STORY: Pierce Schwalb
The October Mountain Washtub Band is an ode to days gone by. Spanning a range of genres, the band brings America’s storied past to life. They have become known not only for beautiful harmonies, but also for using instruments that are unique to America’s bands of old.
Each of the five musicians contributes their own unique talents, with Don Polly on the harmonica, Cookie Polly on the fiddle, Dolly Baraso on the washtub, Linda Willsey on the washboard and recently added Hank Link on the rhythm guitar. Based in Leesburg, you can find the group performing for delighted audiences at libraries, churches, parties and a wide variety of other events and festivals.
The October Mountain Washtub band was the brainchild of Don and Cookie Polly, who grew up in the mountains of Massachusetts. They each lived on opposite sides of “October Mountain” and have been friends from an early age. Don and Cookie’s Appalachian roots inspired the band’s focus on genres like bluegrass, gospel and patriotic classics.
The band began 11 years ago when Dolly Baraso and Linda Willsey started making music with the Pollys. Neither musician had any experience on a washtub or washboard, but determination and natural aptitude made this unique combination possible. “Desire to play a musical instrument is the only thing that matters,” explained Cookie Polly. “I don’t care what age you are, you can start learning anything you want right now.”
Celebrated classics like “You are My Sunshine,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “House of the Rising Sun” are brought to life by the group’s unique sound. With the help of a five-part harmony, the deep bass of the washtub and the driving rhythm of the washboard, even the most familiar tunes take on a whole new feel. Using a piece of string running from the middle of an upside down washtub to the top of a pole, Dolly Baraso creates resonating bass notes that lend depth and intensity. Linda Willsey provides danceable rhythms with her washboard, running her fingernails up and down the board’s metal ridges.
While genres like bluegrass, old country and gospel are mainstays for the group, they cater each show to their audience. Nothing beats listening to a song that brings back fond memories, so they make sure to play a little something for everyone. “I love to see people singing along,” says Cookie. “The goal is to brighten peoples’ day.”
The group takes its Americana roots seriously with patriotic songs and authentic western garb. They sing the Star-Spangled Banner in breathtaking five-part harmony and make a point to honor veterans by playing anthems from every branch of the military. Members of each branch are asked to stand when their anthem is played.
Yearning for the sounds of yesteryear? The band’s next public concert will be this summer at the Leesburg Public Library. The exact dates haven’t been announced, but keep an eye on the library’s event calendar at www.mylakelibrary.org. Don and Cookie also can be found in Okahumpka at the Berean Baptist Church playing classic hymns once a month for the congregation.
In addition to public venues, the band performs at a wide variety of private events and rarely turns down a chance to play. “You name it, we’ve played for it,” explains Cookie. They have performed at everything from Civil War reenactments to Irish Heritage festivals and retirement home get-togethers. Many folks have enjoyed the band’s lively performances.
The October Mountain Washtub band always is well- received at concerts and enjoys support from a loyal fan base. In fact, they now give two performances at the Leesburg Library to accommodate an ever-growing crowd. Find the band’s CD at most events, which features such favorites as “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Jambalaya.”