Beijing Pickers

Bluegrass and Old-time in the Northern Capital

China Arts Podcast, Episode 3: Risa Dickens

Canadienne songstress and community organizer, Risa dickens, takes a breather from her China travels and joins us in this episode of the China Arts Podcast. Also joining me is actor, teacher and square dance caller, Nathan Paul.

Featuring my live bootleg recordings from her show at Jianghu Bar—part of JUE’s music offerings. Risa talks to us about working for Yelp Montreal, dances in church basements, and teaches me her original song, “ Dangerous Game.”

Be sure to check out her music at

Other Links from this podcast:

Yelp Montreal

Pop Montreal

Splitworks, JUE

Big America Music Show @ Jianghu May 2

This just in! Saturday afternoon, May 2nd, at Jianghu Bar near Nanluoguxiang.  Note the time is 3:30 to 6:30 pm! The timing is perfect to nudge between your Saturday brunch and your evening party plans.

These guys are The Real Deal. Tour was arranged with help from the Smithsonian Folkway Recordings, Nick Spitzer’s American Routes, CAEG, and the list goes on! I just barely caught their show at the new Sugar Live House in Sanlitun SOHO…some sample clips from my Marantz:


Tremé Brass Band

Los Texmaniacs

Wylie and the Wild West


China Arts Podcast, Episode 2: John Flower

In the public square of the beautiful Bai town of Xizhou, Yunnan, we caught up with China historian, ethnomusicologist, and upright bass player, John Flower.  Also joining us is my bandmate, and jack-of-all-trades, Chris Hawke.

Live music excerpts are from a post-performance jam, in the back dining room at the Linden Center. Many thanks to John for taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet with us. We’re also very grateful to the Linden Centre for receiving and taking care of us wayward musician folk.

Be sure to check out John’s website, where you can learn about the village where he and his wife lived in Sichuan.

China Arts Podcast, Episode 1: Parker Trevathan


As Beijing Pickers moves into it’s fourth year, I’d like to do something new. Thus commences a series of conversational podcasts focusing on China’s creative industries. The podcast’s goal is to illuminate what’s going on in China’s incredible arts scene, above and underground, from people who are on the ground.

Originally planned as a music podcast, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to hear directly from venue owners, painters, designers, tour managers, commercial video producers, lighting technicians, musicians, and anyone who would sit down for an hour or so and share their thoughts and stories.

Future podcasts will in English or Chinese, depending on the guest. In this inaugural episode of the China Arts Podcast, I sit down with Parker Trevathan, one the first Beijing Pickers, and chat about his role in the Beijing music scene, gigging in China, and the origins of the Ring Road Ramblers, Randy Abel Stable, Sourpuss and the Beijing Dead.

Features clips of tunes from our jam with Parker Trevathan, Travis Klingborg. Have a listen:

Open Mic and Mixer Jam Tonight at Caravan

Bring your guit-box, fiddle, or güiro, or whatever you got, and join a mixer jam tonight at Caravan, starting from 9 pm.

Participants will get a free beer, glass of wine, or well drink, just for playing!

Hope to see you!

HYW Show Tonight Moved to Caravan

Greetings Pickers, Callers and Steppers!

The Hutong Yellow Weasels show tonight as been moved to Caravan, at the West end of Guanghualu. (location here). We’ll start around 9:30 pm.

We’ll be busting out tunes, teaching a couple dances, and having a Old-Timey old time late into the night, so come on down!

Also, by the by, we had a great caller meeting last night, practicing contras and scheming for getting more community dances going! Excited for the big ol’ hootenanny at Mako Livehouse on Sunday night! 8:30!

Barn, Baby, Barn!


Spring is looking good for friends of bluegrass, old time and square dance here in the Capital. Not only has there been a slew of shows, but we’re finally starting up regular sing-a-longs and jams again soon. And DANCES. So dust off those instruments and warm up your voices, ’cause the worst of the winter is past.

The first episode of our new China Arts Podcast is just cooling in the oven, and will be available for the foreseeable future on the Beijing Pickers site. The aim of this podcast is to meet up with people in the creative industries in China, to chat and hear what they have to say.

Our website is due for some updates, so watch out for a new page or two, and some updated song lists in our “Tunes” section. A lot’s changed since the site began in December, 2011.


In March so far we’ve had the Hutong Yellow Weasels releasing new recordings, with a release party at Jianghu on the 14th, part of JUE’s March music happenings, with opener Risa Dickens, a breath of fresh air straight from Montreal. The Weasels also taught social dances at the JUE Creative Market on the 15th, and made mellower appearances at Là-Bas, and at the Bookworm during the Literary Festival’s post-event evening hours on the 16th.

Sourpuss made a rare performance on the 12th, followed by an open jam, with a complex rhythm sections of Chinese kuai ban, a plastic hand clapper, and a child’s wooden washboard.

Some interesting combinations of blues and old time have been popping up here and there, with Zhenren’s Peter Murchison teaming up with the likes of Randy Abel, and Kirk Kenney. Look out for more of their shows at mellower vneues like the Bookworm.


This Friday, April 3rd, the Weasels will play at the newly re-minted Modernista Tapas Bar for music and dancing.

On Saturday, April 4th, our friends at Moonglow Burlesque will host the Moonglow Follies. Click here for details.

