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A band performing Basque music is making its first stop in Gillette as part of a statewide tour

OSPA members (from left to right) Kevin Carr - fiddle, alboka, pandero; Margo Brown, percussion, vocals; David Romtvedt - trikitixa and diatonic accordions, flugelhorn, vocals; Caitlin Belem - fiddle, saxophone, vocals; Daniel Steinberg - piano, flute.

OSPA, a band performing Basque music at several locations throughout the state, is making their first stop at the Campbell County Rockpile Museum in Gillette on Jan. 5. The band promotes traditional and contemporary Basque music and dance such as jauzi dances (leaping or jumping), fandangos, arins of Iparralde (of the northern Basque country), the jotas and porruas of Hegoalde (of the southern Basque country) and the mixed musical heritage of the Basque diaspora, which has a presence in parts of the Mountain West.

“We were approached by David Romtvedt from Buffalo last year during our sheep herders festival about hosting the Basque band from Buffalo,” said Robert Henning, Director of the Rockpile Museum. “OSPA is a five-piece band, and they play Basque community music and Basque dance music, and they've also got a new set of songs based on [19th century] Basque poet Joxe Mari Iparragirre’s writings The Tree of Gernika.”

The band was created by Romtvedt, who serves as a professor emeritus of creative writing at the University of Wyoming and was Wyoming’s poet laureate from 2003-2011. Ospa is a Basque word either meaning ‘celebration’ or ‘scram,’ depending on its usage. Other regular members include Romtvedt’s wife Margo Brown on percussion and vocals, Caitlin Belem on vocals, violin and alto sax, Kevin Carr on violin, viola, alboka, and pandero, Daniel Steinberg on piano, in addition to Romtvedt on vocals, flugelhorn, trikitixa and three row diatonic accordion.

“He [Romtvedt] likes to teach about Basque culture through the songs, through the poems, through the dance,” Henning said. “That's what attracted us to hosting them is that we want to help teach residents and visitors to Gillette about the culture of this region.”

Basque immigrants first came to parts of Wyoming in the early 20th century. They were actively involved in sheep herding and invested in their own ranching operations. Some ranches in northeast Wyoming are owned by the descendants of these immigrants today, Henning said.

“They've also created some songs from those poems and so that's exciting that they're going to share those around the state and particularly for us in the Powder River Basin, because we have Basque settlers in Buffalo, in Johnson County, and then here in Campbell County as well,” he said.

The OSPA tour will run from Jan. 5-15. They will perform in Sheridan, Buffalo, Laramie, Casper, Cheyenne, Rock Springs, and Jackson. Those interested in attending should check with the host venue for ticket prices. The tour is supported in part by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, a program of the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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