Pickers and Singers want you

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Don Brooks plays rhythm guitar while Jerry Rowe bows a tune on the fiddle. The men belong to the Iola Chapter of the Kansas Oldtime Fiddlers, Pickers and Singers and play every third Sunday of the month at Iola’s North Community Building. Everyone is welcome to come listen or join in.

They pick and they grin and they strum and they sing, and they do it every month for an appreciative audience. The Kansas Oldtime Fiddlers, Pickers and Singers would love to see that audience grow, and moreso, would love some new blood in the players circle.
In Iola, about six musicians play every third Sunday of the month at the North Community Building for an audience of two dozen who come to listen and dance.
“You can depend on the same people every month,” said Gary Garver.
The Iola chapter of KOFPS has been at it 40 years. In fact, Iola’s is the second-oldest chapter in the state.
“We were playing in 1969,” said Don Brooks, who comes from Yates Center for the monthly jams. “Blue Mound, the first chapter, began in 1968.”
Brooks’ father-in-law started the Iola chapter in LaHarpe, then moved it to Colony and finally to Iola.
Although they have a steady core, “this chapter is really struggling,” said Rosalie Rowe, a long-time supporter.
The cause is simply time.
It’s seen across the state — as musicians age and disappear, there isn’t anyone to fill the gap.
Even Blue Mound has succumbed.
“It just folded. Our last meeting over there was in January,” Rowe said.
Iola’s musicians don’t want to suffer the same fate. They are putting out the call to all, no matter age or instrument.
Just don’t expect to rap. Oldtime music is a particular genre.
“It’s mostly country,” said Rowe. You won’t hear much Carrie Underwood though.
“You’ve got to play something people can dance to,” Garver explained.
“It’s always country,” insisted Rowe, but “different styles” — from waltzes to Cash to George Strait.
“They’ll play anything from when radio came out to what’s on the radio now,” Brooks said.
“They’ll play stuff from before radio,” countered Rowe’s husband Jerry, bowing out the pre-airwaves tune “Redwing” by way of example. Other oldtime favorites like “Soldier’s Joy” and “Red River Valley,” get played, too, he said. A good smattering of gospel songs also make it into the mix.
“It’s really whatever the musicians and singers would like to play and sing,” said Rosalie.
Even with such variety, KOFPS has a focus.
“The purpose of the Kansas Oldtime Fiddlers, Pickers and Singers is to promote, encourage and preserve old-time music and its related skills,” said the program for this year’s state convention. Monthly meetings are meant to be a performance showcase as well as teaching arena, the information states. Everything from duets to gospel to yodeling makes it in the mix.
But one thing old-time music is not, is music just for old timers.
“It’s not old-time people, but old-time music,” said Chapter President Earl Bell.
“I’ve thought for a long time there’s a problem ... with that name,” Garver said.
Garver said he fears “Oldtime” is keeping away younger folk who might enjoy sharing the music.
He knows they are out there.
“There’s an awful lot of good singers and players in this part of the country,” he said. “They just need to show up.”
The group meets the third Sunday of each month, beginning with a pot luck lunch at noon. At 1 p.m., they start to play.
The music is not an open jam, but rather a “sign up sheet when you come in,” Brooks explained. “Each individual plays three times. If you bring a group, you play 20 minutes.” If you sing, you croon three songs. Then, the next group hits the stage.
If you sing but don’t play, you can ask musicians to back you. If you need a bass player, just ask, one’s there. If you need a piano, they have an electric one, Brooks said. The one thing the players ask is that you come.
“We need a lot of players,” said Brooks, the spring chicken of the group. “Our players are getting older, and if it’s cold out they don’t want to go out.”
With musicians scattered around southeast Kansas, that’s easy enough to understand.
But Garver thinks there is more afoot.
With “computers and Internet and television,” Garver said, people are pulled to other activities.
And, he said, karaoke machines have taken away the need to play an instrument. The machines provide backing tracks while shows like American Idol compound the focus on singing rather than playing.
Which isn’t to say the group minds vocalists.
Singing is so popular, in fact, that Rowe said “I’ve thought about having a sing-along.” She said gospel songs are popular with a number of vocalists.
“If you want to come and sing, come and sing,” Brooks said. “We welcome everyone.”
And he means everyone.
“One thing that I think is good about the Fiddlers and Pickers is that there’s no skill level required,” Brooks said.
Musicians can usually play a song, he said, if they know the key it’s in.
The “usual gang” plays a variety of instruments. Garver plays guitar (both electric and acoustic) while Brooks favors rhythm guitar. Rowe, the group’s advocate, said “I don’t play nothing; I help with the food.” Her husband Jerry, though, can pluck a mando or a banjo or bow a fiddle for those oldtime tunes.
The Iola Fiddlers, Pickers and Singers have 22 current members, ranging in age from 7 to 92.
A $12 membership fee (only required after you’ve attended three meetings) gets you the monthly KOFPS newsletter with information on all 17 state chapters. Participants under 18 can join for $1 per year.
And in case you somehow missed it, everyone’s invited.
“We need new players,” said Rowe, “but we also need to get people in there to listen.”