by Katie Glassman
I began going to the National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest in 1994. It takes place in Weiser Idaho and hence, all of us regulars call it “Weiser.” Over the years, those trips to Weiser always gave me that needed jolt of inspiration, friendship, and community. Taking place the third full week of June every year, it was always like my “Christmas.” I would plan my trip and my tunes all year long. Between us, it’s all I ever thought about — so sure, I never quite felt like I fit in at school.
When you drive to Weiser, you are immediately slowed down to 35 mph hour as you drive through the small yet festive town. Blasting fiddle music in the car, you’ll pass the large hanging fiddles on the light posts. If you follow them, you’ll eventually end up at the high school grounds, where the contest, camping, and jamming happens. As a kid, I remember arriving at Weiser and immediately feeling butterflies, I could barely wait for the car to stop. That first year, there were 90 people in the Junior Division (13-17), and I came in 52nd place — which sure was a wake-up call. I then practiced so much (and loved every bit of time on my fiddle) that by the time I was 17, I finished in 1st place!
Weiser is where I learned about the fiddle greats from the past and present. I remember watching Danita Gardner win the Grand Champion division in 1999, the first woman ever to do this! And there were so many epic jams that I got to hear — and participate in — over the ensuing years with people like Jimmie Don Bates, the Rast sisters, Carl Hopkins, Gene Gimble, Paul Anastasio… I could go on and on. Oh, and everyone was always saying that things were never as good there as “the old days.” Well, I thought they were pretty darn great. And still do!
Fast forward to 2022… it was pretty awesome to see Britton, Ellis, Evie, and Alexis compete in the Junior Junior Division. They all did an incredible job. They played under the four-minute time limit, with a good groove, good intonation, and plenty of feeling! Britton and Evie made the first cut and got to play a second round. I think the Weiser experience will light a big fire for all of those kids for the year. Needless to say, they began playing guitar throughout the week, and Sydney (you’ve probably seen Sydney Green play guitar in all of the Session 1 videos) was a superstar to jam with them and teach them throughout the week.
Next to our campsite was one of our very first Fiddle School students and longtime fiddler, Louise Terpstra. I happened to be walking by when I spotted her jamming with Susumu Okano — that’s right, Susumu flew all the way out from Japan to compete at Weiser. I sat down and we jumped right into playing 10 or so tunes. The whole time, I was thinking that it was just surreal to be there after recovering from my breast cancer saga. I felt so at home just playing music with my people.
Louise, Susumu, and Donna competed in the Senior Division alongside many good fiddlers. I had the pleasure of being a part of their backup teams. Everyone made it to the second round, and Donna came in 5th place!
Next up was Seiji in the online division. Being a new division, it was a thrill for everyone to have a fiddler attending from Japan. Seiji played two quality rounds, and we are so very proud of him for competing at a national contest!
Then there’s Jesse Quintana from Colorado. This was his second year in the Junior division and he was there to defend his title. And defend he did, Jesse took the whole dang deal — he played solidly, smoothly, and with so much personality that it won us all over. Jesse takes lessons from Celeste; we are so very proud of him — winning the junior division is no small feat. And now he’s done it twice!
Our Celeste. She was a judge this year. The judging panel had four judges, with three on duty each time. She was at our camp jamming whenever she wasn’t in that high school library keeping scores for every single contestant. I think judging may be even harder than competing. Great job, Celeste!
Luke Price. I’ve grown up with Luke and have so much more to share about who he is. But what I’ll say for now is that he’s one of our Mountain Retreat instructors, and he won the Grand National Championship! I love Luke’s style of playing and really, really enjoyed his rounds. Congrats, Luke!
I had some wonderful jams with our buddies Anne and Scott Sumner, Carl Hopkins, Luke, Nat, and Sydney. Playing music is the best moment of any day for me, and this Weiser gave me days and days of joyful musical moments. And now I’m looking forward to competing again in 2023. I was inspired by EVERYONE who played on that stage.
Overall, I feel like Weiser is still very much alive and well. I hope that you get a chance to attend and soak up some of that fiddle inspiration that I’ve thrived on for all of these years.