I’m not saying a big city couldn’t host a national fiddle festival. I’m just saying that I don’t think New York City or LA or Miami are necessarily the types of towns best suited for such an event. They certainly could host a oldtime-centered festival, but if I was the one choosing a place to hold such a thing, I’d go smaller and more rural. First, I’d pick a smaller state like, say, Idaho, and then narrow it down near the most populous area, but not directly in the center of that. Perhaps a small town within an hour-and-a-half or so of that place, with some agricultural roots and a good sense of western history would make a good place for that. Oh, and there would have to be plenty of wide open spaces for camping, hangouts, and venues for all manner of improvised musical performances. All in all, I’d have to say that a good place for this would be somewhere like… Weiser, Idaho.
Wait, they do that already?
Of course. The National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest and Festival, or as we call it around here, The Weiser Fiddle Festival. Not only is it a “thing,” it’s actually one of those things around here that everybody knows about, and it never escapes mention in these parts when its time rolls around. In fact, it’s so well known that I don’t feel like I really have to tell you that it exists, but there are some things that you might not know about it, even if you’ve lived here your whole life.
For example, did you know that the “Fiddle Festival” is not just about fiddles? There’s a banjo competition, workshops on a variety of bluegrass and stringed instruments, and more guitars in the area than a person could count. Sure, the old hillbilly violin is the king of this hill, but it’s not the only game in town, so if you’re the type to pick on a stringed instrument, there’s probably something there for you. No guitar, mandolin, banjo, or bowed string is foreign here!
Also, it’s not all about the contest. The competition is one of the central features, but there are nonstop performances from a variety of bands on stages throughout the area, children’s events, educational opportunities, and straight-up jams happening as well. The contest honoring a national champion in the art of oldtime fiddling might be the best-known part of the event, but there are so many other things to keep a person occupied that players and music buffs alike will find plenty to enjoy for the entire week.
And another thing that might have slipped under the radar is that this festival isn’t just about bluegrass. The lineup of bands playing this year runs the gamut of oldtime, folk, western, country, and even some fusions thereof. Almost no matter what your preference in acoustic-oriented music is, you’ll find either a group playing on a stage, around a campfire, or off the back of a tailgate somewhere. Yeah, you can rock in Weiser if you want, and you can find company to rock with you, too!
The best way to know just what goes on, though, is to get on up Highway 95 and check it out for yourself for the entire third week of June. Tell ’em a guitar picker sent you. Oh, and don’t tell NYC what I said about them, okay?