February 21, 2019 was the day a tossed cigarette struck a blaze that burned a major historical part of noted bluegrass fiddler Byron Berline’s life. His beloved Double Stop Fiddle Shop and Concert Hall in Guthrie, OK had been destroyed by a fire that started next door, and devoured the building he had occupied since 1995 and made into a major part of the town’s musical community.
But even such a tragedy didn’t keep Berline down. Colin O’Connor, his son-in-law, had been the savior of Byron’s personal fiddle and mandolin that fateful day. O’Connor was working in the shop that morning, and without hesitation, grabbed the dearest material things to Berline, his mandolin and fiddle. Although devastated that his musical life had gone up in flames, Byron was determined to keep his dream alive.
The Berlines purchased a new building within a block of the old Double Stop Fiddle Shop and his vision continued. Byron could be found in the shop each day, jamming with others, talking about golf, and sharing timely adventures from his musical career. Tragedy struck again for the Berline family when Byron passed away on July 10, 2021. One might have seen this as the end of the Double Stop Fiddle Shop, but Becca, Byron and Bette’s daughter, stepped up to the plate. Becca, her mother, Bette, and Becca’s husband, Colin, can still be found manning the shop.
Colin is a luthier by trade, and was trained by what many say are the best, Byron Berline and John Hickman, Byron’s original partner who died in May of last year. Hickman was a critically-acclaimed banjo player from Columbus, OH. He started playing the banjo at the age of 13, and rose to international prominence.
In 1969, John moved to California, and began performing together with Byron and guitarist Dan Crary. His signature album, Don’t Mean Maybe, was released in 1978. Banjoist Jonathan Hunt, who helps run the bimonthly concerts at the Fiddle Shop, says, “Hickman was a genius player. He took me to higher level of banjo playing.”
O’Connor hungered to learn more about instruments, and spending hour upon hour with Berline and Hickman provided the learning experience Colin needed to become one of the most talented luthiers in the state of Oklahoma. Colin offers on-site repairs and takes pride in creating work worthy of Berline and Hickman.
Bette and Becca are still fully involved at Byron’s Fiddle Shop. Entertainment is offered every other week, hosted by The Hunt Brothers Band. In December 2021, the Byron Berline Band dismantled, in which the brothers had been members. The Hunt Brothers were honored to be offered the opportunity to keep Byron’s desire to provide music in Guthrie alive.
While season tickets are no longer offered for Fiddle Shop concerts, the door charge is still $15. Reservations can be made by calling the shop at 405-282-6646. The Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, with which Byron was intimately involved for so many years, continues on as well, scheduled this year from October 6-8.
Becca’s four children are on the sidelines preparing for the future when they too will play a huge part in their Grandpa’s dream. They are currently taking lessons from The Hunts.
When I visited Byron’s Fiddle Shop recently, there was a huge gaping hole when I opened the door, with no familiar “Hello!” from Byron, or the opportunity to hear another story of yesteryear. However, there was a jam session in the adjoining room. As I walked in you could hear the tuning of multiple instruments, and I passed by mementos that the Berline family had been given after the devastating fire, with portraits that had been painted of the one and only Byron.
After the jam session, I spoke with several of the talented musicians about how it felt to play where Byron had once held forth, and yet now was marked by his absence. Fiddler Amy Lavicky had purchased a Schweitzer fiddle from the Tex Logan Collection here right before the fire. She recalled, “Byron chose three fiddles for me. He kept going back to the first one. He never swayed me by telling me a story about the Tex Logan fiddle. Byron waited until I made the decision which one I wanted. I now call my fiddle, ‘Tex.'” As Byron helped her select it, and she personally saved one instrument from perishing during the fire, she remarked, “Everyone in the bluegrass world is saddened by the loss of Byron Berline, but Byron would want his legacy and his dream to continue.”
And so it has.