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Fiddling around: Thousands join as Berks Fiddle Festival marks 40th year

berks fiddle festival jammers
Ryan Gaylor
A group of attendees at the Berks Fiddle Festival have an informal jam session Sunday.

  • The 40th annual Berks Fiddle Festival was held at Bear Creek Mountain Resort
  • Formerly called the Lyons Fiddle Festival, it celebrates folk music and its history in the region
  • In addition to vendors and performances, many said they came to watch or join the impromptu jam sessions

LONGSWAMP TWP., Pa. – The Berks Fiddle Festival marked its 40th anniversary Sunday with a celebration of folk music, fiddling and Americana.

Despite the threat of rain, the festival drew a sizable crowd, many with mandolins, violins, guitars and other instruments in cases slung over their shoulders.

It typically attracts around 3,000 people each year, according to organizers.

This year’s performers included Fig for a Kiss, duo Jocelyn Pettit and Ellen Gira, and headliner Hillary Klug. The festival also hosts a fiddle competition, workshops for musicians to hone their skills, an open mic and an assortment of vendors.

berks fiddle festival main stage
Ryan Gaylor
Folk music duo Jocelyn Pettit (center) and Ellen Gira (right) perform at the Berks Fiddle Festival Sunday, joined by a guest guitarist.

While many came to see the performances on the festival’s main stage and browse the vendor tents, others came to join the “jammers” assembled to play in a few shaggy circles at the foot of a grassy hill that will be home to a ski run in a few months.

The festival began as the Lyons Fiddle Festival, held annually at the Lyons Borough Public Park. After being canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival returned the next year with a new name and a new venue at Bear Creek Mountain Resort, off Route 100 near the border of Berks and Lehigh counties.

"I've been playing for a long time …and you're always gonna learn something, no matter how old you are.”
Gary Shoudt, Upper Black Eddy

“It’s the music that’s in my heart.” said Sandi Marola, of Pennsburg. “We’re looking forward to hearing some good music and doing a little jamming.”

“We both love the music — love listening to it, love playing it,” said Bolek Mikoluk, who attended with Marola. “And we’re going to do both here.”

“We come here not to enter the contest, but just to see our old friends and jam,” said Gary Shoudt, from Upper Black Eddy. “And there's always something you can learn. I've been playing for a long time… and you're always gonna learn something, no matter how old you are.”

The festival gives folks a chance to get together with other fiddle aficionados.

“There's a lot of people that are a community. They get together and play," said John James, who lives in the Poconos. "And wherever you show up, you’ll find three or four people that you at least have played with before. But it's nice to play with new people, too.

“It's almost like time travel," said James. "You play the old songs and you're doing the same things with your fingers and your bow that they did 150 years ago. I think everybody is communal like that, that they feel the same way, that we can actually go to a different, simpler place.”