Kernville CA: Whiskey Flat Days Fiddle Contest!

By early 1965 I was finishing up my degree in Biological Sciences at UCSB as well as totally immersing myself in the California folk music scene, performing, collecting, teaching. A friend in Los Angeles told me about a fiddle contest being staged near the end of February in the mountain region known as Kernville, up highway 178 from Bakersfield CA. Always seeking the music, I decided to drive up there to record the event on tape if I could get permission. I called professor DK Wilgus at the English Department of UCLA and invited him to join me. I’d first met DK at the Monterey Folk Festival of May, 1963 and been impressed with his more academic approach to the music. Later, when I founded my own fiddle contest, the Santa Barbara Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention, DK, one of the first academics to realize the importance of commercial 78 RPM discs of country music as documentation,  was invaluable as a source of help and acted as our MC for the first 10 years or so.

DL Wilgus

Evvy and DK Wilgus, UCLA
Michael Mendelson photo








We arrived about half an hour before the contest began, and took the opportunity to set up our recorders and microphones. No one had any objections to us making recordings, and I had access to an electric outlet for my Roberts 190-HT mono tape machine. The event was sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and took place in a large canvas tent which held about 300 people. A stage, some rudimentary lights, wooden folding chairs, sawdust on the floor, and a very basic PA system: one mic and two speakers, completed the scene.

Introduction: Contestant #1 Del Baker

The MC was a local businessman, and three judges had been invited (not their first time there.) There were nine contestants in all, a very mixed lot! There were a couple of Old Pros, Buddy McDowell of Reseda, CA and “Cherokee Edna” from Paramount, CA. Besides their fiddling styles, you could tell they were “in the biz” by their costumes, a country-cut suit with boots for Buddy and a turquoise blue outfit for Edna, studded with rhinestones and felt applique cactii and fiddles, outlined in silver thread. A couple of retired men who lived in the area, three ranchers / farmers from the Central Valley, and a traveling folk singer, originally from Oklahoma (Mike McClellan.)

Buddy McDowell – Walkin’ The Floor – electric fiddle

Dean Trammel – Old Joe Clark, acc. Del Baker, guitar

Dean was a Cherokee Indian man, ca 40 years old, who lived in Earlimont, up Hwy 99 from Bakersfield CA. More of his fiddling may be heard on the Kernville Jam page in this blog.

Dean Trammel
at fiddle contest, Kernville, Calif.
ca. 1965








L.D.Moshier – Black Mountain Rag

This tune was the tune of choice for three fiddlers in this first round of fiddling (see contestants Del Baker and Van Cunningham, who called it “Sooky Pied”).

Louis E Paul – fiddle scratch

There’s always a comedian in the bunch. Here’s ours, a “professional character” from around town. “Wormy Annie’s Place” was a junk store in nearby Bodfish.

Cherokee Edna – Arkansas Traveler, electric violin

Accompanied on electric guitar by Buddy McDowell.

Fiddling Van Cunningham – Sooky Pied

I subsequently made trips to Lake Isabella to visit with and record both Van and Art Chambers. Van told me he was originally from Oklahoma, where he and three brothers performed on early radio as “The Cunningham Brothers”.  Van had injured his left arm as a carpenter. The injury to his tendons prevented him for closing his fingers(!) He was not discouraged, and had worked up a contraption to wear which used elastic straps to close his hand, so that he was still able to play. Accompanying Van was two-finger banjo player extraordinaire Art Chambers. We’ll have lots more to say about him in a succeeding page here at Pete’s Place.

Art Chambers








First and second place winners ($150 / $75 respectively) were Buddy McDowell and Cherokee Edna. We’ll add a closing solo violin piece by Cherokee Edna. This is just a sampling of the pieces performed. Space precludes inserting all of the pieces played that evening.

For a CD, high fidelity copy of all the performances, contact:
[ ].

Cherokee Edna – Fiddle Boogie, electric violin solo

Thanks for reading and listening!

-Peter Feldmann, Santa Ynez CA August 2020.

About Peter Feldmann

Peter Feldmann has long been a musical mainstay in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Besides actively performing bluegrass and old time music with a variety of groups, Peter is also known as a bluegrass historian, collector, music consultant, teacher, and producer, both of live concerts and radio/tv programs throughout the area. His music has been heard in clubs, concerts, saloons, universities, pre-schools, at weddings, wakes, parties, barn-raisings, calf-ropings, rodeos, auctions, fund raisers, wine tastings and chili cook offs. Peter founded Santa Barbara's Old Time Fiddler's Convention (1972), UCSB's Old Time Music Front (1964), and The Bluebird Cafe (1971). Through these and other outlets, he was the first to bring many prominent folk, blues, and bluegrass artists, including Bill Monroe, Mance Lipscomb, The Stanley Brothers, The New Lost City Ramblers, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Rose Maddox, the Balfa Brothers, and many others to the Santa Barbara area. Peter also helped others access the music by teaching privately, and in group classes for Santa Barbara Continuing Education, UCSB Extension, and McCabes Guitars. He was the first on the West Coast to produce and market instruction Lps - three on How To Play Country Fiddle, and one each on Clawhammer Banjo, and Maybelle Carter Style Guitar. He still presents lectures on country music history at UCSB, Santa Barbara area libraries, and for various interest groups, festival workshops, etc. In 2006, he presented his monograph titled "The Big bang Of Bluegrass Music" (describing the origins of bluegrass 1938 - 1946) to the worlds first International Music Symposium at the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green. He has also been very active in radio, television, and film work, producing weekly shows on country and bluegrass music over a 21 year period on various commercial and public stations. Peter currently maintains three music-related websites, a music blog, and an entertainment service company, "BlueGrass West!", based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Peter performs tunes and songs from the heart of America's musical treasure chest. His shows can include fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Well-known as a historian and teacher, Peter is first and foremost an entertainer, sharing his respect, energy and love for the music with his fellow musicians, friends, and audiences.
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8 Responses to Kernville CA: Whiskey Flat Days Fiddle Contest!

  1. Pingback: Whiskey Flat – Jam Session 1965 | Pete's Place

  2. tonydietz says:

    What a delight to listen to these fine fiddlers & styles. Thanks Peter.

  3. David Johns says:

    I listened to the Dean Trammel cut and recognized his playing right off. He had such huge hands it was amazing he could get around on the fiddle like that!

  4. Marilyn V Cook says:

    Hi. I’m Fiddlin’ Van Cunningham’s granddaughter, Marilyn. What a surprise to be able to hear all the voices and music of all these fiddlers I played against as a young girl. If you have any other recordings I would love to purchase a copy. Please let me know!
    Thanks again!
    Marilyn Cunningham Cook

    • Marilyn,
      How nice to hear from you! I fondly remember you, your dad, and of course Fiddlin’ Van! Those were good days. I’m sorry to take so long to see this comment, been very busy with other projects. Please do keep in touch, and yes, I may have some recordings for you.

      • Marilyn Cunningham Cook says:

        I am now Marilyn Cook and I live in Ventura. Please call me at work at (805) 650-0005 at your convenience, as I would love to get any/all the recordings! Thank you so much for your response.


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