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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Old Time Music Reunion

memorial day weekend, May 24 - 27, 2002

Altamont Fairgrounds, New York

by Ryan Thomson

Some folks had been playing music since noon, but my long drive from New Hampshire meant that I showed up after dark on a Friday afternoon, May 24. I drove up a long dirt driveway onto a grassy field and located the registration table. There was a Bruce Molsky concert going on in a barn and a small jam session happening in the registration tent. After paying my $25 all weekend fee I explored the area. I found a good camping spot not too far from the restrooms and shower, and close to the barn. I set up camp, listening to the sounds of the concert escaping from the nearby open barn door.


I finished my camp site at about the same time the concert ended, and soon there were several jam sessions going on in the camping area. I rosined my bow, tuned my banjo, and joined in. I managed to get many many hours of playing in over the weekend, and met some nice folks. Some of the playing was so spectacular that I sometimes relaxed on the lawn listening with eyes closed.


This gathering is total immersion in "old timey" music. That is, most everyone plays southern US fiddle tunes in old timey style, in which single tunes are generally played over and over up to 15 or more times. For those unfamiliar with old timey music I should note that there are many advantages of such repetition: Its possible to learn a tune by ear in a single sitting; One can learn tune variations from other players; its very social music, as everyone is contributing to the mix with various dynamics; experienced players have plenty of time to try out new bowings and melody variations; tunes have time to evolve over a few minutes, and then settle into a fine rhythmic groove.


This event provided the best possible setting for jam sessions: A very high level of playing from the best players, yet many opportunities for players of all skill levels to join in; Being out in an open quiet rural area, there was plenty of space to spread out and play music in many areas simultaneously. There were workshops in banjo, guitar, and fiddle on Saturday in the barn, and opportunities to learn tunes from other players patient enough to sit and teach tunes.


The organizers took care to make sure that everyone was made welcome. Soup, coffee, and snacks were available in the barn at all hours. I really enjoyed my weekend and ended up playing till just before sunrise on Monday morning with a small group of serious musicians. It was hard to leave the music for home, but the long drive home beckoned. If you like to play old time music, or just listen to it, this reunion is highly recommended for players of all levels. 


For info contact, go to Black Creek Fiddler’s Reunion

written by Ryan Thomson, 2002

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