BERLIN — Olive Mawyer, director of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, had been watching the weather predictions all week and by Friday she understood that, for the first time in its 19 years, the Fiddlers Convention opening night concerts would have to be moved.
While the decision wasn’t made happily or lightly, it was made optimistically. After all, the people who’d come to the convention had come as much for the music as for the fact that it was out in the streets. Besides, the bands wouldn’t risk bringing their equipment out into the rain — the stage didn’t offer sufficient cover — and they were getting their fees whether they played or not.
As a result, much of the morning was spent hand-printing signs on poster board, while the afternoon was devoted to posting notices that the Friday night’s performances would be moved to Berlin Intermediate School.
“The people at the school were phenomenal,” Mawyer said. “They just stepped right up.”
Berlin Intermediate School isn’t the kind of venue that comes to mind when searching for a location for a concert that draws hundreds of people, but the more than 400 who turned up for the show still had plenty of room to dance.
Because of the bad weather, several members of the headline band Lonesome Highway were stuck in traffic on the bay bridge as the rest of the band was slated to go on, but opening act No Spare Time pitched in and joined the members who had made it in for a combined concert that was a treat for its spontaneity.
Mawyer held out hope for Saturday, when the forecast called for less rain. The town’s equipment could withstand the rain and the crowds have demonstrated in the past that a little rain wouldn’t hurt them. Neither the crowds nor the weather disappointed.
While Saturday’s attendance was softer than usual — the Berlin Lions Club nearly sold out of food, having reduced its supplies in anticipation of a less enthusiastic showing — the sporadic rain did not prevent the core audience from showing up.
The town-provided chairs were filled as always and a goodly number of folks who had brought out their own folding and bag chairs crowded the sidewalk under the awning on Main Street’s east side.
The Flower Hill String Band, a group from Gaithersburg, took shelter by the Water’s Edge Gallery near the big cedar to rehearse before going on. The fiddler was sheltered by a friend holding an umbrella but the rest of the band, guitarists and banjo players mostly, took their chances in what was mostly a persistent, aggressive mist.
They had the difficult task of following Andrew Vogts of Chadds Ford, Pa. and brother and sister Victor and Lynn Furtado, who formed an ad hoc band at last year’s Fiddlers Convention.
One of the biggest draws for the musicians is the opportunity to play with other musicians. Several of the winning adult bands in the past have followed that model and have been made up of members who were absolute strangers up until the band sign-ups ended.
What made Vogts and the Furtados unique is that they are children who fell together after each wowed the other during individual competition last year and went on to wow both the crowd and the judges hours later.
Vogts is a 10-year-old fiddler who acts as band frontman. What set them apart, especially for audience members unaware that they only see one another at the occasional festival, was how fully they depended upon eye contact during and between songs. This is the kind of behavior usually associated with professional session musicians rather than prepubescent performers.
The three were pretty satisfied after their performance, which ended a day of competition for the lot of them and after packing up, Vogts was walking back to the stage like a man on a mission. When asked what he was going to do next he said, “I think I’m going to go get some ice cream,” and headed off toward Rayne’s Reef.