Captain Fiddle Music

Ryan and Brennish


Last Concert at Old Faithful

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String Band Music at Old Faithful Geyser

by Ryan Thomson

In the mid 70's, I developed a passion for street performing and for several months played

guitar 5 or 6 days a week in an old time string band in San Diego. We played at the beach,

the city parks, downtown, and anywhere we could find a crowd. We played in pizza parlors

for dinner, for square and contra dances, and for anyone who would listen. We were

actually pretty good, and lined up a number of paid gigs from people who heard us in

public. At one point we auditioned at a topless bar in downtown San Diego and the dancers

attempted to boogaloo to fiddle and banjo tunes. At the beach one day, on a sunny

afternoon, some band members from the then popular Loggins and Messina band happened

to be lying close by on their beach towels, heard us, and invited us back to their hotel

rooms to jam. We didn't end up going, I'm sorry to say.

Finally, our banjo player entered the later stages of pregnancy, and we disbanded. I wasn't

ready to quit however, and so helped organize a group of other local musicians into a

traveling street performing unit. We decided to spend the summer of 1976 traveling across

the US, and making our living as street performers. We drew up a list of possible

performance sites with the largest crowds and headed east. We had many adventures along

the way but my favorite performance was at Yellowstone National Park. I had visited there

as a child and knew the layout. It had occurred to me that a perfect venue for a street

performing band was the Old Faithful Geyser. It was a national shrine, visited by thousands

of people every day.

It was a street performers dream come true. The geyser erupted every hour, on the hour,

all day long. Crowds would start gathering 25 minutes before each eruption. A sleeping

geyser is pretty dull. A couple hundred people would be standing around with nothing to

do. We would take out our instruments, open our cases on the ground, burst into song, and

play for a captive audience. We made money at a good clip until the moment the geyser

erupted, and then all attention was focused away from the us. As soon as the eruption was

over, everyone left, we divided up the money, and then a new crowd would start to

gather, and we would repeat the show.

We performed in this fashion for a couple of days until the head ranger for the park

decided that there was a problem. After consultations and discussion, we were granted

permission to perform in front of the main lodge in the park, but to avoid geysers and

other natural features. The park administration drew up new public guidelines to

implement this rule. No more performances at Old Faithful. Our income at the lodge

turned out to be much lower than that at Old Faithful, and so we packed up and headed for

Mount Rushmore. But that's another story!

Written by Ryan Thomson, 1996