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Tune of the Month

"Steamboat" from Laurier Birginal

I taped Laurier Birginal playing Steamboat (Hornpipe) at Weiser around 1974 or so but just recently got around to playing it myself. It's a great tune and one that has wandered a bit. There are versions in the Cole book (aka Ryan Collection), O'Neill's Dance Music of Ireland, assorted other tune books on back to the 19th century Northumberland fiddler and composer, James Hill (see the Evergreen Fiddler: Vol. II, Wilson's Clog). You may also hear this called The Goodnatured Man, Tim the Turncoat or Capultepec.

Mr. Birginal was born in Canada in 1907 and at some later point moved to Omaha, Nebraska where he opened a butcher shop. He was highly regarded as a fiddler in that region and, in 1987, was the first inductee to the America's Fiddlers Hall of Fame at the Pioneer Museum in Anita, Iowa (http://oldtimemusic.tipzu.com/pioneer-music-museum).

Phil Williams remembers: Laurier really "put it on" at Weiser. We first met him there in the 1960s. He was a "regular." He did indeed have a fake "arrow through the head" which he wore a lot. He also wore incredibly loud shirts with fiddles all over them that were made by his wife. At least one year he had a big American convertible and rode it in the Saturday parade with the "arrow". He always had a smile on his face and it seemed like it was "party time" with him all the time. He was a good fiddler, too. Like a lot of others, we looked forward to seeing him each year as he epitomized the fun times at Weiser. He never was serious about the contest, only playing tunes and having fun. He represented an era in fiddling and at Weiser marking the end of the country dance fiddlers and the rise of the "contest" fiddlers, with their more serious approach to everything. Weiser used to emphasize heritage and encouraged folks to wear pioneer or Western clothes, had hay bales on the stage; the Weiser Vigilantes road around in a big old hearse and put folks who were dressed too formally in a phony jail in a yard downtown; fiddlers played in the barbershop and elsewhere downtown, and it was all fun and games. When he, and the others of his generation,were gone, so were the "fun and games."

Thanks also to Andrew Kuntz at the Fiddler's Companion: http://www.ibiblio.org/fiddlers/.

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Stuart Williams, Music Editor

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