Who is Gypsy Meltdown?

Colleen Reed at the tender age of 10, chose the flute during her middle school’s instrument demo because it sounded pretty. Fifth grade launched her musical experience and she has never looked back. Thanks to weekly flute lessons with an amazing teacher from seventh grade through high school, Colleen learned how to make her fingers dance over the keys. She spent many a weekend morning in orchestra rehearsals, afternoons on the marching band field, and in college continued her classical training. After college, she performed with a fife and drum group and a flute choir, but wasn’t feeling quite fulfilled musically.

In 1995, Colleen stumbled upon a contra dance at Glen Echo Park outside of Washington, DC and was immediately hooked on the high-energy movement and music that filled the hall. She soon realized that she could maybe learn how to make some of the music, although it was hard to imagine not being on the dance floor! With help from some wonderful musicians, namely pianist Liz Donaldson, she was introduced to the concepts of playing for folk dances − improvising on simple tunes while playing in small ensembles. What an amazing 180 degree change from the music she had grown up playing − no conductor, learning tunes by ear, playing rhythmically and improvising off the page. It’s a constant challenge and joy to connect with other musicians in this way.

Colleen quit her day job in 2003 to focus on making and teaching music. In 2004, she taught woodwinds at a summer camp and took a crash course to learn clarinet and saxophone. She is proud to say that she can play “When the Saints Go Marching In” on three instruments now. She also has a collection of funky noisemakers in a basket that make regular appearances at contra dances.

Kathy Kerr started violin in 5th grade in Ann Arbor, Michigan with much encouragement from her mother. In 8th grade, she didn‘t like the orchestra teacher so she quit. In high school, she began to listen to folk music but never considered trying to play it. Then she went to a fiddle contest somewhere in New Mexico. She heard some beginning fiddlers having a lot of fun with simple tunes and thought “Gee I could probably play that!” A lightbulb turned on. A college friend, Glenn Hendrix, taught her her first tunes: “Off She Goes” and “Little Burnt Potato.” She discovered that she enjoyed playing freely and improvising rather than having to play the music “just so” as in classical style.

Kathy played with the community band “The Pretty Shaky Stringband” (which may yet exist in Lansing, Michigan), an offshoot of the store, Elderly Instruments. Something new came to Michigan in the mid 1970s called “contra dance.” She tried out dancing and it was a lot of fun for her. They needed musicians so she tried that too and that was maybe even more fun!

Kathy moved to Washington, DC in 1981 and over the years went to the Glen Echo Open Band and danced too. One night at Open Band she met a flautist named Colleen Reed who astonished her by saying “You are Kathy Kerr? I'd like you to join my band!” The band soon became known as “Gypsy Meltdown.”

Kathy thanks Larry Robinson for years of wonderful Wednesday night sessions and to many, many, many others she has enjoyed playing with so much over the years.

There is nothing more fun than playing music. “Open up that case and let's play!”

Keith Gillis grew up in northeastern Ohio in a very musical family. Both of his parents played piano, and they encouraged Keith and his 3 siblings to take piano lessons starting in kindergarten. He continued piano lessons through high school. Keith also played clarinet and trumpet in the school band and soprano recorder in a recorder quartet with his siblings. Keith grew up enjoying many kinds of music including classical, Top 40, contemporary folk, hard rock, 60's underground, and jazz. However, he wasn’t exposed to traditional American folk or Celtic music until much later. At about age 13, Keith took up the acoustic guitar and took lessons for a while, but mostly he taught himself, picking up style elements from friends.

When he went to college, studying physics took priority over playing music. Keith barely touched an instrument for almost 10 years. After earning a PhD in physics and spending 3 years as a Postdoc at Penn State, Keith moved to Gaithersburg, MD in 1989 to work at NIST. There, Keith joined a group of a few scientists and engineers who played blue grass and “Old Timey” at lunchtime a couple days each week in a secluded lab. The band took the name “Six Standard Deviations,” when caller Laura Brown approached them to play for a community dance. Laura explained to the band about playing for contra dances and suggested that they come down to Glen Echo to experience it first hand.

Keith went to his first contra dance in 1995, loved it, and made contra dance a regular part of his weekly routine. Keith enjoyed dancing and playing guitar in the Glen Echo Open Band. He was struck by the music and its rhythms and by the interaction between the dancers and the musicians. He found a renewed energy to learn the fine points of guitar and to develop his own unique style.

This journey into the eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary music and dance, introduced Keith to a whole new culture and many wonderful people. Keith met artist and potter Leigh Partington at the Glen Echo Friday Night Dance and later married her. He met Colleen at Buffalo Gap in 1996 and enjoyed playing with her at local jam sessions and music workshops. Keith is indebted to the many musicians, dancers, and friends with whom he has crossed paths, and he continues to look for new ways to grow.