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Oct 4, 2022 - 9:23:12 AM
106 posts since 3/15/2022

In one of the recent discussions someone said they don't know of any old time fiddlers making a living fiddling. In this forum there seems to be an attitude that relegates old time fiddling to an amateur folksy pursuit and that is a fine part of the fiddling tradition. But professional old time fiddlers are not a thing of the past or just limited to hotshots who play sessions or canned shows.

These are fiddlers and bands I've been listening to and appear to be making a life out of their music some how. I'm sure there are more, but these are some in my listening rotation. I enjoy visiting their websites to see what they are up to and it opens up a world beyond what is here on this forum or what is mainstream or popular. What old time fiddlers could you add to the list?

Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller emmyandjesse.com
David Bragger oldtimetikiparlour.com/
Bruce Molsky brucemolsky.com
Chance McCoy chancemccoy.com
Betse Ellis fiddlebetse.com/
Shawn Craver shawncraverfiddler.com
The Onlies theonlies.com/
Rachel Eddy racheleddymusic.com/
Tatiana Hargreaves tatianahargreaves.com

Oct 4, 2022 - 9:37:43 AM
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Erock77

USA

140 posts since 9/3/2022

Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind foghornstringband.com

Edited by - Erock77 on 10/04/2022 09:38:11

Oct 4, 2022 - 9:56:13 AM
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DougD

USA

10869 posts since 12/2/2007

Probably Rayna Gellert.
I'm pretty much retired now, but I've been involved in music, mostly old time, professionally since high school, including about seven years as a full time traveling performer. Starting in 1997 I spent amost 20 years working in theater, Including doing two productions with Betse Ellis, which was a blast.

Oct 4, 2022 - 10:48:03 AM

907 posts since 3/1/2020

There are certainly some old time fiddlers who are making a living now, and they play very well.

The prior discussion was more about modern players in comparison with the older ones, with some expressing an opinion that the modern players just weren’t that musically talented, inspired, or authentic. I don’t agree with this, which is why I also would suggest that the players above have been able to make a living, while very few of the old time players of yore could do so. That’s not to say the older players are necessarily all bad, just that the good new ones clearly have the ability to find an audience, even if it’s not here.

Oct 4, 2022 - 11:00:58 AM
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DougD

USA

10869 posts since 12/2/2007

I don't think you really understood the previous discussion, and I certainly don't want to reopen it here. Suffice to say that many of the "old time players of yore" were very good, and often earned a living with music if the chose to.

Oct 4, 2022 - 11:03:07 AM
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907 posts since 3/1/2020

Here’s a band I’ve seen a lot in the last few years. They tend to play at a lot of the folk events in my area, so I’ve been able to watch them develop. The fiddler has won the Old Time fiddle contest at Galax as well as the Best All-Around Performer, for what it’s worth. They have participated in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship program and studied with some excellent established musicians. The banjo player, guitarist, and fiddler all attend Berklee.

https://thewildmans.net/home

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 10/04/2022 11:03:41

Oct 4, 2022 - 12:13:33 PM
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106 posts since 3/15/2022

Yeah... no need to rehash. What I was referring to here was not the prior discussion of playing style or technique.

By amateur or folksy, I mean fiddlers who play at festivals and jams informally as a hobby or lifestyle choice secondary to a career etc. And I'm not knocking them at all.

Also making a living with fiddling (or making a life out of it) doesn't necessarily mean polish or flawless technique. I heard this story of an old time fiddler who would play on the boardwalk and cell CDs. It was said he made 100,000 dollars in one year and I don't even remember his name. He never went to jams or festivals.

The world's a big place with all kinds of people doing all kinds of things in real life. I try to remember that.  

Edited by - fiddlenerd on 10/04/2022 12:18:21

Oct 4, 2022 - 12:33:39 PM
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13888 posts since 9/23/2009

Imho it seems a streak of luck for ANY kind of musician to actually earn a living at it. I've had so many people, my whole life, tell me I should play for a living...I always said, "Would you pay me to do this, what I'm doing that caused the comment?" And always the answer was "No." lol...so, well not just me because I'm not good enough really but other people I've known who could play anything...yeah you might be able to make a few bucks here and there, but if you need to pay for a place to live, transportation, clothes, feed your dog or young'uns, etc., music ain't gonna do that for most people, no matter how good they are imho, from what I've observed. You need a REAL job, and if you're lucky you'll get to ignore your family and get a decent musical sideline...lol.

