Captain Fiddle Music

Ryan and Brennish


Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp


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Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp, 1994

By Ryan Thomson

I drove 30 hours nonstop from New Hampshire to Tennessee with 2 good friends to attend

the first Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp, located at a state park outside of Nashville. We took

turns sleeping and the time went by quickly. We brought along bicycles since there were

lots of small country roads to explore during free afternoon hours. We arrived a day early

and attended a local bluegrass festival and contest which takes place in a large limestone


Besides the novelty of being inside a cave hearing fiddle music, the music contest was

interesting. There were categories of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, and clog dancing. The

interesting part was that many of the contest entrants were teenagers who each entered

every category! When they weren't competing, they were playing back up accompaniment

for other musicians in the contest. I've rarely seen so many kids in one place who could

each play several different instruments so well, and dance too!

We arrived at the fiddle camp the next day. Montgomery Bell State Park included rustic

cabins with bunk beds, separate shower and restroom facilities, and a scenic well wooded

location. There was a large grassy field where the 25 or so children enjoyed baseball and

other sports when not playing their fiddles. The large dining hall was also the site for

evening jams, and workshops during the day. The camp provided a number of portable

tents where some campers spent the night. Large delivery trucks arrived several times a

day with the catered meals which were included in the basic camp fee. The food was good

and plentiful. Ticks were also plentiful, and a careful self examination each day was

necessary to prevent the little blood suckers from gaining a significant mouth hold!

The hired faculty included specialists in jazz, classical, studio session playing, celtic, Texas

style contest fiddling, and of course Mark himself leading master classes. Students rotated

from class to class throughout each day so that every fiddler got to spend time with each

faculty member. The quality of the faculty was exceptional. The average level of the

"student" fiddlers was also exceptional. Many attendees were professional fiddlers, music

teachers, or fine amateur players of many years experience. I've never seen so many really

good fiddlers in one place before, except perhaps at the National Fiddle Contest in Weiser,


Throughout the week, other Nashville session players and semi-famous country music

players from the Nashville area would drop by to play in evening concerts, or just jam.

After the first couple of days an interesting phenomena became apparent. Here were more

than a hundred fiddlers in one place, but few banjo, guitar, or other musicians to play

music with! An electric piano made an appearance at the celtic jam area, but there were

no other pianos present. The few people who thought to bring along a guitar or banjo were

in great demand. Fortunately I had my accordion, and a very small battery operated

keyboard which proved to be very handy in jam sessions when I wanted a break from


This event was the first time that I actually met and spoke with Mark although I was an

onlooker at many outdoor jam sessions in Weiser in the 1970's when Mark and his teacher,

Benny Thomason, were making incredible music. At the 1977 National Fiddle Contest I was

on stage with Mark when he received the Northwest regional fiddling award, and I received

the Northeastern trophy. (Benny was one of the judges) I still have a tape of the 1977

contest that I listen to occasionally. At one point the MC describes a mosquito bite on

Marks bowing arm that might potentially interfer with his playing. Of course he went on to

win anyway.

Mark and I pose for a snapshot

I hope to return to this camp in the future. The camp presents an excellent opportunity to

meet and learn from some of the top fiddlers in the US and Canada. The week long event is

presently held twice a year due to the high demand from interested fiddlers. The 1996

dates were June 9-14, and Sept. 22-26. For more information visit the web site.

Written by Ryan Thomson

Postscript February 15, 2004 - At the present time Mark is putting on an annual fiddling

event in San Diego, Cailfornia, with teaching, jams, master classes, etc with well known