We made a relatively quick trip out to Samish Island in Washington to check on our house and to see how our neighbors were doing. Most of the time was spent working around the house and relaxing. The main thing was that Laura didn’t want to be on the east coast right after graduation at Furman.
We didn’t travel as much as we usually do on these trips, but we did get out to Rosario Beach for a day out. It was the first time I’d been out there in years. We wanted to look at the tide pools, but there were three busloads of kindergarteners who wanted to do the same thing. We opted for another cove that was a bit more isolated.
As for me, it was two weeks catching up with my musical friends in the Skagit Valley.
Washington Old-Time Fiddlers Association, District 4
I learned about the Old Time Fiddlers when we were here for the sabbatical year in 2017. However, I never got around to taking part in one of their sessions. I saw that they would be having a session while we were out there, so I decided to give it a try. Back in 2017 I didn’t have as much experience with old time sessions as I do now, so I was hesitant to pay them a visit. Now that I’ve played in lots of sessions I had certain expectations. Yeah, those got thrown completely out the window on this visit.
The WOTF group is very much formalized. The state is divided into districts and there are by-laws and officers. District 4 meets at the Mount Vernon Senior Center, and was the closest one to us on Samish Island. They meet every 2nd and 4th Friday of the month.
The only instrument I had with me was my $50 Randy Jackson guitar that I bought at the Anacortes Shipwreck Days. Since “fiddler” is in the organization’s name I expected there to be lots of fiddles, as well as the standard complement of banjos and mandolins. When I arrived it turned out that it was mostly guitars. One fiddle did eventually show up. One player had a banjo that never came out of its case. There were a couple of mandolins.
The session started with a business meeting. Mostly there was news about playing for various assisted living facilities in the area. The one bit of business that required a vote was whether or not a drummer would be allowed to join the sessions. The members voted “no.”
When the music portion actually started, things were very different from what I expected. The chairs were arrange in a semi-circle. In fact, one woman was insistent that the chairs HAD to be in this formation and NOT in a circle. Up front was a music stand and microphone. The session started on the right side of the semi-circle and moved clock-wise. When it came your turn, you walked up to the mic, selected your song, then sang/played as if you were singing to an audience with the rest of the group behind you. There were a few people there to listen, but it’s hardly what I would call an audience.
I was sitting fairly close to the beginning. Since I didn’t know what to expect I passed on my first time around. As the session progressed that “old-time” was very much a misnomer. They didn’t play much of the fiddle tunes I had expected. It was much more like the Pickens Flea Market sessions where just about anything goes. At least it had to be acoustic and apparently drums aren’t allowed. There was even a guy sitting next to me playing harmonica.
There was a mix of skill levels, but everyone very much seemed to be at an the amateur level. There was probably one person under 30 there, but most would qualify as seniors, myself included.
Eventually the turn came back to me. I picked “Wayfaring Stranger”, which has become one of my signature pieces. It went well. After awhile folks got tired of getting up and going to the microphone. Everyone just stayed seated for their turns. The next time it came around to me I did “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and it proved to be a hit, with everyone singing along.
The session may not be what I expected, but for the most part it was fun. This is a long-established group, and I’m never going to be one to tell them that they are having fun the wrong way. The folks were friendly and welcoming, with the possible exception of the one or two who were such sticklers for format. Yet, even those chatted with me and wanted me to come back. I might, but I think I’d want to see how the neighboring districts are. I have lots of other options in the North Puget region.
Irish Music at Greene’s Corner
Last summer I started playing with the Irish sessions at Greene’s Corner in Bellingham and I’ve really been enjoying it. They play every Monday year round, usually led by fiddler Cayley Schmidt. I’ve gotten to know some of those folks and it’s always lots of fun. I was please that I’d be able to partake in a session on this short Washington trip.
It was a beautiful day, so I took the opportunity to drive up early along Chuckanut Drive and enjoy the views over Samish Bay. I drove around the city and stopped into a couple of shops, all while dodging terrible traffic and surprisingly aggressive homeless folks. It came time for the session, so I headed over to Greene’s and had one of their personal artisanal pizzas before it started.
As I ate I watched folks gather with instrument cases. A couple of them recognized me and welcomed me back, which felt good. Cayley wasn’t there for this session. Since the passing of Skye Richendrfr, Cayley has been interim director of the Celtic Arts Foundation. Barry Cole served as group leader. Barry is a multi-instrumentalist, but is best known as an autoharp player. He was also at the Old Time Fiddlers session I attended earlier. He played fiddle in this session.
In the past the Irish sessions were held outside. For some reason we were inside today, despite the fact that the weather was beautiful. We played through a standard set of Celtic tunes. I played mostly guitar but I also played tin whistle on several tunes. It was fun getting back together with this group and I look forward to playing with them some more when we’re out for a longer stay.
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