Sep 142008

This afternoon I went to the Speedy Tolliver Fiddle Festival in Arlington, Virginia. My friend Barney has wanted to go for a few years, so he decided to make it this time. He offered me a lift there, so off we went.

Speedy is a fiddler in Virginia who turned ninety this year. He is the chief attraction and judge of this “contest.” The festival is a rather casual contest. Fiddlers and banjo players sign up, and then each gets a few minutes on the stage. Judges choose top folks in each category, but everyone is very laid back about it all.

We got there around contestant twenty out of fourty-some. We listened to maybe fifteen or so. Some of the ten- or twelve-year-old kids were awesome. One girl played a very credible Back Up and Push including the Orange Blossom shuffle in the B part. How exciting to see young kids playing fiddles.

The festival was in a dinky little park called Lubber Run Park. The amphitheater seated maybe one hundred fifty. We sat down and started to chat with some friends nearby, but a woman sitting in front of us gave us mean looks. So one person there was not laid back as the rest.

The second contestant we saw was Marcie from Dead Man’s Hollow. She’s a good fiddler and a friendly person to play with. She had Mike on guitar from the band. She did a cross-tuned version of Red-Haired Boy, and something else that I really liked, but I can’t remember what it was called. I think it was an original of hers.

After sitting there for an hour, Barney (with his banjo) and I (with fiddle) caught up with Mike and Marcie. We had a great little jam session for maybe forty minutes off in a quiet spot. A couple guys were listening in and digging the music. They taped everything we played, which was flattering. We did some usual ones, like “Cindy,” “Slewfoot,” “Westphalia,” “My Own House,” etc. I showed them “Sandy River Belles” which they didn’t know, and Marcie showed me “Grandmammy Look At Uncle Sam.” Love that Uncle Sam tune the way John Hartford played it, but I’ve never learned it myself.

We played “Duck River” at Marcie’s suggestion, and then I showed them how I play Duck as a counter-theme to Sandy River with the Feel The Wag guys. They liked my weird little fiddle sonata thing. Mike plays some great backup guitar, and he jumps in and plays the melody right there with the fiddles too. Barney has a sweet clawhammer style that reminds me of Doc Watson’s banjo playing. No double thumbing or “melodic” trickiness. A lot of folks try to play melodic clawhammer and they never quite get good timing or tone. I like the simpler banjo styles unless someone can really pull off the intricate stuff.

As so often happens, Barney and I said that the jamming was even better than the listening, but it was all excellent.

Bye for now. c

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