Skip to main content

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.]


Popular posts from this blog

Master and Apprentice: Banjo Builder Workshop in Historic Peninsula, Ohio

The 191-year-old Peninsula, Ohio, provided the backdrop to a parade of pedestrians making their way from station to station across the bucolic village for Music on the Porches on Saturday.

Inside the close confines of Bronson Church, founded in 1835, a master and apprentice presented a free workshop on the art of instrument building. That master being the renowned banjo builder and artist Doug Unger and his former apprentice Mark Ward.

Unger and Ward began the workshop by playing several old-time tunes, discussing their work and the music, and taking questions from the audience. Unger then invited the spectators to step up to the front to see the instruments.

Highwoods Documentary Not a Lost Cause After All

So, once upon a time, I tried to drum up support for a crowdfunded documentary project about the Highwoods Stringband. I donated money to help out, and more than a year later I provided an update on the slow progress. Last I heard, there was some old footage of the Highwoods they were trying to acquire. It's been three and a half years now that I first heard about the project, and I still haven't received my DVD.

I figured that's the risk you take with these crowdfunded, Kickstarter-type projects. I had all but given up the documentary as a lost cause. Until today. If I managed to convince any of you to help fund the project, I felt it my duty to pass along this update directly from Highwoods mainstay Walt Koken.
"After several delays and setbacks, we, the members of the Highwoods Stringband and Mudthumper Music have procured the vintage footage and photos in cooperation with the original producers and put them into the hands of another videographer, Larry Edelman, in …

2016 Year in Review / 2017 Look Ahead

Well, it's been a minute, hasn't it? The last year has been difficult on many fronts. Playing music was no exclusion. The amount of time I spent playing banjo and fiddle suffered the most. I didn't blog much either, which you already knew. But it wasn't all bad. Here's a look back at last year and a look ahead to my goals for the year ahead.

2016 Notes
I have now been playing banjo for eight years and fiddle for four years. My focus remains on the fiddle, as I try to learn general technique and tunes. Time spent playing banjo was mostly to keep up with a handful of tunes I like most.

Playing Time: Due to increased work travel and other factors, my playing time was dramatically reduced in 2016. As mentioned before, I log my practice time in the quest to reach that fabled 10,000-hour mark. This last year was my lowest (by far) amount of time spent on banjo and second lowest time on fiddle.

New Tunes: Despite my reduced playing time, I worked through two fiddle instruct…