A Short History of Fiddling

In 1963, Idaho fiddlers formed a statewide association (Weiser Chamber of Commerce 1973:3). In June of the same year, Grant Spangenberg, an 80-year-old fiddler residing in California, attended the contest at Weiser.  He won 4th place in the Senior division and decided to start a regional contest in California. With a group of friends and from his home in Oroville, this project was started, though because of ill health, Spangenberg moved to nearby Paradise, California, the following year.

Before what eventually became known as the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association was formally organized in February, 1966, there were at least eight families in California interested in fiddling and in preserving it. Redella Calkins and her grandfather Grant Spangenberg were friends with another fiddling family headed by Floyd Chilton.  From Sacramento, Frank Gunn and his friend Delbert McGrath had both attended Weiser in the early 1960s. Kelley Kirksey from Santa Rosa, was a regular follower of fiddle music and went to Weiser annually. Cy Widener, originally from the Weiser, Idaho, area and Jay Belt, both living in Fresno, participated each June at Weiser.  Charlie Waer, the Knotts Berry Farm fiddler, also made it a point to make a regular visit to the National Finals.  Thus prior to 1966, the above fiddlers, with the exception of Floyd Chilton, had met one another at Weiser.  It was from these families and others added later, that the California State Association was formed.


Grant Spangenberg (the “founder”), Redella Calkins (the organizer), and their set of Paradise-Oroville friends began the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association in 1966.  They were a small friendship group that had been meeting now and then in each other’s homes to fiddle.  Redella Calkins was appointed president of the Association and also chairman of the Board of Directors, which included V.F. Royer, Grant Spangenberg, Dudley Whitlock, George Smith, Harvey Menzelaar, Floyd Chilton, Mr. Chapman, and Bud Halstead.  Floyd Chilton, from Missouri, was and still is considered a foremost authority on old-time fiddling by other California fiddlers, because of the number of old tunes he knows. Arlene Lommen was the Association’s first secretary.

Redella Calkins wrote to Weiser for information about their association and its contest judging. In February of 1966, she drew up the bylaws of the “California Old Time Fiddlers and Folk Music Association of the National Old Time Fiddlers and Folk Music Certification and Advisory Board in Weiser, Idaho.” Three purposes of the California Association were listed: 1) to promote and administer the program for the National Old Time Fiddlers’ Advisory Board in Weiser, 2) to promote interest throughout California in fiddling, and 3) to provide a Regional Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest in California. The winner of this contest was to be sent to compete in the National Contest at Weiser. In addition, the California Association was “to provide adequate finances to support the program and otherwise to promote the welfare of the National Old Time Fiddlers and Folk Music Association and to insure the permanence of the program within the certified territory.”

An annual meeting to elect the Board of Directors, officers, and the nominating committee was to be held in January. Monthly meetings, held by districts of the California Association, were to be announced by mail.  The nominating committee was to serve for one year and prepare the single slate of members for election at the annual meeting.  The Board of Directors was to be composed of not less than 10 nor more than 20 members, serving for a three year term. This board was to have no less than ten monthly regular meetings a year.  The board was to act for the California Association between the Association’s meetings. It was responsible for submitting to the National Old Time Fiddlers’ Advisory Board, any material required for certification by that board.  Also, the California Board of Directors had the authority to remove from office any officer or other member of the board.  The officers of the California Association were to be the president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer.  The president, with the approval of the board, was to appoint annually from the membership of the board, a chairman for each of these committees: finance, selection of judges, membership, public relations, personnel, program, and refreshments.  The members of these standing committees were to be appointed by the chairman of each committee.

Delegates to the National headquarters in Weiser as well as the winner of the annual California State Old-Time Fiddle Contest were to be sent there at the expense of the California Association.  These bylaws could be amended at any regular or special meeting by the majority vote of the voting members (i.e. adults) present.  Regular meetings were to be held the fourth Monday of each month, at the Paradise Recreation Center.

The foregoing bylaws were accepted at the February, 1966, regular meeting in Paradise. In March, California Governor Edmund G. Brown accepted the Honorary Chairmanship of the California State Fiddlers’ Association. Redella Calkins and her friends, in the first few months of 1966, had been actively promoting a drive for new members as well as a Nationally Certified Contest to be held in April in Paradise.  From her living room, she sent out news releases, both about the upcoming contest to be held in conjunction with the Gold Nugget Days Festival and about the need for sponsors for this contest.  Business people throughout Butte County were contacted. In return for a sponsoring donation, businesses got an ad included in the souvenir program sent out to advertise the contest. Real estate offices, motels, restaurants, and bars (split up about evenly) accounted for most of the sponsors, primarily from Oroville and Paradise.

