July 2019 Fiddlers

KELSEYVILLE — Fifteen musicians gathered for a jam session at the Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum in Kelseyville on Sunday, to play old time fiddle tunes to a barn-full of people.

According to Marilyn Holdenreid, president of the Lake County Historical Society, the fiddlers’ jam has been taking place on the first Sunday of each month for the last five years. Twenty volunteers from the society showed up to set up of chairs, the barbecue, the decorations, and the making of the big-hit raffle baskets, and presentation of food goods for sale.

LCHS, which became a county organization in 1955, opened the Ely Stage Stop and Country Museum in 2011. The society’s mission is to “preserve Lake County’s past, present and future,” according to the website.

Dr. John Parker, Vice President of LCHS spoke about how the Fiddlers’ Jam came to be at the Ely Stage Stop. “We built the barn in 2012 from scratch. A couple of years later, the local chapter of the California State Old Time Fiddler’s Association was looking for a convenient spot for the group to have regular monthly jam sessions. They learned of our barn and asked if they could use it for a couple hours a month. We said ‘fine’, and it all started from there. Within a couple of months, people began coming to listen to the music and we have grown from there.”

Parker announced the raffle and also read excerpts to the crowd from the “Diary of John McKee, who was the secretary to Indian agent Redick McKee. Redick came to Lake County in 1852 to enter into a treaty with the Pomo indians to make the Clearlake Basin a reservation. He was sent by President Milard Fillmore. Just a few months after the Bloody Island Massacre.” The crowd listened intently to the historical excerpts.

Bert Hutt, who plays the guitar and the bodhrán, an Irish frame drum, substituted for Don Coffin [who was getting married and will be back in August], leading the musicians and announcing the songs.

Musicians played their own instruments which consisted of concertinas, guitars, banjos, an Irish drum, a washboard, the stringed instrument Swedish Nyckelharpa, and of course fiddles. “Songs played included, St. Anne’s Reel, Soldier’s Joy,” said Andi Skelton, fiddle teacher and founder of the Konocti Fiddle Club. “We play Irish style, Cajun, Americana, and Scottish, among others.”

Each musician picks a song, round-robin style. Two of Sunday’s musicians were Rafael Contrereras, 16, who has been playing the fiddle for nine years, and his brother Christian, 13, who has been playing the guitar for seven years.

When the musicians played “Yankee Doddle Dandy” the audience burst into song, clapped and tapped their toes. The tune was actor Jimmy Cagney’s [1899-1986] signature tune and it would not be hard to imagine his ghost singing along with the audience, while dancing in the aisles. 

Lisa Wilson, owner of Clear Lake Campground who hosts a fiddle camp there, danced with Alan Fletcher, KPFZ radio host, in the tight aisle at the back of the barn. “I love the Fiddlers’ Jam” she said. “I love that it’s free. I love that the community can come here and hear their neighbors singing and playing music.”

The hard, noon day sun beat down on the five acres of rolling hills. Along with a multitude of electric fans, there was a hefty breeze blowing through the barn, making it comfortable for the standing room only crowd.

Carmon Brittain, who plays the washboard, said, “Nothing keeps people from coming to the jam session. Even if it’s snowing we get a great crowd.”

Cheyanne Parker, a LCHS member, and hobby taxidermist who turns “roadkill into beautiful pieces,” served up popcorn for the crowd. Kris Price, among others, served cookies and pie.

Part of the standing room only crowd, was Carlos Valdez, 12, his brother Manuel, 13 and their grandfather Moses. The boys were visiting their grandfather from Boise, Idaho. “I’ve taken them around the lake to experience the lake. I brought them here. Took them to the roller rink, which I didn’t know existed, which I think is great. Took them across the lake, and to Middletown. You know, this is really a very wonderful place.”

Snapping his fingers to the music, the youngest Valdez, said, “This [the fiddlers’ jam] is really interesting. Don’t usually hear this kind of music nowadays, so it’s intriguing.”

Kathy Jackson of Hidden Valley Lake, has been to the jam three times. “It’s awesome. I’m happy to be around happy smiling people. I can’t stop smiling. I’ll be back!”

During the last song, the tempo of the music sped up and the fiddlers fiddled faster and faster. So fast that  it almost seemed like smoke would arise from their fiddle bows. The crowd  went crazy clapping and stomping their feet in a frenzied beat.

When it was allover, the amped up crowd helped break down and stack the chairs, soon to return on the first Sunday in August to enjoy the jam fest once again.