This week we wish we were in Weiser, Idaho, for the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival. I thought about going. It didn’t work out, so I tried to find a way to listen to some of the music by streaming a local radio station. Maybe KSRV in Ontario. I don’t think so.
And newspapers? Well the Idaho Statesman in Boise and the Argus Observer in Ontario have told their readers a bit about what’s to be expected. I’ll be watching to see if they spend any time there during the festival.
The Weiser Signal American will probably do the story up right, but the web site where that local weekly newspaper is posted runs some weeks behind events.
The Ontario Argus reporter Johna Strickland sounded less than totally impressed in her advance story about what would be going down say 18 miles to the north. Her first graf said, “Three hundred people are having a party next week.” The 300 were the contestants. I think there will be a few family members, friends, and simply fiddle music lovers who’ll be joining the three hundred for the parties. Before she’s done, however, Strickland takes a nice bow to the widespread interest in this event. She quotes festival director Sandra Cooper saying: “Seems like it doesn’t matter where you go, but if you mention Weiser, Idaho, people say, ‘Oh yeah, National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest.”
No kidding. This thing is world famous. I know lots of people who have never been to Weiser who know about the festival, and like me wish they could be there.
This year I’ll have to settle with knowing that my father and mother were there in 1953 for the first one, to square dance. So was Life Magazine, according to my father’s column about it published here in April. That’s repeated at the end of this post.
I don’t know when square dancing went away but the celebration goes on. Chad Dryden of the Idaho Statesman noted that the events include more than the contest, including wacky events like a pie-throwing contest open to all ages.
But the party really takes off after house in Fiddle Town, the festival’s overnight parking and camping area.
If you are close enough to take it in and want to know more about the event, which began Monday and runs through Saturday, June 21, stop by the official website:
Note: Click on the title to this post and it will take you to a map and/or satellite view where you can find City Park at Liberty Street and East 4th Street. That’s where many of the events take place and the parade starts on Saturday. To get a list of those things we’re missing, go to the festival web site, http://www.fiddlecontest.com/
AND HERE'S THE REPORT ABOUT THE FIRST YEAR:
The Argus Observes: Weiser lights up for the square dance and fiddlers’ contest
From the April 20, 1953 issue of The Argus-Observer
By Don Lynch
Weiser had the crowd literally “hanging from the rafters” for its annual square dance festival Saturday night. The Weiser high school gym was packed so tightly you couldn’t have wedged in another person. There must have been more than 2,500 spectators and dancers.
The big attraction was the Northwest Mountain Fiddlers Contest. It was added to the dance festival as a crowd attraction and the winner was a sufficiently colorful character to warm the heart of the most hardened chamber of commerce promoter. He was 84-year-old Millard “Dad” Roberts of Grangeville. He had a full, flowing beard that made him look like Noah just coming out of the ark. He got up, tucked his fiddle under his beard, drew three or four precarious screeches out of his violin and then lit into “Redwing” as pretty as you please. He followed with “Golden Stairs” and the crowd loved it.
But that wasn’t all the show. There were many other entertaining fiddlers, good specialty acts, and the dancing pleased both dancers and spectators. The dance floor was just as crowded as the galleries. You had to dance closely within your square or the first thing you knew you’d be swinging a “gal” from another square.
A Life magazine photographer provided the most interest for me of anything in the evening. He used film like it was paper. The reports said he took 700 pictures and he certainly looked it.
Sometimes I think we look silly getting into awkward positions to shoot news pictures, but we aren’t in a league with that guy. He stood on the piano and twisted into strange contortions. H shot from the balcony and from the floor. He must have taken some excellent pictures in so many exposures.
Of course the magazine may not use the pictures. It can use only a relatively small portion of the stories it covers.If the pictures do run they will doubtless appear in the “Life Goes to A Party” section in the back of each issue. It’s something for readers in this region to watch for and enjoy if it does run.
Ontario has its annual square dance festival sponsored by the Kiwanis club schedule for a May date about a month away. We can hardly hope to compete with the Weiser dance which has come to be the top event of its kind in the valley. And we’d have a time handling such a large crowd if we did. But we’ll have a good dance. With the acceptance given the Weiser dance, we may have a larger crowd this year than in either of the two previous years. It will be an entertaining show. Better plan now to attend either as a dancer or a spectator.