Interview With Kay W. Wilson

From the interview with Kay W. Wilson of Silverdale, WA conducted by Henry West at the Fort Worden History Center on July 7, 2002. At the time, Ms. Wilson, a former resident of Port Townsend, was attending the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. She had been participating in the event for 25 years. Here she relates the early days of Centrum and the festival before the former balloon hangar was converted into McCurdy Pavilion:

“They had to get a bigger tent at one point because the crowds were getting too big. When they got the biggest tent they put it back in the stable area and it had a hard surface, old blacktop even. They would hold dances there. The whole community was invited to come and I can remember people dancing wall to wall in this tent, the tent just vibrating. The tents were cold, they had these flaps. There was one time when it was raining so hard that the roof of the tent leaked and the water came down and hit somebody’s instrument while they were playing. The tent was billowing and the wind was howling and everybody was sitting in there hoping this tent wasn’t going to fall down around them.

Even the big tents became too small. It was about that time somebody had this idea of restoring the balloon hangar. In a way I was really sad to see the Pavilion built because it ruined the blimp hangar as an artifact, but, on the other hand, it is a wonderful space and it’s better than having just let it rot and fall down in a heap.”

About the evolution of Fiddle Tunes:

“When Bertram Levy started it, his concept was to bring in these old southern Appalachian people because their music was dying out. Nobody, none of the young people wanted to learn it and these guys were getting old. He didn’t want these tunes to die because they weren’t written down anywhere. Since nobody wanted to learn them back home, his idea was to bring them out here and maybe keep this music alive and that’s exactly what happened. Every year it seemed like the circle spread larger, they brought in more and more traditions. At first it wouldn’t have been allowed to bring someone from Mexico or Ireland or Scotland, because that wasn’t American. This was set up around the 4th of July and American Fiddle Tunes. So it has been wonderful over the years to keep discovering what is American music. People came here from all over the world and they brought their music with them, so it’s German, it’s Polish, it’s Irish and it’s Scottish, Cajun and Mexican.”

About being exposed to a new cultural experience:

“…They started bringing Cape Breton fiddlers out here who brought their own piano players with them. For the first years they didn’t really offer any piano classes but I guess there was a demand. People every year fill out an evaluation and this Cape Breton style of music is so incredibly rich that everybody wanted to learn to play the piano (their way). You couldn’t figure out how did they do that. It wasn’t just the old accompaniment style that is just boomchuck, boomchuck, boomchuck, and it is pretty boring stuff. It’s just like a drum, it’s just a rhythm instrument. But the Cape Breton piano players were throwing in all these wonderful chords and chord progressions and they were all over the keyboard. (Instead of)just sitting there within one or two octaves, the Cape Breton people are way down here and way up here and they’re all over in between and they’re doing jazz runs. A whole lot of us wanted to learn that. So, over the years, they’ve built up a pretty strong piano teaching program.”

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