Inside the historic Wren Community Hall Saturday night, a scene unfolded that very well could've happened a quarter of a century ago in the same spot.
Neighbors visit while filling up their plates with potluck food. People young and old sit around a table and catch up on the latest news. A woman throws more wood into the old Hart's Combination Heater No. 24 to keep the hall's main room warm.
Then, a string band climbs onto the stage and gets ready to play. Soon, the room comes alive with square dancers of various abilities following the instructions of a caller.
"Some of the people in this room have lived here or have family that's lived here for many generations," said Wren Community Club board member John Simonds, even mentioning a few coming from families that helped construct the hall in 1938. "We try to get people out from the various communities to come and dance."
The man on stage calling on this night was none other than John Luna, who should be a familiar name for those who enjoy traditional square dancing in the mid-valley. Luna, 71, first got hooked on old-time square dancing back in 1977 when he went to an event out at the Riverside Grange Hall in Albany.
Luna can talk in detail about the evolution of square dancing, including other variations that have morphed into something different on the club scene. He has nothing against that type of dancing, but it's easy to see he simply loves the traditional form.
"What I call old-time square dancing is always linked to live string band music," Luna said. "The band is a big part of the music; they need to learn to play dance music. ... The caller merely facilitates the process."
The caller walks the dancers through each dance, prompting moves with the music. The rhythm can be flexible and depends on the caller's abilities to assess how to progress.
"I feel like I'm part of a living tradition of traditional music and dance," said fiddle player Rich Klopfer, a longtime friend of Luna's who played at the Wren event. "This is how communities came together decades and decades ago and it brought the community together in a healthy way."
Klopfer, 64, learned to play the fiddle from a friend back when he was in his 30s. He said that's how it's done, "somebody you know plays and they teach you how to do it by ear and then you're a fiddler."
The Wren Community Hall event featured three of the four members of the Slippery Slope String Band with Klopfer (fiddle), Spence Hollinger (guitar) and Liat Lis (banjo). Others joined them on stage, including Simonds (bass), John Donoghue (mandolin) and Sue Rutherford (bass).
"When you're a dance band, you just punch the clock and check in and go to work," Klopfer said. "You're not there for people's entertainment other than they hear music and they're having a good time, but the main thing is the dance."
For Klopfer, it's all about keeping the beat going and maintaining the rhythm.
"If that's all you do, you're successful that night," he said. "If you see dancers dancing the rhythm, that completes the circuit."
The Wren Community Hall event Saturday night attracted most of the people in the room to get out on the dance floor.
"People like hearing music, people like dancing. Playing music is a communal thing, just sharing and making music," Simonds said. "For me, I live in the community, I get to eat some good food and I talk my friends into coming, and playing music. Selfishly, it's great for me and people seem to appreciate hearing old-time music that isn't rock 'n roll. It's not a lot of amplifiers, just basic acoustic music."
Luna has called many dances over the years in the region since the early 1990s and besides those at Wren, he's done several for the Independent Community Club just outside of Philomath. Just recently, he was thrilled to call his first international event in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"You don't have to know anything, that's the basic premise in all these dances," Luna said. "This is a very popular movement here (Pacific Northwest) and next weekend in Portland, there's a major western regional gathering."
Luna was referring to "Dare to be Square," an organization dedicated to the preservation of traditional square dancing. Its West Coast event runs Friday through Sunday in Portland and is billed as being for everyone from callers and old-time musicians to dancers and community organizers.
The ages of people who enjoy traditional square dancing range from school children to those in their golden years. On the younger end, Luna teaches fourth- and fifth-graders in Jefferson every year the joys of traditional square dancing. It all culminates with a community dance in the elementary school's gym.
Hosting a harvest potluck has become a tradition at the Wren Community Hall and Simonds said they try to get together for other events in the spring and winter. For this time of year in a region that has farming in its blood, a harvest event is a must.
"It's a good time of year to get together and remember who you're living nearby," Simonds said. "Living in the country, you know who your neighbors are but you don't always see them. This gets people out, sitting at a table chit-chatting. It's good, it's healthy."