How to Have a Hootenanny

In honour of the season, I present to you, just in time for the last few holiday bashes, How to Have a Hootenanny.

WARNING: Contains folk music humour.

You may recall from my video diary Hootenanny for One (for those who don’t, watch it below), that one of my favourite albums during my time at the ISLAND Hill House artist residency was HOOTE NANNY! pictured here:

The back of which included instructions on “how to enjoy this classic past time” that I, in my folk-nerdiness, was rather amused by.

I transcribed it and have saved these instructions through the autumn months – but with the advent of Solstice and the holiday season in full swing, the time has come to share them with you. Enjoy.

The name of the game is “hootenanny.” It’s as old as your grandmother – and twice as much fun. In fact, folks have been playing “hootenanny” in one form or another ever since the Welshe started whooping it up at their first annual eisteddfod. And that, my friends, was back in the Twelfth Century.

For those of you who have never enjoyed this classic pastime, there’s no better time than the present. The rules of the game will be easily grasped by anyone who has already mastered the ins and outs of Monopoly. They go something like this:


1. Pick your place. Suggested “hootenanny” sites are backyards or front parlors. Study hall or Carnegie Hall. A coffee house or somebody else’s house (not your own, for reasons which will soon be apparent).

2. Pick your players. Actually, any number can play. We have found, however, that “hootenanny” is most successful played (as what game isn’t?) by an even number of representatives from both sexes.

3. Pick your songs. At this juncture, we must note tht the game may be played in either two variations.

A. The Classic (or Short) Game of Hootenanny. In this version, all songs must br genuine “folk songs”: i.e., proved to have been written before 1879 by an authentic Union Pacific tie-layer, and duly registered with the Library of Congress.

B. The Whole Hog (or Anything Goes) Hootenanny. This version, as the name implies, allow the introduction of all “folk songs” – meaning anything from Gallagher and Sheen to Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were, after all, “just folks”.


Give 5 points to anyone who remembers all 112 verses of John Henry (there’s one in every crowd).

Give 8 points for each song in a foreign language with the following exceptions:

Swahili, Tagalog and Bosnian: 12 points each

Upper Baluchistani: 52 points and your choice of the prettiest girl in the room.

Deduct 50 points from anyone found singing in tune.


Player “A” opens the game by belting out the first song that comes into his head. He continues until interrupted by Player “B”, who now belts out the first song that comes into his head until interrupted by Player “C”. The game continues in this manner until all players are arrested by exhaustion and/or the cop on the beat for maintaining a public nuisance.

OBJECT OF THE GAME: having fun.

So now, ladies and gentlemen, you know al there is to know about the ancient and honorable game of “hootenanny.”


Watch Hill House Diary #07: Hootenanny for One

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *