National contestants claim Weiser as favorite

Saturday night’s Grand National contest included an on stage jam session with the 2023 five finalists and accompanists – a spontaneous concert that brought the house down. The jam included, from left, Dennis Ludiker, Katie Glassman, Tristan Clarridge behind Glassman, Simon Chrisman, Luke Price, Scott Sumner, Rachel Price, Anne Sumner, and Katrina Nicolayeff. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff
Nancy Grindstaff
 Anyone walking into Weiser High School for the 70th annual National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest on any day last week could immediately feel a sense of energy and excitement in the air. Fiddling and oldtime folk and country music are alive and thriving, with well over 200 contestants showing up to compete for longed-for national titles.
 More important than resumé-building, every contestant and campground musician coming to the annual Weiser rendezvous to meet up with old friends and play music day and night for a week or more couldn’t imagine it happening anywhere else. It’s almost as if there’s another entire set of Weiserites, and they go back for generations.
 In a relaxed and fun-filled environment, the contests culminated with Portland’s Luke Price claiming his fifth Grand National title Saturday night, becoming only the sixth to join that elite club in the contest’s 70 years. Leading up to 2023’s stellar finish, 12 contest divisions played out Tuesday through Friday, including three days with certified contests, and a couple of remote on-line divisions on Monday.
Tuesday, June 20
Small Fry, and Swing contests
 Starting with nearly 30 contestants, the Small Fry finished with Sawyer Dietrich, 8, Casa Grande, Ariz., first; Isley Dietrich, 6, Casa Grande, Ariz., second; Maggie Buckley, 8, Missoula, Mont., third; Hartford Coyle, 7, Ennis, Mont., fourth; and Mason Ludiker, 8, Austin, Texas, fifth.
 This is a second win for Sawyer in the division, and younger sister, Isley, moved up from a fourth place finish in 2022. 
 At home, Sawyer plays bass in The Arizona Wildflowers, a family band with his older sisters, Ranelle, Brie, and Aspen. They have been invited and will perform on Michael Johnathon’s Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour in Lexington, Ky., in mid-July.
 Johnathon always includes in his introductions, “You don’t have to be famous, you just have to be very, very good.”
 Taking first place in the 17 and under Swing contest for a second time was Arlea Forbes-Prater, 17, of Indianola, Wash. 
 Forbes-Prater is already a professional singer-songwriter, and is also a soloist with the Bremerton WestSound Symphony.
 Rounding out the division was Adrienne Jensen, 12, Meridian, Idaho; Max Francis, 11, Victoria, BC; Rachel Beck, 15, Melba, Idaho; and Josephine Arnold Mages, 12, Waltham, Mass.
 Dennis Ludiker, Otis Orchards, Wash., took the top placing in the 18 and over Swing contest. 
 Ludiker teaches private fiddle, mandolin and guitar lessons to all skill levels at his home in the Spokane Valley. He teaches both in-person and remotely. He was the fiddler for Asleep at the Wheel from 2016 to late 2022, prior to relocating to his home state of Washington.
 Second through fifth places went to: Katie Glassman, Marina Del Rey, Calif., second; Vi Wickam, Loveland, Colo., third; Celeste Johnson, Denver, Colo., fourth; and Julian Oliver, Fort Collins, Colo., fifth.
Wednesday, June 21
Junior-Junior and 
Trick and Fancy contests
 Attending Weiser for his first time, 12-year-old Max Francis, Victoria, BC, won the Junior-Junior division Wednesday night, which just happened to be his birthday. Max took a congratulatory call from his online Texas-style fiddle teacher, Joey McKenzie, after the win. In a facebook post, McKenzie said, “Max is a great kid who compliments his talent with a lot of hard work and love of fiddle music.”
 Forty-four contestants registered for the Junior-Junior division this year, and the top five rounded out with: McKenna Peterson, 11, Fulshear, Texas, second; Tristan Paskvan, 12, Southlake, Texas, third; Owen Hoopes, 12, Malvern, Ohio, fourth; and Josephine Arnold-Mages, 12, Waltham, Mass., fifth.
 Coming to Weiser from Nowata, Okla., Monte Gaylord won the 18 and over Trick and Fancy Fiddling division. Gaylord entered his first fiddle contest at 14, and as time went by was influenced by many past NOTFC competitors. His list of professional associations runs long and deep, including Brooks and Dunn, Asleep at the Wheel, and The Texas Playboys.
