For 17 years, the Fiddle Hell Massachusetts Festival has been a yearly gathering of fiddlers, cellists, mandolin/guitar/old-time banjo players, and singers to meet, jam, learn, listen, and have fun. It’s both friendly and diverse, crossing all ages and including many traditional musical styles. To keep ourselves safe during the pandemic, we re-imagined Fiddle Hell as an online festival and music camp. We have enjoyed three Fiddle Hell Onlines, with a fourth planned for April, 2022. Typically, there are about 8% beginners, 25% low intermediates, 37% high intermediates, and 30% advanced players, with many workshop and jam session choices at each level. When FH is in-person in Westford, MA, roughly 15% of the attendees are kids, and we have some sessions just for them.
The invention of the late, great fiddler Dale Hopkins from Missouri, “Fiddle Hell” events have occurred in fun locations worldwide. Prior Fiddle Hells have been held in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany. Dale used the term “Fiddle Hell” to refer to the unique sound of many fiddlers playing a tune together. While Dale’s two Fiddle Hell gatherings involved performances for the public as well as some informal sharing of tunes and techniques, Dave Reiner extended the concept to make the Fiddle Hell Massachusetts Festival more of a hands-on festival for all ages, with hundreds of scheduled workshops and jam sessions led by a wonderful group of experienced and supportive instructors, as well as many amazing concerts. The Fiddle Hell Massachusetts Festival and Fiddle Hell Online are now run by the Fiddle Hell Massachusetts LLC.
In 2019, we had 800+ musicians at the fifteenth Fiddle Hell Massachusetts, held at the Westford Regency Inn & Conference Center in Westford, MA. Participants came from as far away as Scotland, Germany, Canada, California, Alabama, Michigan, Texas and Florida, and from as near as Westford, MA, itself. They played and learned in many styles – New England, Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, Southern Old-TIme, Bluegrass, French Canadian, Jazz, Swing, Scandinavian, Klezmer, Blues, Electric, World, and more. Many tunes were taught, along with the stylistic details of the different traditions. In-depth workshops on techniques covered jamming, learning by ear, backing up singers, music theory, bowing patterns, improvisation, looping, and much more. Informal hallway jams in 9 “jam spots” were active through most of the day and night. For attendees, instructors, and staff, 2019 was a Fiddle Hell to remember!
In November, 2020, we held our first Fiddle Hell Online, with over 800 attendees. Without physical space limitations, we increased the number of concerts to 35, along with 35 jams and 170 workshops. While there were no hallway jams or in-person hugs with musical friends, attendees really appreciated “front-row” seats for all sessions, and the ability to replay all sessions (and even slow them down) for the next 3 months. We were excited to offer many more workshops that provided opportunities to learn about the contributions and roles of people of color in the origins and evolution of the instruments, tunes, and styles we play. In April, 2021, we held our second Fiddle Hell Online, with even more workshops and over 900 attendees. In November, 2021, the third FHO had over 800 attendees.
The fourth FHO is coming up on April 7-10, 2022. And we plan to be in-person in Westford, MA, Nov 3-6, 2022.