Yarns from Terri Lukačko


I’ve been playing fiddle since the turn of the century. I got it in my head one day that it might be interesting, found a want ad in the newspaper from a retiring fiddle teacher, and drove to Castleton to pick the fiddle up. The very kind woman showed me how to tune it. And, off I went. At first, it was me alone with the Mel Bay “You Can Play Old Time Fiddle” book (with clothespin mutes on my bridge to spare my supportive family). Then, an instructional video of Natalie MacMaster. Then, some group lessons at Old Songs where I heard about Fiddlers’ Tour, the local weekly open jamming group where a bunch of friendly musicians helped me along. It helped that I’d had piano lessons growing up, so I could read the tunes in the Fiddlers’ Fakebook, the Portland Collections, the Waltz books, the New England Fiddlers’ Repertoire, and reams of Xerox’d handouts. Where weekly, our buddy Mike Jarboe would exclaim at 10 pm “THROW AWAY THOSE DAMN BOOKS! IT’S TIME FOR THE OLD TIME HOUR.”

Miraculously, one night, I found myself playing Johnny, Don’t Get Drunk without the music. What? What? Yep. It can be done. (Not memorization. Learning the tune on the fly. No dots.) Ed Farrell had some copies of a cassette tape from what came to be known as the Circus Barn session from an early Black Creek jam. I found recordings of Uncle Earl. I listened obsessively to the Fuzzy Mountain String Band CD, seems like two years repeatedly in the car.

People at Black Creek told stories about other nearby festivals, the Harry Smith Frolic and Lake Genero. At Lake Genero, I met Bill and Fritzi Wisdom and they game me a copy of their tune list, which I have added to over the years. I’ve had the good fortune to visit Tasmania and mainland Australia many times. I’ve seen how the music travels and morphs. There is “the tune” but as long as people are traveling and learning, the tune will change. Is there are “right” way to play a tune? Well, sorta. But, people will have their own “best” way of playing our tunes. Come on along, shake off the pandemic rust, and let’s see what evolves at Black Creek this year.


An interesting ‘day before’. Usually, Ed Farrell and I would take a final tour around the fairgrounds. We’d start out in the office with a chat to the person responsible for all things fairgrounds. She was reliably accommodating and I quite liked dealing with her and the grounds crew. For the most part. Then, Ed and I would have a ride around, looking for any problems or things that we’d like to get some attention. Leaky water lines, electrical outlets not working, safety hazards, and such. Usually nothing too concerning. It’s a good location. The porta-pots would come and the Welcome Tent would go up. The trailer of supplies would get dropped off by Bill Spence and some helpers.

2019 was a wet one before Memorial Day weekend. This meant we’d have to do something unheard of. We put our tents down on the terraced lawn out in front of the stage. It made for a pretty sweet camping experience. The ground was newly grown green grass. I was very worried that we’d wreck the lawn. So, word spread to be careful of the lawns. After everyone left, you couldn’t tell that people were densely camped on the land. And, what I hope is a lasting tradition, people camped further up the lane under covered roofs. That made for a bit of a village of porches, where folks set up their camping kitchens and living rooms. Something to be said for covered camping areas. Although, the weather made us use our location differently, it was better.

Last year, people came together and learned that Zoom thing. And, we put on our first virtual festival. There were workshops and jams and performances on the Zoom and we were happy enough to see each other and share the tunes as we do. We looked forward to 2021 with optimism. So, when the pandemic was still unpredictable, we made the hard decision to play it extra safe. And, truthfully, I did not want to deal with a new volunteer crew responsible for preventing transmission of a deadly virus. Can you even imagine how difficult and impossible it would be to do that.

And, although we’d all agree that a year on Zoom has worn us down some, yearly traditions are yearly traditions and Black Creek is a yearly tradition. And, we did it! Here we are with enough new skills and enough planning and enough persistence and cleverness and friendliness to keep our yearly traditions. I kept thinking about how I describe it as a jamming campout festival. Over this pandemic year, I noticed that the best Zoom jams had a more than 2 musicians. Three or four or five on the Zoom +me and my closed back headphones and my fancy-assed microphone feel as real as in person if the groove is going. So, that’s the call that I put out, once we had a concept of a safe pod. If you’d wandered through the Altamont Fairgrounds in a typical year, you would have heard many of these makers in various combinations.

Tonight, let’s all play some tunes together. Some people have accused me of being insane to kick off the weekend with a C jam. But, what a C jam it’s going to be! Topped off with a jam in D, my favorite key. We’ll keep the room open for west coasters or insomniacs. Unless there’s a pod out there, I’m guessing this will be more of a one to one jams, or solo open mic-ish.

Um, I got all the way to the end of the story here and I did not mention the Jamulus Project. Harry Sweet and Aaron Bittel have been working on fostering early adopters of synchronous, live-time jamming. It’s a thing. You have to climb a learning curve, and you need some high speed internet, and some gear. But, when you get it working, it is as good as being together. (Check out 4 of us in 4 different locations paying Booth Shot Lincoln, Posted on our webpage.) They’re going to kick off the 2021 Black Creek Fiddlers’ Reunion, our 22nd year, from 5pm 7pm. Drop in any time and see what’s going on.

We’ll be camping out on the internet. When we need a break from the workshops, there are rooms where we can talk. Matter of fact there are rooms that you could probably share your screen and have an old time YouTube reaction session if that floats your boat. (Ask any of our STAFF if you need help to share your screen.) Our old pal Dullborn Beeves has done some very sweet video from Black Creek over the years. See, we don’t have to schedule everything. You can use this space in ways we haven’t even thought of. Have at it. If you’re ready to give Jamulus a try, talk to Harry or Aaron in the GROVE. Or, for that matter, if you’re already set and are looking for live tunes, you can get the details on the Black Creek server talk to Harry or Aaron. Tell your friends. See you in the campground! Oh, and hey, Lane Braden will be hosting the pot luck again this year. ‘Bring food or starve’, as our founders Brian and Lisa Sullivan used to say.