Festival of American Fiddle Tunes
Port Townsend, Washington, June 29 - July 6, 1997.
By Ryan Thomson
The festival of American Fiddle Tunes was scaled back to a one week event this year,
following the two week long mega-fiddle-fest of 1996. I made a late decision to to attend
this year and was told that I was #300(the last person accepted) when I called in my credit
card number two week prior to the camp. Within a few days I received confirmation of my
acceptance and updated news of changes and additions to the program.
Arriving on Sunday afternoon, I checked in, received my private room key for the dorm, and
reviewed the scheduled events for the week. The daily schedule included two morning
class room meetings with a choice of rotating fiddle, banjo, or guitar teachers: 9:00am -
10:30am, and 11:00am - 12:30am. This system was very flexible enabling students to pick
and choose classes to their liking. It was possible, for example, to either take classes with
the same teacher all week long, or visit two completely different classes each day.
Afternoon sessions had two different format choices: individual tutoring on instrument
technique; or "band lab." Quoting the information handed out to students: "Each faculty
person coaches a participant band, teaches a few tunes, tries to impart style, and generally
works toward getting everybody playing together. Participant bands have the opportunity
to play for dancers on Friday evening. The band labs culminate in the band concert on
Saturday morning. A very fun and exciting event. Two bands will be chosen by lottery to
perform in the public performance on Saturday afternoon."
Rather than staying with a particular instructor, I sampled many different fiddle classes
throughout the week, including Irish, French Canadian, old timey, Texas contest, and
Romanian, and even a guitar class in Texas style backup playing. For my band lab I selected
Romanian. I learned tunes used in several different styles of Romanian folk dances. By the
end of the week our Romanian band, dubbed "The Romaniacs," sounded pretty good, and
we were selected by lottery to perform in the Saturday night public concert at Fort
Worden. My Romanian teacher from last year's camp explained that many "Romanians"
prefer this spelling of their country because it reflects proudly on a heritage from the
former Roman empire.
Highlights of the week for me included: Irish sessions with Dale Russ(one of my favorite
Irish fiddlers), my Romanian class with George Cabas, late night contra dances(2 - 4am) with
the open band, cajun dances, square dancing to the music of Charlie Walden(fiddle) and
Pat Plunkett(piano), hiking through the woods and collecting wild blackberries, listening to
master texas fiddler Gary Moore and accompanist Gayle Hopson reel off tune after tune,
night and day, and visiting with my fiddling friends from around the country.
In summary: a very good week for me, and a hearty recommendation to others
contemplating a week of fiddling and fiddling study.
For more information visit the Centrum web site
Written by Ryan Thomson, 1997