I'm going to be booking musicians for BIDA, at least through the end of the season (July), and I wanted to write up a bit about how I'm thinking about it.
I see two main goals in our booking:
Book performers where the dancers are going to have a great time.
Book performers who are going to gain a lot from the experience.
There are dozens of contra dances in our area, and BIDA was founded partly as a stepping stone. The big Scout House dances had high standards and didn't want to book people unless they were confident they'd be great, but it could be hard for people to make that jump. One of the goals with BIDA is to be a dance that is willing to take some chances.
When I was booking callers, this cashed out as a set of priorities. The highest priority was people who were just at the point where they were ready to call our dance, though since these evenings sometimes were a little rough I wouldn't want these to be too close together or too high a fraction of overall evenings. The next priority was people who were clearly able to call our dance, and were calling other dances, but were still new enough that getting to call BIDA would help them learn and grow. Then for the remaining spots I'd book the best callers I could find, much like any other dance that was optimizing for the immediate experience of the dancers.
For musician booking the same principles cash out pretty differently because bands are (basically always) multiple musicians. There are still groups where it's everyone's first band, in which case it's a lot like the situation with caller booking, but these groups are only a small portion of people playing dances. Groups with a range of experience levels change things a lot. Musicians who have played contra dances for a long time can hold a group's sound together and support musicians newer to contra, while the newer musicians are learning a lot from working with the more experienced ones. Additionally, it's helpful for musicians that have recently started working together to have places that are willing to book them even though they don't have much of a joint track record yet.
For example, this Sunday we have Jaige Trudel, Alex Cumming, and Adam Broome. Jaige and Adam have been playing contra dances for decades, with Crowfoot and then Maivish. Alex has been playing music for a long time, but is newer to contra and has played <5% as many dances, so I'm glad he's getting to play some with Jaige and Adam, and I'm glad the three of them are getting to try out playing together.
These considerations also affect booking timelines. We generally don't book more than six months out, and often have openings around a month out. This shorter timeline means we can react more quickly when new musicians or combinations come along, and when groups get good enough that we think both they and our dancers would benefit from them playing at BIDA. I do also like that this helps roll back the booking arms race, though that's not a major motivation.
Because there are so many newer musicians, bands, and combinations, and because we want to leave open spots in the schedule, experienced bands can find BIDA hard to work with. They don't understand why we won't book them, and it can be hard to communicate that the problem is not "you're not good enough" but instead "you're good enough that you don't need BIDA". Sometimes this gets glossed as "BIDA doesn't book bands", but this isn't quite right. Looking back over the last year we've booked named bands for eight of our twenty-one dances, but they're almost all pretty new bands. If you're an experienced band who would like to be booked for BIDA, and you're open to being booked with relatively short notice, I would be happy to keep you on the list of musicians to ask at about a month out if I don't end up finding newer folks to fill a spot.
I think of BIDA booking as trying to fill gaps in booking for the area, and help the community thrive long-term. None of this is set in stone and if there are parts that you think are a bad idea please let me know! And, of course, if there are people you think we should be booking please let me know that too!