NOTFC holds community input meeting

Gary Hill, left, and Gary Schuh, right, led a community meeting on Saturday aimed at sharing ideas and suggestions about how the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival could potentially improve and expand Fiddle Week activities next summer. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff
Philip A. Janquart
Members of the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival board of directors hosted a community meeting within the organization’s headquarters at Slocum Hall in Weiser on Saturday, Oct. 28.
 The purpose of the meeting was to begin generating ideas and strategies on how to move forward with the festival portion of a week-long celebration and contest that annually draws the best fiddlers from around the nation, and the world, to Weiser during the third full week of June. It is the largest event of its kind, drawing some of the biggest names in the genre year after year.
 “We really want to engage with the community to see what it wants from within the park festival,” said NOTFC National Board President Gary Schuh who, along with local Board President Gary Hill, led a meeting that drew approximately a dozen individuals.
 Only about four within the small group did not previously contribute to the event’s planning or operations.
 “We are going to lean on all of you here; not just yourselves, but representatives for all the people that you know … and what you understand and hear from them, what they would like to see in the park festival,” Schuh said in his opening remarks.
 The meeting follows the recent retirement of NOTFC Executive Director and Festival Director Sandy Cooper.  
 She began her association with the organization in 2007, serving as an administrative assistant, and became festival director in 2008 before being named NOTFC Executive Director in 2010.
 Cooper spearheaded the successful purchase of Slocum Hall as well as its renovation. The bulk of the work in the three-story building, which was executed by  dedicated volunteers, has been completed, though more is required. 
 Nonetheless, it now houses 20 separate rooms, which will be available to festival goers and those attending various music camps and workshops.  
 Air conditioning units have been purchased and delivered, most of them awaiting installation.
 Cooper served many organizational roles over the years, including oversight of camping and vendor activity, as well as other components of the festival and, as a result, leaves big shoes to fill in her absence. 
 Her recent announcement seems to coincide with the NOTFC’s effort to initiate community-wide planning and involvement as organizers decide how best to move forward. 
 Negative feedback following last summer’s festival has also left organizers looking for ways to improve on what has historically featured a carnival, which in recent years has not materialized due to several factors, the most significant being COVID.
 “There are a lot of events that these little carnivals depend on to survive and COVID put a lot of them out of business,” Cooper told the Signal American. 
 At one time, several carnival companies operated in the western portion of the U.S., but only three are now said to exist, the rest pulling the plug for lack of revenue.
 “There actually used to be 10 or 11,” Cooper said. “In 2019, we got a four-year contract with an outfit whose family had run the carnival for 80 years. Just before COVID, I got a letter from the family stating that the operating margin was so thin, they were going to have to dissolve the company. And then COVID hit, and we didn’t do anything that year.”
 Once COVID was over, the remaining carnival companies found themselves stretched thin trying to fulfill a sudden barrage of operations requests.  
 Since that time, it has been a challenge securing a carnival for the NOTFC Festival.
 Providing a carnival will once again be a tall order in 2024, the focus has now shifted to improving the festival on its own.
 “We feel that the contest itself is running really smoothly,” Hill said. “This is one of the best years we’ve had since 2015; we’ve had more contestants, and the camping was full, fuller than I’ve seen in years … we want to get new volunteers for all angles, for the contest, but the park and the entities that go on down there are really important to the community, but we’ve heard bad comments and that’s what this [meeting] is all about.”
 The answer, it would appear, is to rally the community together to figure out how to make the festival, which took place last year at City Park, more active, vibrant, and appealing to the public.
 “We want to spread the word … that we are looking for help and if anybody has any ideas, if you have connections with vendors, bring them forward and we’d like to see who they are,” Hill added.
 Those attending Saturday’s meeting brainstormed on how to increase foot traffic at the festival, as well as around town. Those who have lived in Weiser for decades commonly harken back to a time when city streets brimmed with activity the entire week.
 Some ideas included bringing back an historic Weiser home walking tour, inspiring live fiddle street performances in Weiser’s downtown core and  other areas, artist workshops, increasing the promotion of park vendors, and holding a volunteer engagement open house to attract new blood, so to speak. 
 Other suggestions included challenging and incentivizing youth groups to get involved, various themed musical days or times within the park, a community barbecue, streaming events at businesses, pickle ball and corn hole tournaments, and a car/motorcycle show, among others.
 “We have some folks that have shown interest in filling Sandy’s shoes, who has done so much over the years,” Hill said of Cooper. “We are going to look into that, but also getting extra help.”
 Schuh added: “Our philosophy is, if we can get a lot of people to do a little bit, then that’s where things grow and flourish, so that’s what we are really trying to do.”
 The NOTFC plans to host future meetings, so keep an eye open for when and where they are happening.
 For more information, call (208) 414-0255 or visit


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