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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Festival of American Fiddle Tunes

Port Townsend, Washington, June 29 - July 6, 1996

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

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