Finally, Sunday April 5th, at Mako Livehouse, a full-on West Virginia Barn Dance will kick off at 9 pm. Southern squares, contras, waltzes and music into the night. It’s time for Beijing to have a regular barn dance scene. Details here.

April showers have begun, rain on down!



Free Song Circle at Dangdai MOMA – This Saturday!

This just in!

Circle up, sing old favorites and learn some new ones in an old-fashioned song circle, shared with friends from Beijing’s North-American music community. Lyrics will be provided but feel free to bring any old songs you know. No experience necessary, just bring yourself!

When: 14:50-15:30 (and later if people want to keep going)

Where: Outside of the Kubrick coffee shop, Dangdai MOMA, north of Dongzhimen

Here’s a map! Check out the full event link here (Chinese).

Gold Rush

This post marks the return of a tune we used to do fairly often, but was slowly lost as we moved on to other tunes. The Resurrection of Gold Rush is upon us! So say we all!


Let’s give it a listen:



Some Background:

Think about it: you’re a farmer, you’re life is day-to-day, or your a gangster, trying to get by. Or maybe you’re in the Old World, and you hear there’s gold turning to the west and untold riches can be yours, but you have to get there, and get there quick. Once you get there, there’s the euphoric desperation of the search–if only you can find the right spot, your set.

California tends to come to mind when we think of American gold rushes, but Alaska, Ontario, Georgia and South Carolina have all witnessed gold rushes in the last couple hundred years. There have been gold rushes worldwide, in Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand, and Australia. And don’t forget that whole El Dorado business.


Our tune this week comes from Bill Monroe, with help from Byron Berline, the only fiddler who can say he’s played with Monroe and the Rolling Stones. It’s in the key of A, with the fiddle tuned to standard tuning.

Byron with his band:


Now, interestingly, it turns out there was a third part that didn’t get recorded, but for you obsessive types out there, here’s Byron himself in his shop:



Lest you think gold rushes are things of the past, there have been recent gold rushes in Mongolia, Brazil, and Peru. Dare you go forth and seek your fortune?

Can you take all this anxious excitement and hope and put it into your tune?

Now for the versions:

Other Links:


The Return of Michael Ismerio

Michael Ismerio is just a guy, but he’s an inspirational guy. He lives a life that subverts and proves that the currents of the mainstream are just for show, and by example, is a mentor for people who wonder. It’s not just that he is enthusiastic, genuine, and a people person committed to his musical projects, but his story has taken him far and wide, and represents his own ongoing discoveries. He is both explorer and custodian.


Beijing’s music scene is unique, and perennially reinventing itself, and it pulled me here hard, as with many others. It is a political center, where cultural representatives from around China and world meet and share. I don’t come from a folk background, but moving to Beijing made me yearn for something old in music, a concentrated version of the culture from which I’ve transplanted. I turned to Chinese folk music, and this, in turn, brought me back even further, full circle right back to the roots of my own culture’s natural manifestation of itself — music. Beijing made me a preserver in extract; Beijing made me a folk musician.

Square dancing is the perfect storm. It’s accessibility, ubiquitous folk syncopation, and it’s permission to touch strangers makes it the great unifier, and an incredible ice breaker. Anyone can learn, any age can have fun, and most importantly for us in Beijing, the intricacies of dance flow transcend any cultural or linguistic boundary. Smiles are without border, and smiles are omnipresent at a square dance. Old Time music is the cultural complement and natural drive of the dance — it’s engine. Where the two go, they bring swarms of activity.

In less than a month, Michael Ismerio will be here in Beijing. Like me, Ismerio didn’t come from a family of folkies, he came to Old Time music and square dancing from punk music. He didn’t even play fiddle, he played Mandolin, and only later joined the ranks of obsessed Old Time fiddlers. But the whole time he wasn’t keeping it to himself. He wasn’t just gigging and building a performance enterprise, he was actively sharing and promoting something greater — an active, social form of entertainment that builds and reinforces community bonds.

May 14 flyer(1)     Community bonds are what we hope to build with his visit in November this year. Michael will be playing and calling non-stop for three weeks, adding an interstellar burst of momentum to an already-burgeoning scene for which he’s partly responsible. This month in the lead up to his arrival there are synergistic folk arts activities happening throughout the Gulou area. The beautifully and newly-renovated Modernista is now open Monday nights with square dance lessons for beginners, accompanied by live music. Every Tuesday for two years the Beijing Pickers have been meeting at local community hubs to learn more about traditional tunes. There will be shows and dances at Malty Dog on the 11th and 25th, as well as CD Blues on the 18th, open to anyone who wants to come learn something new, or work on their dance skills.

Michael’s been here before, like a Big Bang, spurring local interest in fiddle and square dance that has been waiting for his return, growing, sharing and creating awareness. But this time his tour will culminate by bringing together local swing and bluegrass musicians and dancers in workshops, shows, and swing and square dances at the Beijing Bookworm, Mako Live House and CD Blues on the 17th, 22nd and 23rd, respectively. It’s all local, it’s all open, and it’s for the benefit of all. Old Time music and square dancing are our obsessions, but ultimately they are tools for bringing people together to learn from each other. This is what Michael has done, and what better place and time to bring people together than in Beijing right now?

Check out this Global Times article about it.