Fiddler’s Picnic thrives in its fourth decade

Fiddler’s Picnic

Johnson County Fairgrounds — Sunday, Sept. 24 at 12 p.m.

Fiddler’s Picnic 2005. — photo courtesy of Friends of Old Time Music

This coming Sunday, Sept. 24, at noon at the Iowa City 4H Fairgrounds, the Old Fiddler’s Picnic continues its four-decade tradition of celebrating folk music.

The Friends of Old Time Music’s annual Fiddler’s Picnic is a casual, homemade event. So much so that that the website doesn’t even mention the exact year it started. The Friends organization was founded by folklorist and University of Iowa professor Harry Oster and artist/banjo picker Art Rosenbaum in the 1970s. While it’s a real non-profit organization, it’s built around a circle of friends motivated by a love of folk music, whose social network extends internationally to like-minded people.

The most prominent performers are the “Power Guitar Duo” of Lambert and Walz, veterans of nationally known bands Henhouse Prowlers (Eric Lambert) and Special Consensus (Chris Walz). They’re both virtuoso flatpick guitarists with long recording careers. In addition to their 3:30 p.m. mainstage appearance (and show at the First Street Community Center the night before in Mount Vernon), you’ll see them wandering the Johnson County Fairgrounds checking out the sessions perhaps joining in.

There are bluegrass festivals listed in almost every state in the country (you can look it up!). Some — like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival — are commercial entities, and resemble the Coachella festival in most ways except for the choice of performers. The Fiddler’s Picnic, in contrast, is really meant to be a celebration of folk music in the old tradition, where the boundary between audience and performer is erased.

No matter what level of skill you have as a musician you’re welcome to bring your instrument and join in where you can. While there is a main stage, showcasing local and out-of-town groups, the real action happens around the fairgrounds in impromptu jam sessions and instrument workshops. There are some food stands, and places you can buy instruments and accessories, but above all the Fiddler’s Picnic is a place to learn new songs, make new friends, and share actively in the process of folk music.

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