The Cats With the Fiddles

Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase to feature fiddle players

Note: This is the first of two articles about the upcoming 23rd Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. The next article will focus on musicians scheduled to play.

LENOIR, N.C. — Patrick Crouch was animated over breakfast recently as we met to discuss the 23rd Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. Scheduled for July 31, “This show has been 20 years in the making,” revealed Crouch, eyes sparkling.

Crouch, his wife Kay and their bandmate Ron Shuffler of Strictly Clean and Decent have been planning and hosting the Showcase from its inception. The title of this year’s program is “Hey Diddle Diddle, The Cats With the Fiddles.” Devoted to showcasing musicians from Caldwell County or with ties to it, this year’s program will bring the number of musicians who have played in it to roughly 250, one of the reasons that Caldwell County is recognized by the Blue Ridge Music Trails.

Bob Kogut; photo courtesy Fiddler magazine

Crouch said that Caldwell County fiddle player and maker Bob Kogut served as the catalyst for the concept about 20 years ago when he played in the first Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. Crouch shared, “In a sense, this year’s Showcase is a tribute to Bob Kogut.”

Kogut will be there, playing with this band, Down the Hall. He was recently inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame and is also a member of the Blue Ridge Music Trails. After seeing him perform at the first Showcase, Crouch was determined to have a Showcase featuring the fiddle. There was an obstacle though. “At that time, I could count the number of fiddle players in Caldwell County on one hand,” observed Crouch. Though it’s taken time for the instrument to grow in popularity among area musicians, this year’s Showcase will feature nine fiddle players and their bandmates.

Crouch explained that he was determined to showcase the fiddle for a simple reason. “When people ask me about traditional music, I think of the fiddle.” He noted that when Country Music was first being recorded in the 1920s, “the fiddle had a big role.”

He added, “It features one of the instruments that defines American traditional music. Fiddle music is on the rise in Caldwell County thanks to the musicians you will see and hear at the program. These musicians strive to preserve American musical culture by honoring the ancient tunes and playing the fiddle in contemporary styles.”

Kogut said “I have to pinch myself. It’s like a dream come true.” He shared how he was surprised to learn that fiddle playing had become almost obsolete in Caldwell County when he moved to Happy Valley in the late 1990s.

“This Showcase is about fiddle music. Playing fiddles in Caldwell County is what it is all about,” gushed Kogut. “When we first moved to Caldwell County, I thought this was going to be the mecca of fiddles. So much music played on fiddles are songs written in and about Western North Carolina. As a fiddle maker, when I moved here, we found out nobody played the fiddle. Other instruments were being played. There were jam sessions, but no fiddles. I’d ask why and people would say their grandpa or pa had played it, but people just quit playing it.”

He continued, “I thought, it’s strange that it’s gone. We’ve got to do something about that.” So, he shared that as a fiddle maker, he worked to put “fiddles in hands” throughout the county. He also was surprised that there wasn’t a fiddler’s convention here. That awareness is what led to the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention, held every Labor Day for close to 20 years now. These developments, in addition to the Junior Appalachian Musicians program now teaching the fiddle has caused “a total reversal” shared Kogut. “A lot of young people are learning it.”

He was touched by the comment by Crouch that the Showcase this year is, in a sense, a tribute to Kogut. He responded, “I’m not the best fiddle player around, but people like the fiddles I build.” In fact, he noted that he is in the process of building his 250th fiddle right now. 

Strictly Clean and Decent

He also returned the compliment. ‘Patrick Crouch is really the one who should be honored with all this. He has been, by far above anyone in this county, the spark plug to promote music and get young people involved. He does a lot behind the scenes. He doesn’t look for credit for what he does. He just has a passion for music and for people that play music. He is obsessed with it. That’s who he is, that’s what he does.”

That passion of bringing musicians and music lovers together will be on display by, as Crouch said, “The Cats with the Fiddles.” 

Those will include the Brushy Mountain Buddies, consisting of Linda Cabe, Richard Cockerham, Robbie Herman, and Chad Ritchie; Sarah Ogletree Ritter and William Ritter; Bob Kogut and Down the Hall, comprised of Denise Baxter-Yoder, Roberta Kogut, Suzanne Williams, and Michael Willis; the Butterbeans, with Mary Ervin, Robert Gucwa, and David Williams; Matt Davis and Tony Soldati; Bob Sinclair and the Big Deals, featuring Molly Barrett, Tim Gallagher, and Aaron Ramsey; Strictly Clean and Decent; and Emcee, Nancy Posey.

While it has taken 20 years to put together this show, Crouch said, “The fiddle was here in the beginning. The fiddle didn’t go away.”

So, he asked, “We, and I am speaking for all of the performers on the show, would sincerely appreciate your help in ‘talking up’ this show.”

The Showcase will be on Saturday, July 31 at 7:30 pm at the J. E. Broyhill Civic Center. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Civic Center or by calling the box office at 828-726-2401.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2021

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