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Was a Fiddle What Done it

After college, my oldest friend moved to Charlotte, N.C., for a job, while I stayed in Northeast Ohio to start my career. In 2007, my company put on a small trade show in Charlotte and sent me down to help staff the event, providing me the perfect excuse to extend my stay and visit my friend.

During that time, I had not yet begun playing banjo, but I was getting close, as I was in what I call my "anything with banjo" music listening phase. That trip proved to be my first experience listening to a live old-time string band.

My buddy picked me up from my hotel, and we started driving west to the Blue Ridge Mountains. We both like to hike, and then we planned to stay in Ashville for a little nightlife and local beer. A park area near where my grandparents used to live provided the hiking; Jack of the Wood would provide evening entertainment.

When we got to the bar, we had no idea that there was live music that night, and there wasn't much hint of what was to come when we arrived. We ordered some Green Man ales and kicked off our evening. Shortly thereafter, a band started to set up: a fiddle, a banjo, a guitar, a bass, and one microphone.

These were the Forge Mountain Diggers, a short-lived old-time group that featured Allison Williams on banjo and vocals, Thomas Bailey on guitar and vocals, Meredith McIntosh on bass, and fiddler extraordinaire David Bass, of Freight Hoppers fame.

I was mesmerized. Despite the beer haze, the band left an indelible mark on my psyche. Bass's high-energy bowing drove old-time music right into my soul. His fiddling remains a favorite to this day.

After the Diggers finished their set, I approached Williams to buy a CD, which is now well-worn, and I told her that the band should come play in Cleveland. Little did I know that Bass is originally from the area. The band never toured Northeast Ohio and would later break up when Bass reunited the Freight Hoppers. Despite their brief history, the Forge Mountain Diggers left a lasting impression. I blame that driving fiddle for starting me on my journey with old-time music.

[Update: Jeff Delfield gave me the name of the bassist who played with the Diggers that night, as oddly enough he was there. He also gave me this link to a video of the band.]


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