Fiddle Tunes: A Corner Of Heaven In The Pacific Northwest

It’s about 9:30am. I didn’t get to sleep last night until around three or four. I’m feeling it, but not so much that I want to stay in bed all day. I can’t.

I’m anxious to feel the sun on my face, the wind against my skin, and the warmth revived in my heart. I know there’s a song in there somewhere. I emerge out of The Bricks, where I’ve crashed for the night, and walk down the steps and onto the lawn passing the tennis courts of Fort Worden State Park. En route to grab my morning mocha in the Commons Café, I encounter wild deer grazing in the grass. They look up at me briefly, unfazed that I’m staring in awe, and return to their breakfast. Am I still sleeping? What was in that whiskey last night? To the left of me, to the right of me, pockets of fiddlers, banjo pickers, guitarists, accordionists and mandolinists rehearse, filling the air with sweet summer sounds. Pinch me, am I in heaven; a fairy tale? What a switch from my preceding melancholy weeks working from home amidst the grey, rainy, Seattle Freeze. People say “good morning” here. They make eye contact and smile. Everyone is happy, filled with life, love and childlike magic, and it’s contagious.


Early one Saturday, two days before the abovementioned morn, I found myself on the Victoria Clipper with two Louisiana friends, bound for Sidney, B.C. John was in the market to buy a 1969 Swedish-made sailboat he’d fallen in love with via the Internet. Heading up to check it out, he said he felt excited and nervous, like he was en route to meet his mail-order bride. When we finally arrived, and met her face to hull, she was everything he’d dreamed of and more.


John, Harold and I set out for a short sail around the Strait of Georgia that afternoon. And the Merry Dance was his. We celebrated with a seafood dinner near the marina, and the next morning we set our course for Port Townsend, WA. Some friends were participating in Fiddle Tunes, so we thought we’d crash the party and surprise them. Little did we know P.T. had NOT been an entry port for six years. The customs’ official wasn’t too thrilled to be dragged away from his evening meal, but checked us in and let us enjoy our Fourth of July weekend without too many complications. He also appreciated us being low maintenance so he and his wife could continue eating their ice cream in peace.


After a walk up the hill and a hitched ride with a lovely couple about a mile in the rest of the way, we landed at Fort Worden State Park. Named after Rear Admiral John L. Worden, and noted as the film site for An Officer and a Gentleman, Fort Worden is a majestic place, formerly an 1890s Navy fort constructed to protect Puget Sound land targets from enemy intrusion. Funny, I felt I had no enemies here. Located in the northern edge of Port Townsend, it is surrounded by beautiful beaches, secluded nature walks, and historic military barracks and bunkers. And this week, it would become home to hundreds of musical artists gathering to learn, jam, dance and teach the sounds and rhythms that make them come alive from Cajun to Irish to Honky Tonk to Bluegrass. There was even some Swedish thrown in – pretty fitting for the Pacific Northwest.


Master performances ranged from the finger pickin’ good tunes of Virginia Bluegrass guitarist and luthier Wayne Henderson to the spicy Louisiana gumbo of the Savoy Family Cajun Band to the legendary Irish fairy-dusted magic of Liz Carroll and John Doyle. Then sprinkle in performances by the George Jones of Cajun Country, Courtney Granger, the Hank Williams-infused voice of Caleb Klauder and his Country Band, and the melodic Cajun and Old-Time sounds of Fiddle Tunes Artistic Director Suzy Thompson. All of this while hanging out in a historic setting complete with wild deer, music-filled breezes, the beach and morning espresso-filled sunshine? Well, in my opinion, you’ve reached heaven.


Centrum has been hosting the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes for 35 years. The weeklong fun in July combines camps, workshops, dances, jams, meals, Forth of July fireworks, and quality time with friends old and new, and includes performances by over 50 nationally and internationally recognized artists. If fiddlin’ ain’t your bag, Centrum offers other weeklong options throughout the year including writers’, voice, jazz, blues and dance workshops along with artist residencies. Check out the site for scholarships as well. Guests can camp out, grab a place in town, or rent out a room in the barracks housing where they have the option of cooking their own meals.


This year, the late Warren Argo – Fiddle Tunes partner, manager, participant, and friend – was honored during a procession after the week’s final concert; a touching ceremony where anyone could join in and contribute. For a video of the procession, stay tuned to Centrum’s Facebook page.


Leaving Fiddle Tunes early on Sunday morning, the last day, wasn’t easy. It had unearthed a feeling inside of me I wasn’t sure still existed. But I guess a few days’ visit to a magical music-filled world complete with beautiful folks, exceptional tunes, and an ethereal setting can do that to a soul. Arriving at this precious community on a sailboat didn’t hurt things either.


