March 11, 1996 in Nation/World

Fiddling Close To The Soul Old-Time Pluckers Tuned In To Saving Rollicking Music

By The Spokesman-Review

Sometimes the tunes loped along, sliding, the notes drawn out like a Southern drawl.

Other times, players’ fingers flickered across strings, trying to keep pace with a rollicking jig.

“This (music) was all being forgotten, with the rock ‘n’ roll,” said bass player Rusty Wells, taking a break from playing Sunday at Coeur d’Alene’s Log Cabin restaurant. “It’s being pushed away, and we want to keep it around as long as we can.”

Wells, 68, chairs a local chapter of the Idaho Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association, a group devoted to keeping hoedowns and other half-forgotten pioneer tunes alive. Some members have been playing with the group for nearly 20 years.

“Look at our group. Most of us are pretty old. Unless we pass along the music, pass it down, it will die with us,” said Wells’ wife, Marilyn.

The group is trying to recruit new players, regardless of experience. A few have just started learning.

“We play ‘til we get tired,” said Rusty Wells, wearing a felt cowboy hat and string tie. “I’d stand up there, play all day long, and forget to eat.”

About a dozen players and their families showed up for Sunday’s performance and monthly meeting.

People showed up hauling antique fiddles, guitars, banjos and mandolins in battered old cases. Electronic keyboards and an electric bass looked out of place among the cowboy hats, scuffed boots and worn wooden instruments.

Fourteen-year-old Nita Saddler was playing a fiddle that belonged to her great-great grandmother. Saddler began taking classical music lessons - a violin is the same thing as a fiddle - when she was about 4. Bored, she made little progress.

Four years ago, Saddler began learning how to fiddle. Suddenly, the music, much of it improvised, came easily. Now she challenges the best of the group’s players - and complains they play too slow.

Recently, Saddler’s grandfather gave her a rattlesnake rattle, which she put inside the fiddle. It’s supposed to soak up any moisture, she explained.

“And it’s supposed to give you good luck,” she added.

Playing next to her Sunday was 82-year-old Noel Metzer, wearing a straw hat with a wild turkey feather tucked in the brim.

Metzer grew up on a Minnesota farm, picking out his mother’s hummed hoedowns on his fiddle. He taught himself a hymn, and by the time he was 10, he was playing in a six-piece band. He’s never had a lesson.

Metzer played until he was a young man, then set the fiddle down.

“I laid it under the bed for 50 years. I had to go out and make a living,” he said.

In 1978, he retired as a Chrysler mechanic and moved to St. Maries. One day, he picked up the fiddle again.

Since then, he’s been the Idaho fiddling champion five times. On his 79th birthday, Metzer was inducted into the National Old-Time Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame in Weiser, Idaho.

Like Saddler, Metzer doesn’t read music, preferring to play by ear.

He said he has arthritis in his shoulder, but his fingers don’t seem to have slowed down.

“They don’t dare,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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