Fiddle festival honors Alonzo Janes and lineage of black musicians


This year’s festival will be dedicated to Alonzo James’ incredible contribution to old-time fiddle music. Photo Credit: Joel Wyncott (@toeljimothy)

This weekend, the 48th annual Santa Barbara Old-Time Fiddlers’ Festival features performances, jam sessions, workshops, and competitions at the Stow House in Goleta.

The festival honors music that came to America from Irish, English, and Scottish immigrants. Those musical traditions were then mixed with African American influences.

“People were coming here from other places with their songs, their jokes,  their toasts, and their instrumental techniques,” says David Bragger, the festival’s artistic director. “And things started changing very quickly in certain areas and cemented very slowly in others.”

This year’s festival will educate people about a lineage of black and enslaved musicians, whose contributions to American music were obscured by a lack of recordings.

One of those musicians is Alonzo Janes, who was enslaved and played in a plantation orchestra as a child. 

Janes later passed some of his old-time fiddle knowledge to Mel Durham, who then brought the music to Southern California. 

--Written by Carolina Starin, produced by Jonathan Bastian