Oct 4, 2022 - 1:59:32 PM
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DougD

USA

10869 posts since 12/2/2007

If you have an hour to spare, here's a glimpse of what it was like to "make a living" as an old time musician 45-50 years ago: folkstreams.net/films/dance-al...and-story
If you don't care to watch the whole thing, here are a couple of my favorite segments:
17:00 Galax, VA fiddle contest. This is nothing like Clifftop.
1:06:00 Treasures. Some of the people we met along the way.
A different world I guess.

Oct 4, 2022 - 2:13:26 PM
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RobBob

USA

2876 posts since 6/26/2007

Since 2002 I have made my living with music, playing several instruments including old time fiddle. It involves performing, teaching, recording and lots of travel. But lately I have slowed down, since the previous spasm of making a living playing music happened in the 1970's for a few years. I do not push for much work anymore but I keep busy enough.

Oct 4, 2022 - 6:22:12 PM
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13888 posts since 9/23/2009

If you make a living at being a musician how do you pay for family health care? We never had health care and moved up here for my diddly squat job...I was the only one to get retirement and health care for the family, and that insurance took 1/3rd of my little bitty paycheck away, but we were relieved to have it. I don't see how musicians would ever get it in this country, where access to health care is always a looming threat to force a person into bankruptcy and homelessness.

Oct 5, 2022 - 6:09:51 AM

907 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by DougD

If you have an hour to spare, here's a glimpse of what it was like to "make a living" as an old time musician 45-50 years ago: folkstreams.net/films/dance-al...and-story
If you don't care to watch the whole thing, here are a couple of my favorite segments:
17:00 Galax, VA fiddle contest. This is nothing like Clifftop.
1:06:00 Treasures. Some of the people we met along the way.
A different world I guess.


Since this band was a part of the Folk Revival, I consider it a modern one. Band members and audiences alike have described it as being different in sound and style from the original sources, although heavily influenced by them. At that time, the players who had been prominent in earlier days were getting older and dying. It's this generation and perhaps a couple before it that I consider the old style, as they were the players who were in vogue when Old Time first got its name. Although there were some exceptional players, the majority never made their living as fiddlers; most played as time allowed.

I don't think that one needs to be a professional (in the literal sense) to be a good player, but I would say that one needs to play at least fairly well to be a professional. The personal fulfillment that one can find in playing the instrument is not dependent on playing ability, however. 

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 10/05/2022 06:15:48

Oct 5, 2022 - 8:13:17 AM
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Mobob

USA

222 posts since 10/1/2009

keep in mind, this all depends on how you define "making a living". Just having a roof over your head and enough to eat, or married, with children and a home of your own?

Oct 5, 2022 - 8:20:59 AM
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106 posts since 3/15/2022

"...if you need to pay for a place to live, transportation, clothes, feed your dog or young'uns, etc., music ain't gonna do that for most people, no matter how good they are imho, from what I've observed. You need a REAL job, and if you're lucky you'll get to ignore your family and get a decent musical sideline...lol."

Surprising comment. Harsh. Do I sense some discontent here? "Most people.." Do most people want to be a professional musician? Does being a professional musician mean that they have ignored family or are derelict in responsible life choices?

I see these musicians as heroes who make it work in spite of the condemning voices of our society.

Edited by - fiddlenerd on 10/05/2022 08:21:41

Oct 5, 2022 - 9:24:31 AM
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106 posts since 3/15/2022

Making a living. Making a life. Living a life. Lifing a live. However it is defined or said, it's different for everyone and a zillion self help books have been written about that. If that is bogging you down, maybe look into some Jungian shadow psychology? ;)

But back to the original sentiment...

"These are fiddlers and bands I've been listening to and appear to be making a life out of their music some how. I'm sure there are more, but these are some in my listening rotation. I enjoy visiting their websites to see what they are up to and it opens up a world beyond what is here on this forum or what is mainstream or popular. What old time fiddlers could you add to the list?"

I could list a bunch of bluegrass fiddlers.

Oct 5, 2022 - 9:36:43 AM
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DougD

USA

10869 posts since 12/2/2007

fiddlenerd - If you expand your question a little beyond "old time" to include other traditional musics there might be even more players.
In Cajun music maybe Dirk Powell and Joel Savoy.
Even more in Irish music like Kevin Burke, and the shows "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance" provided opportunities for people like Eileen Ivers, Liz Carroll and Athena Tergis. And Aly Bain - I've played both "old time" and Scottish tunes with him years ago.
In the world of contra dance there are many good players, and this is a style where maybe formal training is more useful. I still enjoy this YouTube video: youtu.be/eYg1Q-SC-eo
I know several people in that orchestra, who are from various backgrounds (maybe a couple Boston Symphony members in that bunch). Lissa Schneckenburger, the lead fiddler on the right, is a graduate of the New England Conservatory, and also a lovely singer and talented songwriter.
Big world out there!

