OAKLAND -- Some Friday night in any month you may be lucky to hear the strains of a banjo or fiddle echoing off the wooden floor of a small storefront hall tucked away in North Oakland.
It's the sounds of a little known, new local party -- old-fashioned square dancing with live music that is bringing a young crowd back to an old tradition.
"There's been resurgence in the music that is played with square dance," said Debbie Berne, who plays banjo in host band Squirrelly Stringband.
The band, a group of North Oakland residents, presides over a dance at the Niebyl-Proctor Library on Telegraph Avenue on the first Friday of each month. They play what is known as "old time music," traditional folk music associated with the Southern Appalachians and heavy on banjo and fiddle. It's an old, rural music that has begun to find a much younger, urban audience.
"It's a party," Berne said.
The band is Berne on banjo, her husband David Murray on fiddle, Allegra Yellin on guitar, and Rachel Kraii on the difficult and traditional instrument known as a washtub base. Yellin's husband, Jordan Ruyle, does the calling, leading the dancers in complicated patterns using traditional patter.
The band has its roots back when Berne and Murray, who was a fiddler, began dating. When things got serious, music came up.
"He's like, 'Maybe you should learn to play the banjo!' " Berne laughed.
In 2003, they joined up with Yellin and Kraii, winning "best band" at the Berkeley Old Time Music Convention at their first gig. But once both couples became parents, traveling for shows became too hard and they wanted something local.
The first few times hosting the First Friday square dance were slow, but soon word-of-mouth spread, and soon they were over capacity, with people being turned away.
A second night on the third Friday was added, with a guest string band each time. The twice-monthly dances are open to everyone, with no prior square dance knowledge needed. There is a sliding scale entry of $5 to $10. Erin McDevitt, a regular at the dance, said the music and energy of the crowd is undeniable.
"You can't not have a huge smile on your face," she said.
The venue, too, makes it special. The Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library has been on Telegraph Avenue since 1996, with an archive of 15,000 books and more than 20,000 pamphlets, serving as a record of radical politics and philosophy in the 20th century. The homey, book-lined hall is part of the charm, McDevitt said.
"How can you not love a square dance in a communist Marxist library?" she said.
The string band even recently donated proceeds of a dance to the library. It's all part of the way they are trying to keep things friendly and local, while still being open to new faces.
"We want it to be neighborhood-y, we want it to be North Oakland," Berne said.
What: First Friday square dance: Squirrelly Stringband with caller Jordan Ruyle; third Friday square dance: Caller Jordan Ruyle and guests
Where: Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 to 10 p.m.
Cost: $5 to $10 sliding scale