Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 6-20-11
Big Timber, Mont.
Water, water, everywhere and plenty of mud to go along with it, especially at Fiddle Camp in Monarch, Mont., in the Little Belt mountains. I’m in the camp getting soaked from constant rain and getting exercise by trekking splashily from location to location while toting a fiddle. To give you a smidge of background, this is the camp’s 16th year. Held annually for two weeks in June, it’s ramrodded by Fred and Jeanie Buckley plus Katelyn, Reid and Taylor, three earlier productions of Jeanie and Fred.
There’s a creek running through the middle of camp. Normally, a scenic, peaceful burbling brook; normally a gentle stream where kids can skip rocks and float toy boats. Generally, musicians can sit on the bank and call up their musical muses. Usually, folks sleep in their own rigs in the extensive camping grounds or they can stay in bunk-bed dormitories. The main meeting lodge is on one side of the creek – dorms and class rooms are on the other side.
Therein lies the adventure. Noah would have fit right in. The gently flowing rivulet turned into an angry tsunami. The first week, Fred and Jeanie arranged to house folks 8 miles down the road at the only motel in Neihart, Mont., (population 48 good-humored souls and one ornery grouch). Fred rounded up a bunch of rubber boots and handed them around. (Fred says it is not a good idea to wear flip-flops in mud). Week two, the water receded a bit allowing people to cross over a wooden footbridge to the dorms. Fred says, “After last week, this one’s a piece of cake.”
The camp hires teachers in all the string instruments – guitar, cello, mandolin, fiddle (of course), banjo, bass … whatever your passion, you can find an instructor to suit your musical ability level.
The week begins on a Sunday: Fred goes over a long list of do’s, don’ts and reminders. The instructors, one at a time, introduce themselves, play a rendition on their particular instrument and remark on what they plan to cover in their classes. You choose the level that fits you – beginner, intermediate, advanced and every variation in between. For the next five days, you attend classes and workshops, eat three squares of scrumptious food and top off each evening with a concert and a dance – the music for which is played by the professionals. (You can join the dance band if you have the courage).
Fred saddles up a bicycle and rides the camp range, showing up everywhere, popping into a classroom, answering questions and oh, yes, playing bass or fiddle or guitar or piano or … anything with strings, even bale strings. Where is Jeanie in the equation? Besides being a brilliant singer and Queen of rhythm guitar, she’s the Supremo camp cook. Without her, it would be like throwing away the keys to the pickup – nothing would get going.
Cole Flikkema who has become a “lifer” at camp as well as being a champion fiddle player, camp straw-boss (his shirt reads: No, I Don’t Know Where Fred Is – maybe the bears got to him first), food server, and sound engineer for concerts, has developed a “social networking” plan to spread word of Montana Fiddle Camp all over the planet. He’s interviewing students on camera – and sending the results out to the universe via facebook and website.
Cole: “Tell your name. You don’t have to reveal your last one if you don’t wish to.”
Me: “Does that mean I can make up a name? Would people believe me if I said I’m Julia Roberts?”
Cole: “What instrument do you play and how long have you been playing?”
Me: “Play? Well, I own a fiddle, a couple of guitars, a dulcimer, a piano, an organ, a banjo, a concertina, three accordions, two tambourines, a tin whistle and a set of spoons. I’ve mastered three chords each on the string stuff. I can play right hand on piano or left hand on piano – I just can’t play them together. My theory: If I acquire enough instruments, I’ll become a musician by osmosis.”
Cole: “Do you have a memorable experience of the Camp?”
Me: “Sure. Probably the most awesome is how little kids barely out of diapers can make a fiddle sing.”
Cole: “Who are your favorite instructors and why?”
Me: “Every teacher goes the extra mile to be kind and encouraging – and they really mean it! I’m destined to be a perpetual beginner, so my favorites are Jill, Katelyn and this year, the awesome James.”
Cole: “Do you have a favorite fiddle style and why?”
Me: “Folksongs and cowboy songs – if those are styles?”
Cole: “What tunes have you learned to play?”
Me: “‘Cripple Creek,’ ‘Old Joe Clark,’ ‘Dinah,’ ‘Danny Boy,’ ‘Oh, Susanna’ and ‘Shave-And-A-Haircut.'”
Cole: “What would you say if you wanted to recommend the camp to someone?”
Me: “If you have a dream about playing music, go for it at Montana Fiddle Camp. Don’t put it off. Life is not a rehearsal. In Fiddle Camp, you bask in music, joy, creativity – and the food is great.”
For more information, please visit MontanaFiddlers.org or go on facebook.com/MontanaFiddleCamp.
P.S. Fred has promised there won’t be any flood conditions in 2012.