On April 23rd, there was a jam session and Miners Stew for the fiddlers after they had participated in the Gold Nugget Days afternoon parade.  The next day, the California State Contest preliminaries and finals were held in the Paradise Recreation Center. The contest was limited to fiddlers 18 years and older.  The rules were the same as those at Weiser since the contest had been certified by them: contestants were required to play a hoedown, a waltz, and a tune of their choice (other than a hoedown or waltz) at each appearance; no tune was to be repeated by a contestant in the contest; and all tunes played in the contest had to be at least 50 years old. At this California State Contest, however, the tune of choice was to be played first instead of last. The five judges were Mrs. Harold Weatherman, Sam Phipps, Bill Jacoby, Harold Waltman, and Arnold Lommen. The Sacramento Fiddlers came up to take part in the contest, including Frank Gunn and Delbert McGrath. Floyd Chilton of Oroville won first place ($100, a trophy, $100 towards a trip to the National Finals in Weiser, and his picture in the Hall of Fame), DudleyWhitlock of Oroville won second ($50 and a trophy), Frank Gunn of Sacramento took third ($25 and a trophy), and Raymond Krogstead of Castro Valley took fourth place. George Smith and Grant Spangenberg were also in this contest.

In May, the Sacramento Fiddlers put on their first fiddle contest at Fair Oaks during the Fair Oaks Fiesta Days celebration. Jay Belt of El Sobrante won first place, Frank Gunn of Fair Oaks took second, and Andy Jaborski of Gold Run was third. The Sacramento Fiddlers by this time included Delbert McGrath, Jim Hall, Jess Hall, Roscoe Keithley, and Frank Gunn, together with their families. The O’Neals were also active in this group. As far back as 1964, the Sacramento Fiddlers had organized a club and appointed Delbert McGrath as president.

June is the month that fiddlers head for Weiser. In 1966, California was the host state at the National Contest. CyWidener of Fresno, a former Idahoan, was appointed chairman of the California host group. Emblems signifying membership in the California State Association were available to those who went. California fiddlers who attended included Floyd Chilton, Charlie Waer, Delbert McGrath, Grant Spangenberg, Del Baker, Frank Knight, Frank Gunn, Dean Trammel, and others.

A small contest was organized by John Ardans at Little Joe’s Tavern near Ukiah in July. Raymond Krogstead of Castro Valley won first place. New at this “fun” contest was a “No Holds Barred” division for trick and fancy fiddling. One “local yokel” knew only one tune (“Raggedy Ann”) and he played it three times for his three tunes. Later, in August, the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association had a potluck style picnic followed by a variety show with fiddlers and folk musicians in the afternoon. Afterward, there was a dance in the Memorial Hall next to the Paradise Recreation Center. Those who drove farthest to attend were Cy Widener, Raymond Krogstead, Frank Gunn, and Bob Riley. Arnold Lommen was the Master of Ceremonies.

By September, the California State Association had decided that Board of Directors meetings would be held at Redella Calkins’ house on the first Monday of each month, and the jam sessions on the fourth Monday of each month at the Paradise Recreation Center. Kelley Kirksey, a retired Los Angeles policeman and ex-fiddler who now was blind and lived in Santa Rosa, began to put together a Fiddlers’ Contest Judges’ organization. He wanted to standardize all old-time fiddle contest judging.

On September 3, 1966, in conjunction with Paul Bunyan Days, a fiddling contest was held at Fort Bragg. The Sacramento Fiddlers put it on together with an old-time dress contest. Frank Gunn won first, Delbert McGrath second, and John Ardans third. Mrs. McGrath’s sister won the dress contest. Also at the contest were Frank Knight and the Lommens.

Early in November, an old-fashioned box supper was held at the Paradise Recreation Center. The individual box suppers were auctioned off and a jam session was held afterwards. This jam session was held Weiser style in which each fiddler plays three tunes, then it is the next person’s turn. This enabled more musicians to take part. A few days later, the first regular Board of Directors meeting of the California State Association was held in Redella Calkins’ living room. On the 19th, Kelley Kirksey was in charge of the judges at a fiddle contest held at the Great Western Exposition and Livestock Show in Los Angeles.

California State Old Time Fiddlers – District 6