Celeste Johnson plays a fiddle tune with Katie Glassman on guitar in a Texas-style jam session.Growing up, music gatherings like fiddle camps and contests were my absolute favorite thing in the world. Each year, I looked forward to these gatherings like other kids looked forward to Christmas or trips to Disneyland. I could not imagine anything more perfect than spending time with friends I loved and artists I admired, all of us there because of our shared passion for traditional music. Those camps and contests were the reason I made many of my dearest friends, discovered a lot about what lights me up, and really honed my musical skills as a fiddler and an accompanist.

The longer I’ve been fiddling, the more I understand why fiddle camp and fiddle contest experiences are so transformative and so essential to this style of music: musical gatherings like these are how old-time fiddling developed into the storied art form it is today. I’m not just talking about jam sessions where everyone shows up for a couple hours and then goes home. I’m talking about high-investment gatherings, those where you have to load up your covered wagon and drive out many hours to get to the square dance. The musical gatherings at the foundation of fiddling were more than transient experiences. They were the reason that people came together, the glue within communities, and the channel through which new musical variations and techniques spread to different regions.

Today, you probably don’t have to load up your covered wagon to get to a square dance. In fact, you can hear the same music our predecessors would’ve heard at a square dance many miles away, simply by opening a new browser tab. We’re living in different times. We have unlimited access to any kind of music or musical instruction that tickles our fancy, and we don’t even have to leave home to get it. But even though our cultural milieu has changed—after all, we don’t need to tie up the horses and spend the night at the hootenanny before driving back to the farm anymore—there’s still a thriving selection of in-person musical gatherings, camps, contests, festivals, and more. People will still travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, to participate in these experiences. After two years of the Zoom life, I’m sure you could easily name a dozen reasons why.

Making music together in person is different. It requires a commitment from each person present: “I am here to create this with you—we, inKatie Glassman holding a guitar at a Texas fiddle jam session this moment, are playing this song that will never be quite the same again.” The act of making music together requires collaboration, spontaneity, intimacy. And that’s just one song we’re talking about. When people come together for longer periods of time (at a fiddle camp or fiddle contest, say), there’s space for even more. Community forms, curiosity grows, and we experience deep inspiration through this musical tradition of which we are stewards. When we dedicate our time, our physical presence, and our attention to anything on that level, incredible changes happen. That’s why these experiences are so dear to me and so many other musicians I know. Every time we come together to make music, we walk away feeling inspired, grateful, and connected to the music and the community in a way that nothing else can imitate. 

I like to think that those feelings of inspiration and connection are the same ones that urged people to pack up their covered wagons and gather together more than a hundred years ago. Today, even though our times have changed, those sentiments are still at the heart of the fiddling tradition.

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Are you still looking for a fiddle gathering that gives you this kind of warm fuzzy feeling and provides a community of folks who love fiddling as much as you do? Check out our Fiddle School Mountain Retreat. Here’s what some of our students have said about it:

“My goal in coming to the retreat was to give myself the time to focus on my fiddling and to socialize with others who have the same focus.”

“The location provided an inspiring setting to learn, enjoy nature, bring folks together from all over to share their love of fiddling and music. Everyone went home happy and inspired to keep playing!”

Camp provided the motivation to practice harder.”

“It felt safe. I enjoyed the slower pace and the kindness with which each jam leader led.”

“Katie’s Fiddle School Mountain Retreat was the most impactful, positive, powerful, organized and focused fiddle/music camp I have ever experienced! I learned so much and am so encouraged to continue my personal enjoyment and improvement on my fiddling skills!”

To learn more about the retreat, click here.

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