Fiddle stays fit, 35 years after debut

By Rich Tupica

The Vietnam War had just ended, Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes” was a hot new release, and viewers were tuning in to “Saturday Night Live” for the first time.

Another entity debuted in 1975: The Ten Pound Fiddle a weekly folk concert series that is celebrating its 35th anniversary on Friday, Jan. 15. The show will feature a performance by Solas, a Philadelphia-based Celtic music group, and will be held at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing.

The non profit organization was founded in East Lansing by WKAR “Folk Traditions” radio host Bob Blackman (who at the time was a Michigan State University student), along with folk music enthusiasts Gary and Barb Garner. Jamie-Sue Seal, Ten Pund Fiddle spokeswoman, said its dedicated following has helped the series to become a fixture in the city.

“This organization is really healthy. There are really committed audience members and financially we’ve done all right,” Seal said. “A lot of clubs and concert series can’t make it anymore and don’t have a strong following of performers who will come back time and time again. It’s an institution in Lansing.”

Since its start in Old College Hall, within the MSU Union Grill, the Fiddle went on to host hundreds of shows at various spots in East Lansing. Recently, a majority of the shows have been at 8 p.m. Fridays at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 855 Grove Street in East Lansing.

“It’s a church setting, but it’s a completely secular event,” Seal said.

A key factor in the Fiddle's success is the organization’s commitment to keeping the live performances from going stale. “It’s not just the same folk thing every week,” Seal said. “... For a long time it was true, traditional folk.

“But over the years (Fiddle booking agent) Sally Potter has stepped outside the box a little bit. Last season we had Alberta Adams’ full blues band … even local folks like Steppin’ In It and Shout Sister Shout. We also like to include some world music.

“We also have a wide range of generations who perform. We have artists in their 20s, some are in their 80s, and everything in between.”

The behind-the-scenes team of board members, sound crew and volunteers also keep busy with other events, such as hosting live music Contra dances, and other annual festivities.

Since the series was founded by MSU students, current board members are adamant about keeping that tradition alive. The current president is Matt Kelterborn, a student and bluegrass musician.

“We always have an MSU student who is the president of the board,” Seal explained. “We’ve tried to retain that relationship with the university, because the folks who started it were students.”

The Ten Pound Fiddle is always looking for volunteers; those interested in donating their time are encouraged to visit the organization’s Web site.

Ten Pound Fiddle 35th
Anniversary Show w/ Solas

Friday, Jan. 15 $18 / $15 for members

Tickets are available at the door, Elderly Instruments

and online at Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Hannah Community Center 819 Abbott Road, East Lansing