Billy Hurt’s fiddles headed home, or, A Boy And His Fiddle

Billy Hurt singing with Karl Shiflett at the 2015 Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival - photo by Dave OrlomoskiThis past Monday, we ran a story about a missing pair of fiddles belonging to Billy Hurt, who works with Karl Shiflett & the Big Country Show. It’s a story certain to strike fear in any touring musician, who quite often travel with valuable and irreplaceable instruments.

Billy had called us from northern Pennsylvania, heading back to Virginia from the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Special in Brunswick, Maine. His double fiddle case wasn’t in the band vehicle, and being unable to reach anyone with the festival staff, and desperate to find his pair of prized fiddles, he asked us to help him get the word out to be on the lookout.

Even more so than the other instruments common in bluegrass, fiddles tend to have more of an individual character, unique to the specific fiddle even more so than to the maker or the style. And for a life-long fiddler like Hurt, the two that were unaccounted for also encompassed years of precious memories and music.

Billy Hurt holding "the olde man" when he was nine years oldHis primary fiddle was a 19th century instrument he knew as “the olde man,” so named for the wooden overlay on the back of a portrait of a man. This is one Billy had owned since he was a child, wowing at fiddle competitions throughout the southeast. He never knew who the portrait signified… could it have been the unidentified builder, perhaps the man for whom it was made? Maybe it was built to honor some particular fiddler or violinist.

The other was a fiddle made by Arthur Conner, a legendary builder in southwestern Virginia, who is now retired and no longer making fiddles. It was given to Billy by Arthur, a high honor, indeed, and thus unrecoverable.

So one can understand Hurt’s desperation as the realization hit that his instruments weren’t in the van, and he had no idea where they were. At this point, it wasn’t known whether he had simply left them behind inadvertently, or (shudder) someone had taken the case from near the van while it was being loaded. Knowing that no one on the festival staff would have taken them, and not wanting to even think that a festival goer might do so, he began to fear that an interloper could be in the mix.

All this time, however, the fiddles were safe, recovered on site by members of the landscaping crew. But as Billy didn’t have any obvious identification on the case, they didn’t know who to call, though it was surely suspected that they belonged to one of the entertainers at the festival. Eventually they discovered Billy’s passport in the case, and he was contacted directly.

Hurt asked us to share his thanks to all the people who helped spread the word on Monday.

“I would like to thank everyone for the thoughts and concern while my fiddles were unaccounted for. I want everyone to know that I left my fiddles at the park, it was all my fault for being careless. I want to thank everyone at Thomas Point Beach & Campground for helping me locate my fiddles, and for providing a wonderful venue, and a great bluegrass festival!

A cautionary tale with a happy ending, in this case. Keep ’em close, folks.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.