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Snow Deer Festival attracts north country folk music enthusiasts to Watertown

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While the rest of the nation geared up for the Super Bowl, dozens of folk music enthusiasts from all over the north country fiddled and square danced to some old country tunes at the North Side Improvement League on Mill Street.

Hosted every winter by the Black River Valley Fiddlers Association, the Snow Deer Festival attracts several violin, piano, banjo, accordion, drum and bass guitar players and as many as 80 fans to Watertown. The local group is one of five chapters making up the New York State Old Tyme Fiddlers Association.

One of the performers Sunday was Keith Hunt, state association president, who has been playing the violin for more than 30 years.

“I’m mostly self-taught,” he said. “I grew up on Wellesley Island, where people were a lot busier in the summertime, and then things get slow in the winter. Fiddling and folk dancing, I naturally grew up with it.”

Unfortunately, he said, the widespread availability of television “knocked” square dancing’s attendance, and the association’s membership has also been declining.

But Mr. Hunt said he’s not worried fiddling may die out, as string instrument teachers have been more eager to teach fiddling tunes to their pupils than in the past.

“We’d like to see more people from all ages to come and dance,” Mr. Hunt said. “I hope we get an audience because a lot of us aren’t going to be around in a couple of decades.”

David A. Loveland, the state association’s vice president, attended and said young and old alike enjoy fiddling tunes once they’re exposed to them.

“Once you get them hooked on it, they’re hooked. They really like it,” he said, adding the association launched a new chapter last year, “The Fiddlin’ Future,” for children.

The nonprofit group holds concerts with grant funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, but it is entirely up to volunteers to raise money for the operation, upkeep and renovations to the association’s North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame in Osceola.

While the annual Snow Deer Festival is not the group’s largest event — that’s the summer picnic in Osceola — it is the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser.

Last year, the group raised a little more than $1,000 at the 2012 Snow Deer Festival. Organizers were hoping Sunday to raise roughly the same amount this year.

“Our mission is to promote and perpetuate old-time fiddling,” Mr. Loveland said. “The tunes from the 1800s, from the old country, that’s what we’re trying to protect.”

Also performing at the 2013 Snow Deer Festival was 93-year-old F.A. “Jim” Dupre of Watertown, a New York State Old Tyme Fiddlers Association hall of famer who has been playing the violin most of his life.

“I used to take violin lessons since I was 10. My father used to pay for my lessons with carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes,” said Mr. Dupre, who performs free for the group. “I just do it as a hobby. That’s all. You have four strings, four fingers and you can play all the music in the world.”

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