HUGE thanks to Peter McCracken, Ruby Fitch, Mark Livingston, Suzy Thompson and all of the many, many lovely people at the 35th Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. Special photo thanks to Gabrielle Savoy and Roz Powell for their beautiful vision. You can see more of Gabrielle's work by clicking here. For a peek at the article's original link and for a view into what's happening in NYC, check out CountryNY. Cheers, y’all!


(Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)


(Robin Miller bringing a little Louisiana flavor to Fiddle Tunes. Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)

(Peter, Suzy, Ruby and Robin. Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)


(Rick Good & Alice Gerrard. Photo: Roz Powell)


(Ed Littlefield, Jr. Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)


(Show stealer. Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)


(Courtney & Joel. Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)

DSC_1903 2

(On their way. Photo: Gabrielle Savoy)


(Gypsy Java girl. Photo: Julia Price)


(The dancers. Photo: Julia Price)


(John Doyle & Kelly Jones. Photo: Julia Price)


(Fiddle Tunes! Photo: Julia Price)


(The Procession. Photo: Julia Price)


 (Merry Dance. Photo: Julia Price)


Centrum, in partnership with Fort Worden State Park, is a gathering place for artists and creative thinkers from all cultures, and in all phases of their development; for students of all ages and backgrounds; and for audiences seeking extraordinary cultural enrichment. Centrum promotes creative experiences that change lives.

The Victorian seaport community of Port Townsend, WA, is home to Centrum, and is easily accessible by highway or ferry service. Washington State Ferries operate between Port Townsend and Coupeville, WA (Whidbey Island) daily. In addition, Seattle residents may travel by ferry from the downtown terminal to Bainbridge Island and visit Port Townsend via the Hood Canal Bridge, or take the ferry from Mukilteo in North Seattle to Winslow. A full schedule of ferry options is available on the Washington State Department of Transportation website at Chartered flights into nearby Port Ludlow are available via Kenmore Air – more info is available at

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Tags: countryny, fiddle, port, savoy, townsend, tunes

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on July 16, 2011 at 12:17pm

Sounds like a great adventure and festival!  I've been hearing about Fiddle Tunes for years but have never made it over for it. Fort Worden has been recommended as a possible home for a future No Depression festival as well.

Merry Dance is beautiful and what a great name! Congrats to your friend. (My dad is an avid sailor so I'm fairly well acquainted with that world)

Comment by Julia Price on July 16, 2011 at 12:26pm

It was exceptional! Fort Worden is such a beautiful place; it would be perfect for a N.D. festival. And the people are so lovely. I just love Peter & Mark. You should definitely try to make it over there next year. I'm hoping to do the entire week and take some of the workshops. I ended up coming back home for a couple of days to get some work done and went back on the ferry & 3 buses. Wasn't as daunting getting over there as I thought it would be, and very much worth it.

Yeah, the Merry Dance is pretty special. What a spontaneous treat!

Thanks for the comment!

Comment by Hearth Music on July 18, 2011 at 12:13pm
Oooh, I LOVE the idea of Fort Worden for an ND Fest. Way cool! And thanks for the great post, Julia! I been meaning to post my Fiddle Tunes report and you beat me to it!
Comment by Julia Price on July 18, 2011 at 12:24pm

Thanks for the sweet words, Devon! Hope to see you at Blackpot this year! And we should actually meet up one of these days seeing as we know so many of the same folks. Enjoy the sunshine out there!


Comment by Pandi on July 18, 2011 at 5:19pm
Cool article Julia! I just got home from my 1st Fiddletunes VoiceWorks, and had the time of my life as well. I'm gonna write my august column (for this and Victory) about it! Xo Pandi
Comment by Julia Price on July 18, 2011 at 5:32pm
Thanks, Pandi! Am thinking of doing VoiceWorks next year. How did you like/love it? Looking forward to reading about it! Cheers!
Comment by Jeanne Murrin Wilkinson on July 19, 2011 at 4:59am
Great story and telling photos.  
Comment by Julia Price on July 19, 2011 at 9:00am
Thanks, Jeanne!
Comment by Mary Tilson on July 22, 2011 at 9:40am

Lovely article.  I am taking up banjo so I can go next year!  Also love the idea of FW for a ND fest.  Where do we sign up?

Comment by Julia Price on July 23, 2011 at 12:50pm
Thanks, Mary! Fun times. Ok, Kyla, I think everyone's ready for a ND Fest in PT. Good times. :-)


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.