Cars lined South Shasta Avenue for blocks at 1 p.m. on October 3. Eagle Point Grange Hall’s parking lot had quickly filled to capacity. The occasion: Oregon Old Time Fiddlers’ monthly jam. According to spokeswoman Kathy Frutchey, these events draw crowds from Jackson, Josephine, and the southern tip of Douglas counties.
“Our group, District Four, has about 120 members,” says Chairman Scott Phillips. “We rotate our meetings among several Granges.”
Elected to his position through member balloting, Phillips defines fiddles as “violins with attitude.” You don’t have to play one to join, he clarified. The only requirement is that you enjoy old time music.
What first-time visitors to a typical jam discover may surprise them. Instead of the anticipated array of fiddles, a preponderance of varied accompanying instruments grace the stage. Most of their melodies will trigger nostalgia. Who has ever studied guitar, without having encountered “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” “Red Wing,” and “Old Joe Clark”? Yet, the local OTF membership spans ages nine to ninety-three. “Sometimes, even six-year-olds show up,” says Phillips, “and they’ll play the rest of us under the table.”
At Saturday’s event, the Grange floor accommodated rows of chairs for spectators, plus space allocated for dancing couples. Next to the stage, Don Evans thumped rhythm on a “gutbucket.” Evans assembled it from parts, including a galvanized wash tub he’d bought at a yard sale.
Participants sign up for their turns to perform. Eagle Point resident Jerry Cook played guitar and sang vintage Ray Price country favorite, “Crazy Arms.” Normally Cook renders duets with wife Zelda, who couldn’t attend that day.
Prospect’s Gene Williams has composed hundreds of untitled instrumentals, and recounts an interesting history regarding the venue. As a teen, he entertained the Camp White soldiers in Eagle Point’s Grange hall during World War II. Later he joined the U. S. Navy, and discontinued playing for forty-three years. “I started again in 1993,” Williams said.
Eldest member Jim Winslow, whose appearance belies his ninety-plus years, strummed a round-hole Martin guitar reminiscent of Hank Williams’ day.
Sams Valley citizen John Renfro picked notes on a custom built guitar. Mingling informally through the crowd, Don Crowl—a familiar face among local accomplished musicians–pronounced Renfro’s DVD’s and CD’s “the best ever.” In other settings, Crowl has jammed with many of the performers present, including celebrated fiddler, Don Maddox, who plans to start a new band soon. “We’ll play in Ashland on October 13th,” Maddox said.
Crowl’s own signature instrument, the multi-necked, amplified, pedal steel guitar, wouldn’t fit the traditional antiquity that befits OTF’s genre. Part of a national organization, the local and state units traditionally shun electrical amplification, except for microphones. Crowl could, however, choose to bring the steel’s “granddaddy,” the DoBro, which he describes as “a guitar with a hubcap.”
“We’re strictly acoustic,” says Chairman Phillips. “You won’t find drums, or electrically amplified instruments in our programs.”
Still, they’re modern enough to have a website, ootfa4.org , which lists their calendar and roster of activities and places where they play. These include various retirement facilities and Central Point’s Sr. Center.
Their monthly jams occur on first Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. Well worth visiting and joining, the non-profit OTF doesn’t charge admission, but welcomes donations.
By F. C. Blake
Of the Independent