Oct 5, 2022 - 11:37:41 AM
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907 posts since 3/1/2020

Living:
an income sufficient to live on or the means of earning it.
-Oxford Languages


If you expand even further to include other traditional forms such as Jazz, Nordic fiddling, Klezmer, Carnatic violin playing, Mariachi, baroque violin, and classical violin, there are plenty of musicians who make a living playing.

Working as a self-employed artist is challenging, but good players with some gumption, business savvy, and a bit of luck are able to do it. High level professional orchestras and bands pay pretty well if you can get in (the competition is intense).

Oct 5, 2022 - 11:40:10 AM
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Old Scratch

Canada

1063 posts since 6/22/2016

Clearly GHP said 'most people' as short-hand for 'most people who play music and who imagine that they would like to be able to make a living from it'. I would have thought that was obvious in the context of a discussion of Old Time fiddlers making a living (or not) from playing music - this isn't a court of law, after all.

'Does being a professional musician mean that they have ignored family or are derelict in responsible life choices?'

I don't think GHP intended her remarks to be taken quite so literally. She seems to have struck a nerve, or something .....

Oct 5, 2022 - 1:02:42 PM
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13888 posts since 9/23/2009

Thanks, Old Scratch. Fiddlenerd, I'm sorry I came across as crass...I was being sarcastic when I said if you're lucky you can never see your family if you get a music sideline...etc., however i said it, or bungled up the thought. I meant most people don't really get to where they can earn a living in music or the arts. I've known a lot of people who were really good but of course there was no chance they could live their lives only playing music...same with art...I've known a lot of people good with painting or carving...again...side jobs here and there but no way they could make it just doing that. And same with acting...I met people who lived in L.A. for decades to become involved in the acting world...ended up working their lives in restuarants or whatever...I mean...these creative sorts of endeavors are very fulfilling to take part in or do around the community for free or maybe sometimes for a little cash here and there...but to raise a family, take care of all the needs, food, housing, transportation, health...just all the stuff...even to take care of your dog...you need income, steady income. Most people won't find that in the arts or any creative stuff they love to do...just an observation.

My big dream was to be a farmer and to have some opportunity to play music within my community...both total flops...being disinherited and also the scapegoat child in my upbringing...which pretty much guarantees you won't accomplish anything...lol...but I feel proud to have gone through college plus a little graduate school, and even though I never found out how to become anything special, just happily relieved to have been able to end up going from food stamps and scrap vehicles, drawing up water in a 2 1/2 gallon bucket, splitting wood and getting coal from the roadside for heat and cooking...to have raised our child and given her a good education and gotten ourselves into a state of retirement where we aren't dependent on the government or anybody but ourselves, and, to boot, we've helped a lot of other people to get out of poverty along the way. So yeah...I don't believe I could have done that with music...and it's probably a good thing I never set out to try it...lol...can't imagine what sort of shape we'd be in by now.

Oct 5, 2022 - 2:31:17 PM
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Mobob

USA

222 posts since 10/1/2009

I once heard Doc Watson asked in an interview,
"What advice do you have for a young person who wants to play music for a living?"
Doc said, "I guess its okay, if you tried everything else first."

Oct 5, 2022 - 2:36:47 PM
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DougD

USA

10869 posts since 12/2/2007

Well, here we both are, at the end of the line I guess! Seemed like fun to me, and I think Doc enjoyed it too.


Oct 5, 2022 - 2:39:18 PM
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106 posts since 3/15/2022

I never considered that most old time musicians have a desire to be professional musicians.

But looking at it that way, do these musicians see the pros as having gotten lucky and have won some special prize in life?

I've heard professional musicians talk about it differently... more as synchronicity, a blessing, and opportunity they never would have had without taking the initial step of deciding to be a musician.

