the big band.
00:52:18 What advice would you give – Print out a schedule and highlight what you want to do. Look forward to it and fear nothing. Fear not. Go to the dances and try to participate. Stay hydrated and dress in layers.
00:55:05 Favorite workshop – percussive dance festival, or funny songs and sing along. Maybe a yoga class! Come to the festival – it’s a great tradition.
00:58:12 End of interview

Record Creation Date




Tess Olcott, “Interview with John Kirk,” Skidmore Saratoga Memory Project, accessed May 27, 2024,

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