with David Romtvedt, Margo Brown, and Courtney Caplan (left to right in old grainy photo to left) playing Cajun and Tex-Mex music. This trio had a regular gig at a coffeehouse in Sheridan, Wyoming where one night a woman approached us to say she enjoyed our music and wondered if she might come by some time to play casually and get to know us. We said, "Yes, of course." That was bassist Cindy Baker and the first time we played with her, we knew we wanted her in our band.
We played for many years as a quartet then one day we noticed that David and Margo's daughter Caitlin Belem was playing with us all the time and so for many events we play as a five-piece group.
A number of friends have helped us as guest musicians—David Cahn on bass, Daniel Steinberg on piano, Karen Leigh on guitar and bass, Fred Serna on drums, Jascha Herdt on drums and guitar, Paul Taylor on didjeridoo, Ted Lockery on trumpet, Kevin Carr and Ray Bierl on fiddle, Tab Barker on tenor sax, and Peter Langston on guitar. These are Fireuncles. Peter Langston has played on all our recordings and at many of our gigs so he is both Fireuncle and Fireant.
Here's a little more about our band members:
Cindy Baker (bass and vocals) lives in Sheridan, Wyoming where she works as an ayurvedic practitioner and yoga instructor (aplaceofwholeness.com). In addition to playing with the Fireants, she has for many years performed with the Roadkill Rangers.
Margo Brown (percussion, piano, and vocals) lives in Buffalo, Wyoming where she works as a potter and owner of Margo's Pottery, a gallery of American functional crafts (margospottery.com). When the Fireants play for contra dancing, we are the Fireflies and Margo serves as our pianist.
Courtney Caplan (guitar, flute, and vocals) lives in Story, Wyoming and operates Piney Creek Pottery out of a beautiful rammed earth studio (pineycreekpottery.com). A paragon of good living, Courtney is equally committed to music and cuisine.
Peter Langston (guitar and vocals) lives in Seattle, Washington where he plays string band Americana, bluegrass, old-time, ragtime, and good time with 3 Play Ricochet. He is also a founder and director of Puget Sound Guitar Workshop (langston.com).
Caitlin Belem Romtvedt (guitar, alto sax, fiddle, and vocals), formerly of Seattle, Washington plays with the Brazilian Cuban group Maracujá and the Basque American group Ospa. She has worked at Empty Sea Studios, the Northwest Folklife Festival, and the Centrum Foundation where she's been a faculty member at the Acoustic Blues Festival. She's also taught at Pinewoods Family Music Camp, at California Coast Music Camp, and Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. In the fall of 2019 she began the PhD program in ethnomusicology at the University of California at Berkeley (caitlinbelem.com).
David Romtvedt (button accordions, trumpet, and vocals) lives in Buffalo, Wyoming. Poet laureate of Wyoming from 2004 to 2011 and recipient of the Wyoming Governor's Arts Award, he is an emeritus professor in the University of Wyoming MFA program for writers. He's taught at Pinewoods Family Music Camp, the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Sierra Swing, and Puget Sound Guitar Workshop and is a founder of Wyoming Worlds of Music (wyomingworldsofmusic.com).
The Fireants play
a variety of American traditional musics though we rearrange tunes a lot. Often we write lyrics for instrumental pieces or rewrite existing lyrics or add to them or write melodies to go with poems or fragments of letters or bits of overheard conversation or add new instrumental parts to old tunes.
In terms of contemporary concepts of intellectual property, we are a question mark. Or maybe we're communards. Music arises in community and every musical performance is an act of both creation and recreation. Melodies are often skeletal structures that change with each playing. Lyrics (at least when sung solo and even when partially memorized) are often spontaneous and improvised. Tunes change according to how we feel, who's in the audience, what's the news of the day. In these ways, even the most often played piece of traditional music is constantly made new. It’s exciting not knowing exactly what you might do until you’re actually doing it.
Our thinking is reflected in Albert Lord’s book The Singer of Tales. In addition to modifying traditional music, we compose new songs though sometimes composition is not so much the creation of something new as it is the rearrangement of pre-existing ideas and forms. Maybe it’s that there is a continuum of material—at one end is the attempt to recreate as faithfully as possible music that we’ve heard elsewhere. At the other end is pushing the musical elements around enough to believe we’ve made it all up.
The deepest influence on our music comes from communities of the Caribbean Basin, especially those that mix African and European ideas. We’ve had the honor to meet and learn from many musicians including Canray Fontenot, Bois Sec Ardoin, Dewey Balfa, Dennis McGee, Santiago Jimenez, Jr., Valerio Longoria, Nick Villareal, Elliott Johnson, Cleofes Ortiz, Pedro Dimas, Juan Reynoso, Antonia Apodaca, Joseba Tapia, Xabier Leturia, Arkaitz Miner, and Joe and Odell Thompson. Other musicians we’ve not met have touched us through recordings of their music, especially Cuban guitarist, singer, and composer Miguel Matamoros and Colombian accordionist, singer, and composer Lisandro Meza.
While the sounds we make may sometimes be strikingly different from the music of these people we’ve named, and while we often depart from the regional sounds we love—sometimes consciously, sometimes unwittingly—we strive to honor the traditional musicians and communities whose musics we love. And we hope our playing can keep alive some of the spirit of traditional music. It’s a spirit that knows life and music as one, that breaks down barriers between people, that believes we're all in this together.
left to right: Courtney Caplan, Peter Langston, Caitlin Belem Romtvedt, David Romtvedt, Cindy Baker, Margo Brown
left to right: Courtney Caplan, David Romtvedt, Margo Brown, Cindy Baker
"It's not what you play but who you play it for." (Tony de la Rosa)