Warren Argo passed away on September 27 at the age of 67, after suffering a heart attack. He was a huge presence from coast to coast in the social dance community, whether he was running sound, or playing music, or teaching banjo, or replacing an engine in the car of some musicians passing through town, or just bringing a friend a new IPA he had discovered.
Warren was born in the Bay Area, and grew up in Fresno, California. He went to college at Fresno State, graduating with an engineering degree, and he started playing music there with a pair of engineers, Hank Bradley and Chuck Pliske. They were friends for life, and this fact modeled many facets of Warren’s life - if you met Warren, you were in it with him for the long haul.
He eventually moved to the Northwest, helping to start Morningtown Pizza. And he became a Gyppo. In Seattle in the‘70s, there was only one dance in town, and it was started by the Gypsy Gyppo String Band. They helped turn on a whole new generation of urban enthusiasts to square dancing and contra dancing, people who had never been anywhere near a grange hall or community center, and they inspired people to learn to play.
In 1976, the Gyppos played at the 4th at the Fort, a one-day festival at Fort Worden dreamed up by Joe Wheeler, which became the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes the next year. Warren never missed one—34 straight. He was in for the long haul, and he filled every conceivable role at the gathering: faculty, tutor, Centrum board member, volunteer, and eventually manager for more than a decade. Often he ran the sound system for the legendary dances held in Building 204, and he was part of the awesome crew that stripped two layers of linoleum from the big halls in that building, revealing maple dance floors.
It was the same with so many other gatherings—40-plus years at Sweets Mill, thirty-five-plus years with the Northwest Folklife Festival, 17 years with the Alaska Folk Festival, how many years at Pinewoods - in for the long haul. This is what he did.
Bob McQuillen wrote him a waltz.
What can we take away? He never complained, ever. I once drove with him from upstate New York to his beloved Washington State, with five people and a dog, in 68 hours. It wasn’t until we were in Spokane that anyone noticed tears streaming down his face—he was allergic to the dog, and never said a word because he didn’t want to make a special stop for antihistamines.
He was vulnerable — he recognized the eternal weaknesses of people, accepted them in others and himself. He understood the power of forgiveness. But Warren’s greatest feature was this—he always made you feel good about yourself, always, made you feel valued, made you welcome. His hugs were legendary, and he had an exuberance that belied his years. If you knew him, and feel that you’d like to honor him, then hug the hell out of the next person you see. And the next.
He left us a little too early. As his friend Dave Trop said, “I wanted to see Warren as an 80-year-old.”
Memorial contributions to defray family expenses may be made at www.warrenargo.com, or by sending a check to Chuck Pliske, 3808 39th Ave. SW, Seattle, WA 98116. (Check should be made payable to: “For the benefit of Warren Argo.”) Lots of great photos and memories of his friends can be found here: