Balfolk features French music and social dance movements, often with broader European influences.
The duo met in 2014 at a contradance influential musician Tracy played with guitarist husband Keith Murphy.
“I was playing the French dance portion of the gig,” said Bell during a recent interview by phone. “I was a big fan of Becky’s music over the years and we played together that night. It was kind of magic, we were super connected, there was real synergy with the music.”
With Bell in western Pennsylvania and Tracy in Brattleboro, Vt., cementing their partnership “took a little while,” Bell said.
“We got together in Ithaca, N.Y., half way between our houses, to run through a few tunes for a gig. We didn’t come up for air for five hours, we just kept playing," she said.
They quickly realized, Bell said, that “this is something special we have to do."
When naming the duo, Tracy offered up possible French words — flowers, food, women’s names.
“Eloise was on the list, and I said, 'Absolutely not,'" Bell said. “My middle name is Louise and I thought that would be weird.”
When she found out Tracy’s middle name was also Louise, “I did a complete 180 and said, 'Oh yes.'”
“& Co.” was added to include guitarists they occasionally perform alongside, “none of [whom] have the middle name Louise,” quipped Bell.
They played mostly contradances then increasingly concerts, “criss-crossing the continent,” Bell said, for contradance weekends and festivals in California, Toronto, Atlanta and, memorably, Mount Hood in Oregon.
Balfolk has been a continuous thread throughout, Bell said, noting a pre-pandemic “explosion of interest [thanks to] a vibrant group in Washington D.C.”
Three years ago, Bell moved to Brattleboro to be closer to Tracy.
“We’re right up the street, we rehearse as much as we want,” Bell said — including during pandemic shutdown, albeit with creative planning when they needed to stay outdoors.
When the temperature hit 90 F, they played on a local farm’s porch where higher elevation made it cooler. When it was really sunny, they practiced in the shady graveyard. When it rained, they headed for the covered bridge.
They also recorded a second album during shutdown, following on from the success of their 2018 debut “More, Please.”
A full-time musician since 2012, Bell grew up playing piano, “discovering Irish, Celtic and French folk music along the way,” she said. “My flute teacher shoved an accordion at me one day, and I fell in love with it.”
Encountering contradance as a high school senior, “I was completely bowled over, it was the most fun I’d ever had.”
Her musical partner, Bell noted, “has dance music in her blood; her dad and grandfather both called contradances.”
“Dance music informs everything we do — music that’s been around for hundreds of years and compositions based on those styles. We do a lot of digging around, listening [to] old recordings, archival tunes.”
Formerly known as Dewey Sessions, TapRoot Sessions concerts are programmed jointly by Dewey Hall manager Maggie McRae and Beth Carlson, Dewey Hall board president and former Oldtone Roots Music Festival producer.
“This area has a good foundation of people who play, listen and dance to traditional music,” McRae said during a recent interview. “The contradance music community is extremely strong. There’s an intergenerational aspect [not] as prevalent in other genres.”
After presenting mostly local artists outdoors in 2020 and 2021, concerts have moved inside the wood-paneled stone building, built in 1887 to honor notable resident the Rev. Orville Dewey, founder of the Friendly Union, an organization aimed at increasing good and kindly feelings and promoting intelligence and cheerfulness .
“Dewey Hall lends itself well to intimate concert experiences,” McRae noted, “the room is so alive, minimal amplification really sings so beautifully.”
“This year we’re focusing on 'Women in Roots' and the contributions women have made to society and culture. A lot of performers that have come through have been men, especially those touring. There are really incredible women that could represent traditions as well.”
McRae and Tracy are planning a winter, spring and fall series of six concerts spanning diverse genres from jazz to world music.
“The February concert is going to be Boston-based Sol Y Canto,” McRae said, “they play a variety of Latin American music.”
For now, musicians will hail from the Northeast. Pre-pandemic performers came from as far away as Denmark. “Hopefully someday we can bring some of that back,” McRae said.
“I’m so grateful Dewey Hall [kept] music and community connections going during COVID,” said Bell, who played two outdoor concerts there with her band “Alchemy.” “Playing outside was a profound experience, we were craving playing for real people and feeling that community vibe … to see real people tapping toes.”
Knowing her music inspires people to get up and dance, Bell wants the audience to stay safe.
“We’ll teach a “Hanter Dro" French dance you can do all by yourself,” she said.
While most of their music is instrumental, “we do a few songs [with] a sing-along chorus to get everybody involved.”
She hopes the concert will bring people joy. “Joy and connection, we all need that.”