Fiddletown, California is nestled in the foothills of Gold Country about an hour east of Sacramento. It has just over 100 residents -- but for one day every September, Fiddletown's population swells. That's when people from around the region come for a music festival called the Fiddler's Jam.
By: Lisa Morehouse
Fiddletown, with a population just over 100, is nestled in the stunning Gold Country foothills, surrounded by vineyards and dotted with Gold Rush-era buildings. There's no retail business here, so when people need gas, or a quart of milk, they drive to Plymouth, the next town over. But for one day every September, Fiddletown's population swells when people from around the region and state come here for a music festival called the Fiddler's Jam.
The most visually arresting feature on the sleepy main street is the 20-foot-wide fiddle perched on the roof of the Community Center. Fiddletown got its name during the Gold Rush, when miners from Missouri settled here. When they weren't mining, they were playing music and dancing, and they got a reputation for "fiddlin' around." That reputation still holds: they've hosted the Fiddler's Jam for 61 years.
For the last eight years of the festival, the town has blocked off its main road so that about 1,000 visitors can watch a handful of groups play on stage. A local jug band, some bluegrass and old time bands perform. There's a competition for adults, one for seniors, and three different age groups of kids.
But the real "jam" takes place in a circle of folding chairs at Maggie Jean and Greg Osborne's house down the block.
"We leave the house open during the Fiddletown Jamboree," Maggie Jean Osborne says. "We have for many years. Many of our friends from out of town are musicians, through the years they bring their friends, and their friends, and sometimes someone just stops in. Once they cross into my house, and eat from my house, they're our friends."
The Osbornes leave this informal jam once in the morning and once in the afternoon to headline the festival on stage with their band the Foothillbillys.
Further down the street, the town pays tribute to its other major Gold Rush population: miners and merchants from China. The Chew Kee Museum began its life as a Chinese herb store in the 1850s.
"This west side of Fiddletown was Chinatown," volunteer docent Linda Woods explains. "The Chinese population was very segregated. They were very denigrated and discriminated against."
Woods points out the old gambling house and general store across the street. "These three buildings are remnants of a Gold Rush era Chinatown. It's like stepping back in history," she says.
Plenty of visitors tour these historic buildings, but the day really does belong to the fiddle. Helen Haas, age 84, came from Placerville to judge the competitions and to play fiddle on stage with friends during the open mic sessions.
"I have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel, but I'm walking real easy!" she jokes.
Haas still plays bluegrass gospel with family members, Cajun fiddle with friends, and old time rock and roll with another group, and credits playing music with keeping her active and social.
By the evening, Fiddler's Jam organizers have to remove the stage and take down barriers to open the road. Others, though, stick around and keep the music going into the night.