- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

WEISER, Idaho (AP) - While you can head to the National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest & Festival every year to hear some pretty fierce fiddling, it’s at Fiddletown Campground where you can join in and rub shoulders with the talented musicians.

The campground by the high school where the prestigious competition is held starts filling with RVs and tents the week prior, and Fiddletown lives up to its name. Throughout the day festival attendees young and old wander throughout the camp looking for a group to join and play with, whether it be on the guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass or mandolin, reported the Idaho Press-Tribune (http://bit.ly/291ib1j).

“Last night I stayed up until 12 jamming, and then I listened to a jam for another two hours,” said 11-year-old Julian Oliver, junior grand champion fiddler for Colorado. “I just like the music, listening to it, playing it.”

Even in the heat of the afternoon on the last day of the festival, several hours before the finals, people could be seen grouped in the shade of tents and RVs for some “jamming.” In one circle sat 74-year-old Duane Stephens of Grangeville, who has been attending since 1965. This was Stephens’ 48th year - not counting a few years in the 1980s when he missed it. He regularly makes it into the top five of his division playing fiddle in the “old style,” with no shoulder rest and holding his bow just a little differently than the younger generation of fiddle players.

“I love fiddling,” Stephens said of why he returns every year. “Not only that, with me it isn’t just about winning. … The big thing for me is all the friends I’ve made over the years.”

The common thing that brings everyone together is a love of good fiddle music, Stephens said.

“I’m not what you call a ‘Texas fiddler,’ but you don’t have to be,” he said.

The fiddle festival-goers laugh and “talk fiddle,” asking who knows this tune or that, passing the instruments around to let others try them out. The atmosphere in the campground is family-friendly and a place where it’s common to talk with someone who decided to pick up an instrument later in life and is now competing at the national level.

Sixty-one-year-old Martin Fewkes of Meridian started playing music when his kids took orchestra in elementary school and they started taking music lessons.

Fewkes ended up borrowing a guitar and sitting in on his kids’ lessons and learning by watching the teacher, with his blessing. He eventually picked up the fiddle, too. Then his wife started learning bass, and now the family jams together and heads to Weiser every year - grandchildren in tow, and Fewkes plays back-up for fiddle players.

“Martin’s story is not unusual for people,” pointed out Spokane, Washington, resident Debbie Dickerson, who started competing at the age of 58.

But talent aside, whether young or old, the best part about Fiddletown is the company of friends who feel like family, she said.

“It’s a magical place,” Dickerson said.

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Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, http://www.idahopress.com

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