Fiddle Fest Brims With Love Of The Music

The Payson Old Time Opry Friday night was the lead-in to the 43rd Annual Old Time Fiddlin’ Arizona State Cham­pionship and Acoustic Celebration that ran all weekend long at the Payson Event Center.

The Payson Old Time Opry Friday night was the lead-in to the 43rd Annual Old Time Fiddlin’ Arizona State Cham­pionship and Acoustic Celebration that ran all weekend long at the Payson Event Center. Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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She didn’t fall: Nope, she climbed off the fame’s rocket, to raise a family.

Now all these years after her gold records and her platinum record and her Grammy, and her millions of fans, Suzy Bogguss stood in front of maybe 800 people crowded into the Payson High School Auditorium and did what she does best: She sung her heart out, then laughed.

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Suzy Bogguss headlined the Payson Old Time Opry Friday, the lead-in to the State Fiddle Championships Saturday and Sunday.

Fittingly enough, she served as the Friday night headliner for the Payson Old Time Opry — the lead in to the 43rd Annual Old Time Fiddlin’ Arizona State Cham­pionship and Acoustic Celebration that ran all weekend long at the Payson Event Center.

All weekend long, the most amazing musicians fiddled, bowed, tapped, stomped and shared their absolute love of music — most of them devoted and passionate amateurs, mingling with professionals.

Folk, blue grass and country — and every imaginable hybrid rang out all weekend, all of it almost irresistible to toe tappers.

Bogguss made the perfect opening act for this riot of sound and passion.

She moved effortlessly from one country song to another with an aching clarity. Her high, pure voice made love to songs like “Shenandoah” and the songs that made her a Nashville superstar — “Cinderella,” “Going with Him,” “Someday Soon,” “Letting Go” and others.

She made repeated Payson references, mocked herself, bantered with the tall, graying, theatrical bass player and then grinned at the red-shirted string player, who with deft expertise played guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin.

Their infectious love of the music spilled out into the hall. She was perfect for Payson, where so many of us have traveled a roundabout path. We’ve all made our choices with unanticipated consequence — to find ourselves singing old songs in a small venue.

Suzy Bogguss’ career

She never figured on famous. The youngest of four children born to a machinist and a secretary, she started singing in church at the age of 5 and starred in Girl Scout plays. Her grandparents went to church with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, so she met the cowboy stars. She graduated from college with a degree in metal smithing, but then to her parents’ horror, she instead took up folk singing. She arranged her own national tour of coffee houses in 1979.

Then she moved to Nashville and lightning struck. She met songwriter Doug Crider, who became her lifelong partner. They wrote songs. She made a demo. She got a contract with Capitol in 1987. After her second album came out, she was named Top New Female Vocalist. Next, she won a Grammy for best Country Music collaboration with Lee Greenwood. In 1991, her third album — Aces — went platinum when it sold a million copies. Three other albums went gold — selling 500,000 each. She went on TV, knew all the big stars, performed glittering duets. She had it all.

Except a child.

So she put her career on hold, had a baby and rebalanced her life.

“Music has always been my purist joy,” she wrote in the “American Folk Songbook,” which accompanies her latest record and which sold out quickly after her Payson concert.

“When my career became too hectic and threatened to get in the way of that feeling, I pulled back from the ‘limelight,’ concentrated on my family and sought out the genuine love I had for singing again.”

By the time she returned to making records and touring, everything had changed. The Outlaw Country of Willie and Waylon had yielded to country pop and then to so-called “sixth generation” country, far closer to rock than to the bluegrass, blues and folk intonations of Bogguss.

No matter. She still loved the music — first and always. She put her child on the bus to college and went touring again — this time intimate venues — with gray-haired fans. No matter, she still loved the music.

In fact, in her most recent album, she went back to the songs of her childhood — and included with the CD a songbook of folk songs she loved — with research on their origins.

“Froggy Went A-Courting” about the love affair between a frog and a mouse was first printed in a Scottish songbook in 1611, with innumerable verses added in for 400 years.

The haunting “Shenandoah” descended from a “sea shanty” tune sung by boatmen on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and may have referred to Virginia’s Shenandoah River Valley, or an Indian maiden stolen from her tribe on the Shenandoah River.

“Rock Island Line” was first recorded as sung by prisoners in Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1934 by John Lomax, who collected and preserved 10,000 folk songs. He relied on the assistance of paroled murderer and singer Huddie Ledbetter — Leadbelly.

Bogguss unwrapped each song like Christmas morning, delighted and joyful, sweeping the audience up into the chorus.

She didn’t seem to mind the little town, the cavernous auditorium, the graying audience, driving her own van.

It’s Payson, not platinum. But then, all sorts of strange paths lead to Payson — and sometimes, it’s the music.

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