Ozark Fiddle Tunes at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival

In 2023, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will feature the people and culture of the Ozarks, with support from local partner Missouri State University (especially the MSU Library). To get the audience warmed up for next year’s festival, a concert featured two Ozark favorites: square-dance fiddling and bluegrass music. Fiddler David Scrivner (Springfield), banjoist Nathan McAlister (Granby), and guitarist David Cavins (Columbia) played a set of fiddle tunes and were followed by bluegrassers Sylamore Special, a band from Mountain View, Arkansas.

We hope that next summer’s event will include dances and jam sessions, so get your instruments tuned up and your dance shoes polished, and be ready to head to the capitol. See photos from this year’s festival and follow the Smithsonian Folklife Center for information about next year’s event.

Fiddler Bud Wyatt Passes Away at the Age of 90

Bud Wyatt of Centralia, Missouri, has passed away at the age of 90. A fine fiddler known for intricate waltzes and popular dance numbers, he played for years with fellow musicians Dale Pauley and Bobby Joe Caldwell. His son, Allen, and his grandson, Matt, are also well-known in Missouri as both musicians and the operators of the Wyatt Violin Shop in Independence. View Bud’s obituary.

Bethel Youth Fiddle Camp 2022

The Bethel, Missouri, youth fiddle camp returns this summer, June 12-17, 2022. This event features a week of instruction with fiddle masters representing several of Missouri’s fiddle styles, dancing, and sometimes swimming!

Master fiddler Vesta Johnson with students.

Vesta Johnson shows some young fiddlers how to play a dance tune.


For more information or to register, visit historicbethel.org.

Online Program: The Fiddle in Missouri Life With Howard Marshall

Thursday, May 27 • 6-7 p.m.
Registration link: https://events.dbrl.org/event/5050064
Presented by the Daniel Boone Regional Library

Howard Marshall works on a tune for the soundtrack to a friend's movie. Photo by Shane Epping.

Howard Marshall works on a tune for the soundtrack to a friend’s movie. Photo by Shane Epping.

How and why did the fiddle (or violin) become so prevalent in Missouri history and in the varieties of music around us? At this virtual presentation, Howard Marshall will talk about the history behind the fiddle tunes played across Missouri and play some examples.

Howard Marshall is a lifelong fan of fiddle music and fiddlers. In recent years, he has published his research in journal articles and books for the University of Missouri Press documenting the people and music of the fiddle in Missouri’s cultural life, from the early French settlements into the 1960s. His books include “Play Me Something Quick and Devilish,” 2012, and “Fiddler’s Dream,” 2017, both with CDs of archival recordings. A third book, continuing the saga from the 1960s to the present, is being prepared for publication.

Dr. Marshall is professor emeritus of art history and archaeology at the University of Missouri in Columbia and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center. Adults and teens.

Bethel Youth Fiddle Camp 2021

The Bethel, Missouri, youth fiddle camp returns this summer, June 6-11, 2021. This event features a week of instruction with fiddle masters representing several of Missouri’s fiddle styles, dancing, and sometimes swimming!

Master fiddler Vesta Johnson with students.

Vesta Johnson shows some young fiddlers how to play a dance tune.


For more information or to register, visit historicbethel.org.

Missouri Fiddling in the New York Times

Upper body shot of Alvie in a field with a dreadnought guitar

Alvie Dooms has been a regular at the McClurg jam session for decades. Here he is his with his guitar, 2013 (from Old-Time Music and Ozark Heritage Festival)

Looks like Missouri fiddling is famous these days! Our friends at the McClurg jam session have appeared in the New York Times, with an article about how the pandemic is affecting traditional arts.

McClurg’s session isn’t meeting these days, because of the pandemic, but here’s hoping that when we can all get together again, they’ll re-start their long-standing Monday night tradition. It’s a great way to spend a Monday night in the Ozarks. Listeners, card players, snackers, and musicians are all welcome, and there’s a wood stove for cool nights. (Make sure you are ready to drive some curvy roads if you visit!)

All in all, it’s not too different from something your grandparents or great grandparents might have done on a Monday night, long before Netflix or Monday night football.

Like the McClurg jammers, we all really miss dancing and playing together. But missing it also reminds us what we value about music and dance. In Missouri we have a still-lively fiddle and dance tradition full of welcoming people. But our traditions stay lively because we put our time and energy into them, and into each other and our communities in the process. Here’s hoping we can soon do more of the ‘work’ of passing on our traditions—that is, playing tunes with friends under a shade tree or dancing the night away!

Gary Johnston, Missouri Master Fiddler, Dies at 83

By Howard Marshall

Gary Johnston fiddles while Lloyd LaPlant play backup on guitar at a fiddler's convention.

Gary Johnston fiddles a few tunes with Lloyd LaPlant of Great Falls, Minnesota, March 2016. (Photo by Howard Marshall)

Gary Johnston, the champion old-time fiddler from Nevada, Missouri, died December 19, 2020. He was born in 1937 near Lamar (Barton County) and part of a large clan of musicians. Two of his older brothers were also fiddlers, Don and Dean. All “the Johnston boys” were versatile players with deep repertoires who enjoyed various styles of music. (Dean Johnston is featured in the University of Missouri documentary Now That’s A Good Tune and other projects and publications.) Continue reading

Warren Helton, an Elder of the Missouri Fiddle Community, Dies at 83

by Howard Marshall, also appearing in Fiddler Magazine

Warren Helton standing in front of his house.

Helton, October 2010. (Photo by Howard Marshall)

Warren Helton, a strong advocate who kept an unusually-rich storehouse of family fiddle traditions alive, and who embraced western swing as a young man, died in Vienna, Missouri, August 28, 2020. He had been in fragile health following a stroke in recent years, and suffered from advancing Alzheimer’s disease. Continue reading

Carol Beaty Hascall, Fiddler and Luthier, Died November 23, 2019

Portrait of Carol HascallOne of the Midwest’s finest fiddlers, Carol Hascall, has passed away. She was born Elizabeth Carolyn Hascall in February 1936 on the family farm in the Humansville community of Polk County in the upper Missouri Ozarks.

Most devotees of fiddle music and history know of Carol’s rich family history of fiddle and dance music. In childhood, Carol played guitar in the popular dance band organized by her father, fiddler Andy Beaty. Her father strongly discouraged her from playing the fiddle, but fiddling was Carol’s passion and she prevailed in her desire and became a successful contest competitor and recording artist, performing in a variety of country and bluegrass bands.

Hascall was included in the University of Missouri’s Grammy Finalist documentary recording project, Now That’s a Good Tune: Masters of Missouri Fiddling. The 1989 project was been reissued on CD by Voyager Records in 2008, available at www.voyagerrecordsandbooks.com.