Voyager Recordings & Publications

Baker City Show
  National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City, OR Oregon-California Trails Picnic 2003

Vivian and Phil Williams present programs of the history of fiddle tunes and fiddling in the Pacific Northwest, and the stories of how the tunes and the fiddlers got to this region. All programs are well documented with historical references and quotes from pioneer and explorer journals about the fiddling and tunes. Programs currently being presented are:

Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era

Lewis & Clark brought the first fiddlers to the Pacific Northwest of which we have any historical record . They were George Gibson, recruited by Clark in October,1803 in Kentucky, and Pierre Cruzatte, recruited by Lewis at St. Charles, Missouri, in May, 1804. All of the journals kept on the Expedition mention the fiddling and dancing. Lewis and Clark found early on that the Indians really liked the fiddling and the fiddle was used throughout the trip to make friends with the Indians and to help with trading for horses and assistance. While no tune names were mentioned in the journals, considerable research by the Williams, and by Dr. Howard Marshall, Professor Emeritus of Art History, University of Missouri, uncovered the tunes that were commonly played by fiddlers in the Mississippi - Missouri river area in 1800. The Williams and Dr. Marshall recorded twenty-four of these tunes on a CD, Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era, which is being widely played and sold at major interpretive centers and museums along the Expedition's trail. Vivian and Phil present many of these tunes, along with quotes from the journals about the fiddling and dancing, the interchanges with the Indians, and the history of the tunes up to the present day. They also present quotes from an unpublished document from the Nez Perce Indian's oral history about their impressions of the Expedition's fiddling and dancing! The music is played on two fiddles, guitar, frame drum, sounden horn, and Jew's harp - the type of instruments used by the Corps of Discovery. For most of the programs the Williams use a self-standing backdrop showing the Lewis & Clark, Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. This program runs about an hour and ten minutes.

Fiddling Down the Oregon Trail

Much of the fiddle and oldtime music found throughout the Pacific Northwest when Vivian and Phil were growing up, and now found mostly in rural areas and in gatherings of the Northwest Fiddle Associations, was brought to the region over the Oregon Trail. They have done considerable research into the dance music played on the Oregon Trail and in pioneer communities along the way as recorded in pioneer journals. Some of the material comes from their own childhood experiences dancing to these tunes and their over fifty years of playing with fiddlers throughout the Pacific Northwest. They play this material both on modern instruments and instruments from Oregon Trail days, including fiddle, mid-1800's guitar, a gut strung fretless banjo that likely came over the Trail, and a mandolin from this era, interwoven with glimpses of how these tunes and dances helped ease a hard day of travel. The Williams wear authentic pioneer costumes for this program. The program runs about an hour and fifteen minutes. Reviews and Comments

The Williams also combine both the Lewis and Clark Era and Oregon Trail programs into one program for live theater presentation. This program usually is presented in two sets of about fifty minutes each, with an intermission. The program is presented in costume and can be presented with dancers to demonstrate the dances, if desired and the dancers are available for the performance. The programs also can be presented to school audiences.

Pioneer Dance Tunes of the Far West

This is a program of tunes documented as danced to in the Far West in the 1850s, '60s, and 70s, performed on fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, along with often hilarious quotes from pioneer journals and accounts of pioneer dances, histories of the tunes, instruments used at pioneer dances, and descriptions of the type of dancing done. The program focuses on the dancing in pioneer communities, mining camps, "barn raisings," weddings, and the community dances. The community dance was a major social event and entertainment in the pioneer communities. The fiddle was the most popular and versatile dance instrument, although a wide variety of instruments were used . Rounding up musicians to play a dance often was a challenge. Usually there were very few musicians in the community, and they may all have come from different musical backgrounds and traditions. The tunes they brought with them came from different musical traditions, and had to be adapted so that everyone in the "band" could play them. As a consequence, pioneer dances in the Far West typically included many styles of tunes and dances from diverse national and regional traditions. This is the type of community dance we did here in the Puget Sound region as kids. This period covers an era of great development of popular dance in America, from the days of longways set dances (contra dances) and quadrilles (square dances), to the waltz, polka, schottische, mazurka, two-step, and the various "pattern" dances that we did as kids, but which now are considered "North American Folk Dances." The program runs about and hour and fifteen minutes.