Oct 5, 2022 - 4:19:34 PM
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DougD

USA

10869 posts since 12/2/2007

BTW, this seems like a topic that might be fun to discuss on an Internet forum (or not) but has never even occurred to me in real life. One of the great things about "folk" arts is that they were passed from person to person in a community (without having to attend Berklee) and played an important role in that community.
Just in the photo I posted above, Doc was obviously a professional musician, but Clint Howard, who asked me to play that show, was a farmer, school bus driver, county commissioner, and an expert welder. He and Doc had started out performing on the folk music "circuit" together and were lifelong friends. Both lost their sons, musical and life partners, and Clint told me that when his son Clarence passed Doc told him he would never get over it but gave him some advice on how to cope. It was interesting that when they performed together Doc still deferred to Clint as emcee as they had done in the early days.
Years ago the late Richard Blaustein, from Brooklyn and one of the founders of the traditional music program at East TN state university, got some funding so he, Clint and I could play in all the schools in Johnson county. Clint loved to entertain children, and it was great for them to see a different side of him other than their school bus driver. Clint once asked me to play banjo with him at Homecoming at his church. Where I grew up we didn't have banjos in church and I asked him if it would be appropriate. He said "Oh, the head man loves the banjo." I thought "Did Jesus love the banjo? - no wait Jesus wasn't really the 'head man' - maybe God himself loves the banjo." Turned out Clint was referring to a human, but standing in that little country church and singing out of the old time hymnal next to one of my musical heroes meant a lot to me.
Guess I'm rambling a bit, but if Peggy can do it, why not me (as the Judds sang). "Professional" vs "amateur (in the real sense)" means nothing to me, and I don't think it has to anyone I've ever met. You can either play or you can't - that's about it.


Edited by - DougD on 10/05/2022 16:28:50

Oct 5, 2022 - 6:06:33 PM

907 posts since 3/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by DougD

BTW, this seems like a topic that might be fun to discuss on an Internet forum (or not) but has never even occurred to me in real life. One of the great things about "folk" arts is that they were passed from person to person in a community (without having to attend Berklee) and played an important role in that community.


I think that's interesting, and I do see the value in learning from players of a particular style. However, how do you reconcile the use of old recordings as source material, then? If music must be passed down from one player to the next directly, does that mean that listening to recordings for reference is breaking the chain of folk tradition? What about players who live in foreign countries and don't have access to players? It seems that many of them have been able to develop a sense for Old Time by listening to old recordings. I recall from watching the documentary you linked in older threads that the band in which you played drew a lot of inspiration from old recordings.

I have to wonder about written music as well. So much folk music would have been lost forever had it not been written down in the ages before recordings. I think it's valuable to be able to see what folk music was like at a given time and to trace the progression of tunes. 

Oct 5, 2022 - 6:31:36 PM
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13888 posts since 9/23/2009

Doug always has such neat stories. Man, i cannot imagine sitting next to Doc on stage...I mean...well I couldn't do it. We did meet him once though...he came to this area one time only...he was over the river in Coney Island, just outside of Cincinnati...my daughter bought me a ticket for Mother's Day...it was on Mother's Day exactly and my gosh it was the best thing ever. I mean...I'm not a concert goer, but I've heard Doc's playing so much and it's just so good. Anyway, after the concert, daughter grabbed me and just started running, pulling me along, over hedges and through gates, etc., we were both fairly athletic back then...so I ran along...she knew where his tent was and we just walked right in. We weren't supposed to do that...we scaled the barriers and just ran there...so I felt stupid as we stood there watching him tell a relative of his who lives in the area how much they all miss each other, etc., and then they said bye and she left. So then it was just us and Doc, putting his guitar away...and not having been around blind people much...I sorta made a little noise and just mumbled out..."Doc?" He stopped and said, "Yeah what is it?" And we just told him how much we loved his music so he posed with us while my husband (who had caught up with us by this time) took a few pictures. I look really crazy in those pictures...well I mean I always look nuts in a photo, but especially then...my face was really red...I was embarrassed and thrilled at the same time and knew Doc was getting ready to hit the road and we weren't supposed to be in there...lol...so I look nuts but it was a great day and he was very nice and talked to us very nice for a few minutes...which I greatly appreciated. I think that was 1996 or 97 maybe...somewhere around there. Ain't too many people in this world who play like Doc did.

Oct 5, 2022 - 6:52:06 PM
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RobBob

USA

2876 posts since 6/26/2007

I can't say I made a living only playing old time music. That is near impossible as most folks take on some kind of showbiz aspect. I did it working in old country radio acts, bluegrass and old time bands and even playing blues on harmonica with an elder blues man. Like any business you do what you must including teaching, instrument repairs or whatever it takes to keep the lights on. I did a stint of 23 years working non-musical jobs in the middle of all of it.

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