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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

A Hard Act to Follow

by Ryan Thomson

In the late 70's I played fiddle in the Last Chance String Band, an old timey group. We were involved in organizing the annual White Mountains Old Time and Bluegrass Festival. The weekend event went on for 4 years, and we were featured performers along with Joe Val, and other popular New England acts.


The festival was held in the summer at the site of the former Mount Whittier ski area, near Ossipee, New Hampshire. The stage was set at the base of the slope, and the audience would arrange themselves in the natural amphitheater formed by the ski run.


During a particular Saturday night concert we were waiting back stage for the start of our performance set. On the stage stood an english professor from the University of New Hampshire. He had a passionate interest in story telling, and was performing one of his favorite pieces. Just as he reached a dramatic point in his recitation, he suddenly fell straight forward on his face. 


There was a collective gasp from the audience. Everyone waited a few seconds to see what would happen next, and as he remained motionless several people rushed to the stage, examined him and called out for medical assistance. He had suffered a fatal heart attack and died instantly, doing what he loved to do the most. The ambulance arrived quickly, and left.


We were on next! We huddled in quick consultation and decided that the show must go on! We did our regular performance of hot old time fiddle tunes and songs, and everyone agreed later that we had done the right thing. Still, it was a hard act to follow.

Written by Ryan Thomson, 1996

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