Whether it was the Saline Fiddlers, Fiddlers ReStrung, or today’s Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic, the hometown shows have always been celebrations of music and homecoming events for the extended families that formed around the music.
Saturday’s hometown show was a big one. It’s the 25th anniversary of Saline’s youth fiddling tradition.
Founder Bob Phillips was in attendance. Even the founder’s presence was overshadowed by the return of Saline’s favorite fiddling son, Jeremy Kittel, who played with his band on the eve of the Grammy Awards. Kittel is flying to Los Angeles Sunday morning to attend America’s premiere music awards show. His band, Kittel & Co., composed and performed a song, Chrysalis, that was nominated for a Grammy as Best Instrumental Composition.
Like all hometown shows, the concert began with performances by the Middle School Fiddle Club. Before the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic took the state, State Sen. Jeff Irwin presented the band with a proclamation congratulating the organization on 25 years of serving Saline’s youth. It was also signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and State Rep. Donna Lasinski.
The fiddlers were in fine form – strumming, fiddling, singing and dancing all of the old favorites. It was the final hometown show for seniors Brady Farr, Mrinalni Iyer, Andrew Hayes, Will Kelley, Shaylee Louth and Josh Mahaney. They performed Mason’s Ape Ron.
Toward the end of the set, they were joined on stage by Phillips, Kittel and alumni. They played Josephine’s Waltz and then finished, as always, with Orange Blossom – before being cheered on to an encore number.
Before Kittel & Co. took the stage, alumni, staff and friends performed Blackberry Blossom and Big John McNeil.
Then it was time for Kittel & Co. to perform. Kittel was joined by mandolinist Josh Pinkham, bassist Ethan Jodziewicz and guitarist Jesse Mason – also a Fiddlers’ alumni. Their songs veered in many directions – from the blue grass one might expect, to eastern trance or dissonant jazz. It was easy to be mesmerized by the whorling scales. But what was most impressive was the way the band conveyed and shifted emotion, perhaps best represented with their take on “Smile” from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.
The show ended with Kittel & Co. inviting the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic on stage for the final two songs.
Kittel had sent a couple of tunes over to the youth fiddle group. He worked a little with the Fiddlers over Skype. And when he arrived in town, he worked in person with the fiddlers. Several members of the band joined Kittel & Co. at an impromptu jam session at Stony Lake Brewing Co. Friday evening.
For Saline’s student musicians, it was an awesome experience.
“It was really awesome to get with him, to hear him speak and hear him play. He’s such an amazing player. He’s absolutely incredible,” said Will Kelley.
Brady Farr agreed.
“This experience is something that many high schoolers don’t get to experience. Being able to work with such an amazing artist is something that anybody should be thankful for,” Farr said. “I learned a lot from him in these couple days. It was a great time of growth for me.”
Kittel taught the students tips, tricks and techniques he uses when fiddling.
Members of the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic are accustomed to touring across the country and playing in a fairly sophisticated youth program. Still, even the senior members of the band lit up when asked about playing with a Saline Fiddlers’ alumni who was stopping in the night before flying to Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards.
“It’s really cool for me to know that in 10 years, it’s possible I could be doing the exact same thing he’s doing,” Kelley said. “It’s just showing what an incredible experience I’ve had as a Saline Fiddler, and what incredible things I’ve been able to do, or could be able to do in the future because of my experience.”
Kittel was happy to share his experience with the Saline students.
“It was energizing. It was wonderful to try to get energy going with some new ideas for them. Especially for the younger kids. The showing and the doing, more than the telling, is really what works well for students a lot of the time. Just playing, jamming – getting them lit up and excited,” Kittel said. “Hearing the students last night at Stony Lake and then hearing them tonight, it feels really strong. There’s such a strong spark with the students and all the energy of music making.”
You can purchase Kittel and Co.’s newest record, Whorls, on Amazon.
The Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic’s next major show May 25, when they open for Ricky Skaggs at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. Tickets for the event go on sale via Ticketmaster.com or by phone (800-745-3000).