The Documentary Film
Event An hour and twenty minutes northwest of Boise, Idaho - and 400 miles from everywhere else - is a place called Weiser [WEE-zer], Idaho, a small town on the Snake and Weiser Rivers and host to a phenomenon called the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest® and Festival.
Often referred to simply as 'Weiser,' the annual event draws fiddlers and fans, friends and families to celebrate what they all consider to be a week's worth of heaven.
Still life, filmmaking at Weiser
Fiddle music The town of Weiser adopted and nurtured a kind of music which in the 1950s and 1960s seemed to be fading fast. 'Fiddle' music or 'old-timey' music, historically played on fiddles, banjos and guitars, had been woven in to the fabric of life along the Oregon Trail since wagontrainers first began settling this part of the American West in the 1800s.
Fiddle contest As with many things in our competitive society, the original organizers sought to create interest in their civic minded event by casting it as a contest. From its modest beginnings, the 'fiddle contest' drew the interest of musicians in the immediate area at first and soon of those throughout the entire Pacific Northwest.
The contest grew in the 1960s and 1970s, aspiring to a national audience and attracting a mix of amateur and professional musicians. These included seasoned practitioners of old-time fiddle music and those relatively new to the style. Lifelong ranchers and farmers came to play music for a week with working people and professionals from small towns and cities alike. A bit of a 'hippie' contingent added a slightly counterculture flavor to some of the camping during the festival.
Camping and jamming Camped out on the grounds of the town's one high school, where the fiddle contest is held, they came first in tents, then in trailers, and now with many in RVs and fancy mobile homes. Most importantly, they coexisted for a week together, establishing friendships built around their shared love for their music.
Decades later, the event continues on much the same basis as when it first began. The town is still small. The event is still modest. But the music and friendships have taken hold and grown.
Tradition The contest has both preserved and strengthened the fiddle music tradition, and caused it to be infused with and expanded by the hard work and creativity of talented students and players of the style. Into the bargain, the mix of musical styles played in the campground jam sessions is broader, ever more musical and as a result healthier, than it has ever been. Over time, the many friendships begun at Weiser have become strong, rich and varied - the sort of true friendships sometimes difficult to find let alone develop in the modern world.
Art form Yet, the music which these people love so dearly remains relatively obscure in the contemporary world. Fiddle music can be fast and exciting or peaceful and poetic. While it may take time for a newcomer to appreciate its nuances, it is a rich and historical art form - a music rewarding to study and play. Its practitioners at Weiser and elsewhere work hard to strengthen its traditions and reinvigorate it with their own creativity.
In so doing, they renew and rekindle their love for the music, their bonds of friendship and the place in their hearts that Weiser occupies.
Documentary This documentary film seeks to tell the story of Weiser. While there have been other films about so-called 'contest fiddling', about the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest® and Festival, and about other festivals, none have really explored the depth of feeling, passion and commitment these people feel for their music, the way of life they enjoy each year for a week at Weiser and for each other's friendship.
Road to Weiser The trip to Weiser signals the start of a new season for its participants, a kind of pilgrimage. For most, it is a journey of renewal - musical and otherwise.
Producer/Director Greg Lehman first journeyed to Weiser as an itinerant street musician back in his own hitchhiking days around the American West. Years later he returned and was startled by the strength of its renewed pull on him. By 2004, the documentary film project was fully underway.
Technology Digital technologies make this film possible - from the digital cameras on which it is shot, to the computer systems on which it is being edited, to the digital mediums of the Internet and DVD by which it will be distributed. The power, flexibility and affordability of digital technologies enable this film to be made in a way as independent and homegrown as the music and event it documents.
Thanks Thank you to everyone who has participated in the making of the film so far. Your talents, generosity and friendship are greatly appreciated. And thank you, gentle website visitor, for your interest in and support of the website and film.