Our Historical Roots

The seeds for a gourd orchestra were planted in the mid 1980's after years of listening to African and other world music, and discovering the varieties of instruments using gourds. Being an avid gardener, I started growing gourds enthusiastically. The joy of seeing 50 ft. vines taking over one side of the house and growing up to the second floor roof line was very exciting. But the gratification of harvesting a few large bushel basket gourds was even greater. While the years passed and the gourds piled up I was busy doing research, investigating forgotten books and records in our public library, then to the college library, then to museums, private collections, and gourd festivals. With much patience, trial and error, gourd musical instruments were finally being constructed. Soon, friends were invited to play the instruments and explore this "new" world of forgotten sounds. The rich history and folklore surrounding the gourd resonated in our music.

Pictured from left to right:
Barry Bless, John Moser (top), Esther Benenson, Joan Elliot, Christopher Hibben,
Eric Walters, Arthur Stephens, Jodi Teitleman, John Ramsey, Keith Elliot

We spent many hours below ground in the Power Cave [my basement] exploring the exotic sounds of the primitive, but playable instruments. We finally emerged in 1993, ten members strong, with gourd instruments in hand and gourd hats on our heads. We were well received and inspired to continue the musical journey we started. We went back to the power cave and worked for two years to craft more instruments and create new music. We surfaced again in late 1995 to play before a standing-room-only crowd at the Richmond Public Library. We continued playing various public and private venues including hosting mini-gourd festivals where the orchestra not only played, but seeds and plants were sold, gourds and crafts were displayed and slide shows of gourds, gardens and festivals were shown. In late 1996 after Dave Park joined the group we started recording our music at Cave d'Ave [Dave's basement], located at the edge of the Chickahominy Swamp. We released our first CD Refuge in a Gourd in the spring of '97. And in October we capped off the year by traveling to the "World's Largest Gourd Festival" held annually in Mt. Gilead Ohio where we played for hundreds of friendly gourdheads.

The Gourd Orchestra recorded a second CD entitled "Enchanted Evenings" in 1999 which included environmental sounds recorded outside the new location for the Gourd Orchestra - the Southside Power Cave.
We continued our treks to Ohio every year as 'Gourd Awareness' seemed to be taking over the country and perhaps the world.

In 2001 the band changed to it's current lineup after Esther moved to the northwest and Dave left to pursue non gourd music.
In 2002 we gained long time friend and musician Pippin Barnett, who also brought his carpentry skills
to the group. We spent the winter months building new instruments in anticipation to creating new music over the spring and summer.
"Gourd Shack" was the fruit of our weekly rehearsal improvisation sessions. Some tracks on the CD are straight from the original tapes. We departed slighty by enhancing a few tracks with computerized growth hormones.

We spent the next two years creating new music in the same fashion as Gourd Shack and our fourth CD "Backyard Shangri-La" was released in 2005.

We continue to create new music today and will produce a new CD in 2018.