Nicki Carlisle Gets Kids Fiddling Around
By Tim Holt
Fiddle Me This
Story and photos by Tim Holt
Family photo courtesy of the Alldrin Family
THERE WAS A TIME, not so long ago, when the future of old-time fiddling in the North State was in doubt. Young people just weren’t picking up the instrument; learning to play the fiddle takes a lot of time and dedication, and there were so many other things competing for their time.
But lately the trend has been upward, thanks to an older generation of old-time fiddlers in the Redding area who’ve been putting a lot of energy into attracting and nurturing a new generation of fiddle players.
The Redding branch of the California State Old Time Fiddlers offers scholarships so kids can buy an instrument and afford lessons. Young fiddle players are encouraged to compete in contests that include the Western Open Fiddle Championships in Red Bluff. And they’ve been showing up at fiddle jams in Redding and Palo Cedro that are sponsored by the Old Time Fiddlers organization.
Nicki Carlisle, a state champion fiddle player who lives in Shingletown, is at the core of this effort. For the last couple of decades, as a fiddle teacher, she’s been skillfully walking the fine line between strict discipline and warm encouragement. She often discounts her lessons and loans out instruments to those who can’t afford them. And she’s determined not only to teach her young charges the techniques of fiddle playing, but to get them to share what they’ve learned with an audience, often at an early stage in the learning process.
Carlisle encourages her students to perform in contests and music festivals and in venues throughout the Redding area that include retirement homes and libraries. It’s a great way for young people to gain confidence in themselves, to overcome any initial shyness they might have and learn how to engage with an audience, she says.
Carlisle also encourages families to set aside time to play together. Her son Brian, who lives in the Bay Area, plays the fiddle and the mandolin, and whenever he’s in Shingletown visiting his mom the two of them jam together and perform at music events or parties if there’s one going on while he’s visiting.
One well-known musical family in the Redding area is the Alldrins. Five of the seven Alldrin children are skilled fiddle players who’ve been taught by Carlisle. With two other siblings and their parents, Loren and Kristen, they perform Christian, old time and Celtic music at music festivals, special concerts and in retirement homes.
“Nicki is that rare teacher who works very hard to get her students out there performing in public and performing together,” says Loren, who plays guitar and sings with the family ensemble. Kristen does vocals with the group.
“If not everyone is in tune and on time, it doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re getting that experience onstage performing for an audience.”
Loren and Kristen met when they were both music majors at Chico State.
“It’s important to us that it’s something we can do as a family, rather than everyone going off in separate directions,” says Loren.
The next big event on the local fiddle circuit is the Western Open Fiddle Championships held in Red Bluff. Now in its 36th year, it attracts fiddle players from 3 years old to 93. There will also be picking and piano competitions. •
Western Open Fiddle Championships • Oct. 25-27
Red Bluff Elks Lodge, 355 Gilmore Road
General one-day admission: $10, kids 12 and under get in free