Preserving and Promoting Old-Time Fiddling in Northern New England
In 1964, Goddard College of Plainfield, VT sponsored a fiddle contest under the direction of Ray McIntyre who was the music teacher at that time. Clem Myers of South Barre attended that contest along with his wife, Ginny. Clem, a well known and respected musician in the area, had laid down his fiddle years prior to raise his family, and when asked to participate, Clem had to borrow a fiddle to do so. However, the contest awakened his dormant love of the fiddle, and he became the driving force behind the birth of the Northeast Fiddlers Assoc.
Bob Slora, also of Barre and a friend of Clem, had asked Clem to play at various functions around the State. At this same time, a young man named Bob Clarke of Middle Hadden, CT was a student at Goddard College, and he was writing a paper on the topic of “Promoting and preserving the art of old time fiddling.” He contacted Clem to help him start a fiddle club. The object was to get fiddlers together once a month to play, exchange tunes and provide a good time for the entire family. Clem and Bob Slora diligently worked at this project and were very successful in recruiting fiddlers all by word of mouth.
On December 16, 1965 the Northeast Fiddlers Association was granted a charter, and they incorporated into a non-profit organization. Monthly meetings immerged in town halls and grange halls in small towns such as Hardwick, Wolcott and Adamant with an early membership of 50. After a fiddle meeting in the Hardwick American Legion in 1965 Clem called a business meeting, and the officers were elected. Clem Myers was elected President, Rene Peloquin elected Vice President, Frank Grow elected Secretary, and Ray McIntyre was elected Treasurer. Thus the Northeast Fiddlers Assoc. was born.
The weekend of May 28, 1966 was our first two day festival. A full-fledged show was staged on Friday night. Saturday afternoon was spent at the concert followed by a supper and then public dancing at the Woodbury School in the evening. In 1967 the club presented our two day contest in Middlebury where many college students participated. It was also our first exposure to television cameras.
In 1968 the club moved the contest to Montpelier and to the first weekend in October. It drew such a large audience that we were forced to move to the Barre Municipal Auditorium in 1972 and to the 3rd weekend in September. The contests ran through 2008, and during that time we had many distinguished guest fiddlers to entertain us during intermissions. The first being Graham Townshend of Ontario, Canada in 1971 who was the Champion Trick & Fancy Fiddler at that time. Other entertainers were Ivan Hicks, also from Canada and then later on Graham made many appearances along with his wife Eleanor who was an accomplished fiddler in her own right. This was the Annual National Old Time Fiddlers and Step Dancers’ Contest. Step dancing was added in 1982 as a related art. In 1995 the Vermont Champion fiddle division was added to the program. The contest was selected several times by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce as one of the Top Ten Fall Events in the State of Vermont. The first Old Time Fiddlers’ Week was proclaimed by Governor Howard Dean for the week of September 24 – 30, 2000. In 2008 the yearly contests ended due to lack of participants and financial constraints.
In retrospect, let us thank those 20 fiddlers who gave us our first concert: Clem Myers, Frank Rekman, Fletcher MacIntyre, Elroy (Ted) Hedges, Florence Weed, Wilfred Guilette, Raymond Anair, Frank Grow, Neal Converse, Wessel Lafoe, Carl, Rene Peloquin, Dennis Clofford, Tom Azarian, Bill Royer, Ozzie Ploof, Louis Beaudoin, Rene Guimond and Allen Chertok.
We have been very fortunate to grow to a membership of over 500. There are now several very good young fiddlers coming along who will carry on this tradition and hopefully they will enjoy the association as much as we old timers have and still do. The association is still strong, with excellent attendance and a number of very good fiddlers.
The yearly dues started out at $1.00 back in 1965 and are now only $15.00, $18.00 for Canadians. Our membership now, in 2019, is considerably down from that high of over 500 during the contest years, and we are actively trying to increase it.
Written by Lu-Ann (Grow) Mashia in 2014 for the 50th anniversary.
Jean Paul Lague, Chick Commo & Marty Young, fiddles
David Carr, guitar & Janice Carr, piano