 Completing the list of winners: Emilie Miller, Otis Orchards, Wash.; Paul Dickerson, Spokane, Wash.; and Dennis Ludiker, Otis Orchards, Wash.
 Texas fiddler, McKenna Peterson, 11, stole the show in the 17 and under Trick and Fancy contest. Peterson hula-hooped through her entire song without missing a beat on her fiddle or with the hoop. Max Francis, Victoria, BC, placed second and Andrew Beck, 13, Melba, Idaho, placed third.
Thursday, June 22
Senior, Senior-Senior, Adult, 
and Twin fiddling
 Thursday evening was jam-packed with finals in four divisions, plus certified contests.
 A retired defense attorney from Spokane, Wash., and who has attended the contest every year since 1964, Aaron Lowe won the 2023 Senior division. Lowe has won a Texas State Senior championship, and both the Northwest Regional Open and Senior divisions.
 Coming in behind Lowe was Steve Jacobi, Equinunk, Penn., second; Janet Shelby, Otis Orchards, Wash., third; Sheila Wright, Post Falls, Idaho, fourth; and Bobbie Pearce, Nampa, Idaho, fifth.
 Starr McMullen, a retired economics professor from Corvallis, Ore., took the top spot in the Senior-Senior division. McMullen has attended Weiser since 1986, and in addition to playing and judging, is the founder and chair of the Willamette Valley Fiddle Contest.
 Second through fourth went to: Akiyasu Sumi, Yokohama, Kanagaw, Japan; Eileen Walter, Portland, Ore.; Duane Stephens, Grangeville, Idaho; and Ron Jones, Parker, Colo.
 In his second year on the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest board of directors, Gary Schuh won first place in the Adult division. Schuh has participated in the contest for 36 years, holding titles in both the Young Adult and Adult divisions. 
 A school teacher in Portland, Ore., his motivation to serve on the board is his fond childhood memories from attending Weiser, participating in the contest, and the resulting lifelong friendships.
 There’s no doubt the rest of the top five feel the same. Rounding out the division are: Vi Wickam, Loveland, Colo.; Cristin Newhall, Boise, Idaho; Julie Miller, Caldwell, Idaho; and Aaron Fewkes, Meridian, Idaho.
 Twin Fiddling has become a popular division, where fiddlers play fiddle tunes in harmony. Winning this year’s divisions are two Treasure Valley young women connected deeply to the Junior Jammers, Makaela Ruggs, 24, and Jetta Brooks, 14. Both teach fiddle, and play guitar, as well. Ruggs also plays fiddle with Boise-based Cliff Miller Music.
 The Twin Fiddle field played out with: Eliza Beck and Rachel Beck, Melba, Idaho, second; Danielle Meeks, Post Falls, Idaho, and Emilie Miller, Otis Orchards, Wash., third; Josephine Arnold-Mages, Waltham, Mass., and Tristan Paskvan, Southlake, Texas, fourth; Jaidyn Lee and Libby Rogers, Boise, Idaho, fifth; and McKenna and Aimee Peterson, Fulshear, Texas, sixth.
Friday, June 23
Junior and Young Adult division
 Coming to Weiser his fourth time, Jesse Quintana, 15, Lakewood, Colo., defended his Junior title a third time. Learning his licks from Fiddle School (Katie Glassman, Celeste Johnson) Jesse consistently wins or finishes in the top five of any contest he enters. 
 Completing the list of Junior finalists: Ranelle Dietrich, 14, Casa Grande, Ariz.; Thomas Paskvan, 15, Southlake, Texas, third; Eliza Beck, 16, Melba, Idaho, fourth; and David Lin, Lexington, Ky., fifth.
 Another Colorado fiddling phenom with Fiddle School ties, 18-year-old Julian Oliver from Fort Collins claimed the top spot in the Young Adult contest. Oliver lists “musician” as his occupation, but also enjoys cooking, photography, and traveling.
 Rounding out the Young Adult final five: Tessa Dalton, 18, Idaho Falls, Idaho; Danielle Jo Meeks, 21, Post Falls, Idaho; Benjamin Lin, 20, Lexington, Ky.; and Kierra Smith, 21, Kuna Idaho.


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18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
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