Fiddle Tunes of the Civil War

There is another side to the Civil War rarely mentioned in popular histories of the Civil War. This is the fiddling and dance music in both the Union and Confederate armies, and in civilian life. In this program we present tunes from the Civil War that were actually played by the troops and for their entertainment, along with accounts and quotes from Civil War journals. In this period, with no phonograph or radio, a large percentage of the population played instruments. There was a lot of music in the military. Some was played by “official” military bands using horns, who played dances as well as military parades and ceremonies. There were also a lot of string band musicians in both the Union and Confederate armies. It is about these soldier musicians that we concern ourselves. The tunes are all historically documented. They are performed on 19th century fiddle, modern guitar, mid-19th century guitar, and two gut strung fretless banjos made during the Civil War. We also have a free standing display of twenty-one photos and drawings from the Civil War of soldier string band musicians.

Dance Tunes of the Alaska Gold Rush

The Alaska Gold Rush started in July, 1897, when the steamship Portland docked in Seattle with news of the gold strike in the Klondike and a load of gold to prove it. People flocked to Seattle from around the world to catch a boat to Alaska and make their way to the Yukon. Soon the population of Dawson and the mining camps in the region exploded. One of the principal entertainments of the miners was dancing in the many saloons and dance halls. This program presents the music they danced to, the type of dances done, and quotes about music and dance from journals and accounts from the gold rush. The influx of wealth and people due to the Alaska gold rush greatly enhanced the development of arts and entertainments in Seattle, including the start of the Seattle Symphony and major theater and vaudeville chains. The tunes are performed by champion fiddler Vivian Williams, accompanied by her husband Phil on guitar, banjo, and mandolin. This is a chance for the family to experience the “hidden history” of the gold rush, as music and dance generally are not presented by historians. The Williams, as historians of the dance music of the pioneer West, as well as contemporary old time dance musicians, are uniquely able to make this music and the gold rush come alive. This program runs about one hour.

Tunes from the Peter Beemer and Haynes Family Manuscripts

The Peter Beemer Manuscript is one of the two most significant music manuscripts found and published so far of tunes that were actually played for dancing in the Pioneer West. It contains 124 tunes collected in the mining camp of Warren, Idaho, in the 1860s, and hand written out for the band that played dances on Saturday night at the tavern owned by one of the fiddlers. This manuscript was known to but a few people until Vivian published a book about it in March, 2008, on Voyager. (See more information about this manuscript in our "Books" section - The Peter Beemer Manuscript.) The Haynes Family Manuscript is the second manuscript from which tunes were played for dances in the Pioneer West that has been discovered. It was published by Vivian in 2010. It was written out by seven musicians, starting with three families who came to Oregon over the Oregon Trail in the late 1840s and early 1850s, settled on Chehalem Mountain, just south of Portland, Oregon, and played dances from it in the Willamette Valley. (See more information about this manuscript in our "Books" section - The Haynes Family Manuscript. This program presents a cross-section of tunes from these two pioneer manuscript played by Vivian on fiddle and Phil on guitar, along with information about the circumstances under which they were prepared. the history of the gold rush at Warren Creek in 1862, the interaction between the "Rebs" and "Union" sympathizers, as the Civil War had started, how the Haynes manuscript was written, survived through five generations in one of the families that started its preparation, and how it was discovered by Vivian, discussion of the types of tunes in the manuscripts, the dances for which they were played, and the known history of the tunes played, as well as fascinating accounts of how the real names of some the tunes (which were not named in the manuscripts) were discovered by Vivian. The program includes tunes for quadrilles, mazurkas, waltzes, polkas, marches, schottisches, galops, and other popular dances of the era, many of which probably have not been played in America for over 100 years. This program presents a fascinating glimpse into the life of a Pacific Northwest gold rush town and pioneer Willamette Valley farming communities and what they did for entertainment. It also reveals that many of the people who came seeking gold or farmland in the Pacific Northwest also were sophisticated musicians and dancers. By the way, mining was the occupation that employed the most people in the Pioneer West - more than all the other occupations, such as cowboys, logging, farming, blacksmiths, and merchants, combined.

For information concerning these programs and bookings, please contact Vivian & Phil Williams at Voyager Recordings, 424 35th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122; (206) 323-1112; FAX (206) 329-2416; email:

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