This is a story our minister told last Sunday.
The big deal of my summer was a week in Weiser, Idaho. Maybe that’s hard to believe. Because if you’ve ever looked at an
Idaho map, you know that Weiser is nowhere. But if you can play the fiddle, Weiser, Idaho is the center of the universe. The Grand National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest is there the last week in June. And since I’ve fiddled around some in my time, I went.
Four thousand people live there in normal times. Five thousand more come out of the bushes and trees and hills for the contest. The town stays open around the clock, with fiddling in the streets, dancing at the VFW hall, fried chicken at the Elks Lodge and free camping at the rodeo grounds.
People from all over show up – fiddlers from Pottsboro, Texas; Sepulpa, Oklahoma; Thief River Falls, Minnesota; Caldwell, Kansas; Three Forks, Montana; and just about every crossroads town you can mention. And even Japan!
It used to be that the festival was populated by country folks – pretty straight types – short hair, church on Sunday, women in
their place and all that. Then the long-haired hippie freaks began to show up. The trouble was the freaks could fiddle… And that’s all there is to it.
So the town turned over the junior high and its grounds to the freaks. The contest judges were put in an isolation room where they could only hear the music. Couldn’t see what people looked like or what their names were – just the fiddling. As one old gentleman put it, “Son, I don’t care if you’re stark nekkid and wear a [ring] in your nose. If you can fiddle, you’re all right with me. It’s the music we make that counts.”
So I was standing there in the middle of the night in the moonlight in Weiser, Idaho, with about a thousand other people who were picking and singing fiddling together – some with bald heads, some with hair to their knees, some with a joint, some with a long-necked bottle of Budweiser, some with beads, some with Archie Bunker T-shirts, some eighteen and some eighty, some with corsets and some with no bras, and the music rising into the night toward whatever gods of peace and goodwill there may be.
I was standing there, and this policeman – a real, honest-to-God Weiser policeman who is standing next to me picking a banjo (really, I swear it) says to me, “Sometimes the world seems like a fine place, don’t it?”