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Peterborough

McQuillen memorial in town on Saturday

Documentary, memorial, reception and, of course, contra dance and live music all part of celebration

Bob McQuillen at a house party in Seattle in May 2013. Playing with him are accordion player Laurie Andres and fiddler Cathie Whitesides, members of McQuillen’s Seattle band, the Rhythm Rollers.

Photo by Doug Plummer

Bob McQuillen at a house party in Seattle in May 2013. Playing with him are accordion player Laurie Andres and fiddler Cathie Whitesides, members of McQuillen’s Seattle band, the Rhythm Rollers. Photo by Doug Plummer

PETERBOROUGH — Contra dancers, musicians, former students and longtime friends will gather from around the country Saturday to remember Bob McQuillen, the legendary piano player and free-spirited story teller who died in February at the age of 90.

A full day of events will start with a free showing of a documentary film about McQuillen, “Paid to Eat Ice Cream,” at 10:30 a.m. at the Peterborough Community Theatre.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. in the gymnasium at ConVal High School, where McQuillen taught shop, coached aspiring wrestlers and mentored many students during his 34-year career as a teacher in Peterborough. Family members and close friends will be speaking at the service, which will also feature music that McQuillen loved.

Following the memorial service, a reception will be held at the Monadnock Country Club on High Street from 4 to 8 p.m.

And some of the 1,500 tunes that McQuillen composed will be heard — and danced to — at a free contra dance in his honor at the Peterborough Town House, beginning at 7 p.m.

“Bob specified that he wanted to have a free dance as part of his memorial,” said Lisa Sieverts, a member of the Monadnock Folklore Society, which sponsors a monthly dance at the Town House. “We have many callers and musicians signing up to play. People are traveling from as far away as Seattle and from all over New England.”

The dance is being billed as a “Kwackfest,” after one of the many McQuillenisms coined by the Marine Corps veteran who developed a distinctive “Boom-Chuck” piano style that made him a legend in the contra dance world.

Don Primrose, Mary DesRosiers and Steve Zakon-Anderson are among the many callers who will put the dancers through their paces. Tod Whittemore is expected to call some yodeling square dances, according to Sieverts, and Fred Breunig will lead some singing square dances. Many musicians who played with McQuillen over the years will be on hand, including all the members of the Rhythm Rollers, the group McQuillen performed with when he made trips to Seattle.

“Bob had a 65 year career as a piano player and we’ll be playing from the whole tradition of New England music that he both loved and supported,” said Sieverts. “It will be both contra and square dances.”

During the dance, Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, next door to the Town House, will be open as a gathering place for musicians to get together to jam and for people to rest, have a snack and share stories of McQuillen.

Sieverts said the society won’t be doing its usual workshop prior to the event, but all the dances will be taught and none should be too complex for less experienced dancers.

“Bob was about keeping dances as open and accessible as possible,” Sieverts said. “It’s all about getting people together and having them move to the music. That’s what Bob loved.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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