This summer in our “Get Local” blog series, we have tried to portray the Jackson Hole experience from the perspective of local residents. When you visit a destination, you don’t always get a sense of the real local community because of all the attractions and amenities. I’m here today to continue this narrative and talk about one of our great musical traditions – the Jackson Hole Hootenanny (“The Hoot”). Every Monday from 6-9PM (except off season) at Dornan’s in Moose, WY, musicians gather to play traditional acoustic music for a receptive crowd in one of the most awe-inspiring settings in the world.
I moved to Jackson Hole in 2010 as a budding bluegrass musician and was immediately told to head to the Hoot. I will not lie, the first couple performances were very scary with such a dedicated and attentive listening audience. But over time, performing became comfortable and an exciting thing to look forward to every week. The Hoot has given me many things over the last six or so years. It brought me together with like-minded musicians; we formed a bluegrass band and performed for a number of years in the valley. We even recorded an album and released it in 2015. The Hoot also gave me the opportunity to entice a special lady with a pretty voice to come sing with me in the fall of 2011. Today, I have performed at the hoot over 130 times with my musician friends. As for that special lady, Kate – we are getting married this September.
Well that’s enough about me, let’s get back to the Hoot itself. The origins of the Hoot go all the way back to cool summer nights in the Tetons in the 1960’s. During the tail end of the “folk revival” period of popular culture, a couple of skiing, climbing and river-running enthusiasts would get together under a bridge in Jackson Hole to play traditional folk music in what would become known as the “Teton Tea Parties.” This is not to be confused with the modern, political sense of the phrase “Tea Party” – rather, the polar opposite. This was a group of counter-cultural renegades, living out their exploratory dreams in the limitless outdoor playground that is Jackson Hole.
Nightly they would get together and stir up some “Teton Tea,” basically a cauldron of tea, wine and/or other booze of choice, to keep warm and set the mood around a fire for a night of song sharing and storytelling. A few decades later, co-founders Bill Briggs and Dick Barker convinced the Dornan family to host a weekly acoustic open mic, and the rest is history. In September of 2015, the 1,000th Jackson Hole Hootenanny was celebrated at the Center for the Arts in Jackson, WY. You can learn more about the history of the Hoot by watching the PBS documentary “Hoot in the Hole.”
[Note: this blog will fall short of depicting the many interesting and important figures of the Hoot. For a still incomplete list of other notable hoot musicians and their music, scroll to the bottom.]
I’d like to showcase two important figures from the Hoot starting with one of its co-founders, Bill Briggs. Bill is a local legend and in the skiing and mountaineering community, he is known as the “father of extreme skiing” in North America. Among many mountaineering and skiing achievements in his lifetime, Bill is most famous for his completion of the first ski descent of the Grand Teton on June 16th, 1971. When no one believed him, he went out with Virginia Huidekoper, the owner and editor of the Jackson Hole News at that time, to capture photos of his tracks and erase any doubt. This achievement set off a chain reaction in the skiing community, and cemented Jackson Hole as center stage for extreme skiing for the decades to come.
Below is a recent photo of Bill with his trusty long neck banjo, getting ready to delight the crowd with his favorite old-time tunes. Bill’s songs range from traditional folk, to skiing and mountaineering ballads, to hilarious tales and even yodeling. You can also catch him at the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson every Sunday for some honky tonking with the Stagecoach Band.
Another regular figure at the Hoot is John Byrne Cooke, a man of many talents. He is an incredible writer, musician, photographer and the former road manager of the one and only, Janis Joplin. John has lived in Jackson Hole since 1982 and brings his wealth of traditional folk, bluegrass and country songs to the Hoot every week. He was immersed in the folk revival days in Greenwich Village and Cambridge, MA in the 60’s, and performed in the area with his bluegrass band, the Charles River Valley Boys.
John landed his first big gig as part of D.A. Pennebaker’s film crew at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival during the culturally expansive “summer of love.” This eventually led him to sign up for the wild ride of road managing Janis Joplin and her various groups from 1967 until her death in 1970. From her early days in San Francisco with Big Brother and the Holding Company, to Woodstock, to the Festival Express and beyond, John was along for the ride. For an in-depth look at his experiences, check out his photography on his website and purchase his recent book, “On the Road with Janis Joplin.” Here he is performing for the crowd at a recent Hootenanny:
I’d like to share a few tips for experiencing the Hoot in both summer and winter. In the summer, the atmosphere is more casual outside at the chuckwagon and pavilion at Dornan’s. Here is the recipe for a great Hoot night in summer:
– Spend the day on the Snake River or exploring Grand Teton National Park, Dornan’s is conveniently located about 13 miles north of the town of Jackson at the main entrance to the park in “downtown” Moose, WY. You can book a scenic or fishing float trip on the Snake River, take out in Moose and head straight to the Hoot.
– Put in an order for pizza at the Dornan’s restaurant and bar or line up for the all-you-can-eat cowboy dinner at the chuckwagon.
– Stop by one of the best wine shops in the area, next to the Dornan’s bar, and pick out a bottle of something special.
– Enjoy sunset over the Tetons and a wide variety of acoustic music from traditional country, folk and bluegrass to a number of other musical surprises.
– Take delight in these surprises, like this couple that flew in from Germany the night before and performed an accordion/concertina duo set of traditional German folk songs. You never know what to expect!
Winter at the Hoot is a little different. As the wind howls and the snow falls outside, head into the cozy Dornan’s restaurant and bar for a much more intimate experience inside. Whereas the summer is more casual and you can have conversations outside of the main pavilion, it takes a dedicated fan of music to head out to Dornan’s in the winter. This crowd tends to be mostly comprised of locals. They are there to listen and the room is often standing room only.
If you head to the Hoot in the winter and want to catch up in conversation with friends during performances, prepare to be shushed! This is what makes the listening room so special for musicians, but it can also be a little daunting as the audience hangs on every note you play. There is a story of John Denver playing the Hoot once and calling it one of the most intimidating rooms he’s ever played. More than it is intimidating, however, it is one of the most supportive crowds you will ever experience. All performers are met with encouragement and support. Even if you feel like you played terribly, you will hear cheers and applause. That is what makes the Hoot so special and keeps musicians and listeners heading back week after week.
So if you ever find yourself in Jackson Hole on a Monday night, don’t miss out on a true local experience – the Jackson Hole Hootenanny.
Here are some more musical mentions, past and present hoot performers:
Co-founder Dick Barker singing one of his traditional ballads. Dick sadly passed away in July 2012 but his legacy lives on with the Hoot and the Barker-Ewing Whitewater company.
Come to the Hoot and hear many more!