When it comes to fiddling, sometimes the right stuff can't be heard on TV or radio or even in big concert arenas. Instead the real, old-time fiddling can be found in the smaller towns around the country; in monthly "jams" in community centers; at state fiddlers' conventions; and at the annual national contest in Weiser, Idaho.
The infectious fiddle music that gets even the tone-deaf tapping their toes came west over the Oregon Trail 150 years ago. The small and portable fiddles were wrapped lovingly in old pillowcases and tucked into a covered wagon between trunks and barrels. Fiddling remained a major entertainment into the 20th century - until the invention of the phonograph, radio and television.
In the 1930s and 1940s, fiddling almost died. But in the 1950s, urban folk music revivalists "discovered" it. By 1963, the first national contest was organized in the small town of Weiser, Idaho, on the Snake River.
For the better part of the third week of June, Weiser's population of 4,500 more than doubles to burst its civic seams. Fiddlers and fiddling followers jam the streets.
Savvy spectators, says veteran Seattle fiddler Vivian Williams, spend hot afternoons at contest rounds inside the air-conditioned high school and nights roaming the impromptu jam sessions all over town.
The formality of a contest requires a fiddler to play a hoedown, a waltz and a third tune of choice - a reel, clog, jig,
two-step, schottische, polka or rag. Many of the tunes go back centuries to the British Isles and Scandinavia, with adaptations from Appalachia.
Original words are mostly lost now, but many tune names speak of real life: "Danced All Night With A Bottle In My Hand," "Drunken Hiccups," "Wrassled With A Wildcat" and "A Sweet Bunch of Daisies."
Here are some details on major fiddlers' events in the Northwest. Representatives in each state of the Oldtime Fiddlers' Association listed below can provide more information.
- Washington Oldtime Fiddlers' Association fiddle show April 2-3, Shelton (to benefit the Retired Senior Volunteers Program).
- State contest, May 7-8, Richland.
- State convention fiddle shows, Aug. 6-7, Cle Elum.
- Seattle Center Fiddle Contest, Sept. 25, Seattle.
Contact Wayne Crabtree of the Washington Oldtime Fiddlers Association for more information at E350 Emerald Lake Drive West, Grapeview, WA 98546. Phone 1-206-426-4007.
- Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers' Association state convention variety show, featuring top fiddlers, this Friday (March 19), Roseburg, Douglas County Fairgrounds, Roseburg.
- State contest May 14-15, Lebanon High School.
For more information contact Zelma Foote, Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers Association, 535 North Fifth St., Central Point, OR 97502; phone 1-503-664-4348.
- Idaho Oldtime Fiddlers' Association campout, show and dance May 1, Hoots Cafe on Highway 95 (28 miles north of Riggins or one mile south of Whitebird). - State contest dance and show May 7-8, Nampa.
- Manny Shaw's Jamboree. July 11, Shoshone Park (bring a picnic lunch.) Association annual meeting dance and jam September 24-25, Salmon.
- State jam and show Oct. 30, Summerville's Restaurant, Riggins.
- Roberta Pierce's Country Harvest Hoedown November 13, Nampa Civic Center.
For more information contact Ralph Peterson, Idaho Oldtime Fiddlers' Association, P.O. Box 386, Iona, ID 83437. Phone 1-208-523-4086.
- National Oldtime Fiddling Contest June 21-26, Weiser, Idaho. Request ticket order form and directory of accommodations from the Weiser Chamber of Commerce, 8 E. Idaho St., Weiser ID 83672; phone 1-208-549-0452.
-- Sally-Jo Bowman is a freelance writer from Eugene, Ore.
Traveling Smart / Close to Home focuses on Northwest topics on the the third Tuesday of the month.