The Hoot Owl Band played dances in Kent around the year 1889.
The group consisted of 8 local men. The back row from left to right; Tom Coen, James Shoff, and Pat Harn. Front row from left to right; Levy Smith (cornet), Alex Playford (clarinet), ________ Kilgore (fiddle), and George Crow(fiddle). We don’t know the name of the bassist. Or the owl.
Kent historians know the Smiths, Shoffs, Playfords, and Crows as long time Kent families with deep roots in the community. Few know that these sons got together to provided the music for valley dances.
In conjunction with Phil and Vivian Williams (Voyager Recordings), the Greater Kent Historical Society wants to revive the music of the Hoot Owl Band for the Kent 125 celebration this summer. Our town was founded in 1890 and it is reasonable to think the Hoot Owl Band, or a group very much like them, would have played the valley that summer.
The ensemble’s instrumentation is odd by modern standards, but it is a slight variation on the very popular quadrille band. The music they played was the popular dancing fare of the day; quadrilles, mazurkas, schottische, waltzes, etc. Besides the instrumentalists, the Hoot Owl Band had a caller and a floor manager. The quadrille is a predecessor to the square dance, so one of the men standing in the back of the photo would have been the caller. The other would have been on the floor of the dance, taking stock of the crowd and calling the next tune. The last man held the owl. It was a tough job but someone had to do it!
Our goal is to bring the ensemble together for a couple of engagements. The first will be a gig in the Cornucopia parade on July 12th. We will borrow an 1930s flatbed Ford and mike up the band to raise awareness for the second performance. The second will put the Hoot Owls in their native habitat, a dance hall leading a real shindig, date TBD. The community event will allow people to learn the old dances and party like it’s 1890!
We have a couple of hurdles to overcome to get this ensemble on stage. First, we need players; specifically two fiddles, a bass, a cornet, and a clarinet. If you play any of those, check out the music below!
We are compiling a page with the sheet music and YouTube clips so that you can get some idea of how the parts fit together.
If you can play the music and want to work to put it all together, then we want you!
We also could use music arrangers. We have choices for period music. Working with Phil and Vivian Williams is a real treat as they have been collecting this type of music for decades! But we need people who can help create parts for clarinet and cornet, for example Sallie Water has the violins and bass but we need to arrange the other parts.
Even though this is a historical project, we are going for the spirit of the Hoot Owl Band, not its physical make up! If you enjoy playing and want a unique opportunity to learn a different type of music and play it so that other people can dance, come to the meeting! If you can’t make it but want to be kept abreast of developments, email the museum at email@example.com or call us at 253-854-4330!
Next meeting TBD.