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Fiddle contest brings fiddlers, fans, money

Weiser Signal American of Weiser, Idaho

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A study done a decade ago estimated the economic impact at about $7.5 million

The economic impact of the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest, an event that is forever synonymous with Weiser, is substantial, but the numbers have not been updated in years.

A decade ago, an analysis was done on the amount of money generated in the community from the contest. It was estimated at that time that fiddle week and the associated events were worth $7.5 million to the area, "so it's fairly substantial," fiddle contest organizer Sandy Cooper said.

"I don't think anybody has done anything more recent than that," she said.

Everyone refers to fiddle week, but it really has expanded to eight days with additional events added in the past few years, such as the banjo contest. The banjo players will be in Weiser on June 20, and fiddle week begins on Sunday, June 21.

This year, organizers expect 250 contestants for the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest, who will bring friends and family.

The fiddle contest will also attract many thousands of fans the lovers of folk and bluegrass, banjo, fiddle and the other downhome styles of American music.

Those contestants and visitors will need to buy groceries when they get to Weiser. They will eat in local restaurants. Depending on how far they have traveled, they may need other supplies or services like doing laundry or getting a vehicle worked on.

NOTFC officials said camping spots were filling up last week. There are 325 camping spaces at Fiddletown, the grassy area at Weiser High School. Those camping spots are typically utilized by families.

There are the lawns around Slocum Hall that will house campers and recreational vehicles. There is some primitive camping out back in the aptly named "stickerville," a bare patch of ground that is overgrown with weeds and stickers.

The lodging business during fiddle week even spills over to Ontario, Ore., where there are more motel rooms a short drive away.

Weiser has a limited supply of about 65 motel rooms, so many contestants and visitors to the fiddle festival will camp out or stay in recreational vehicles.

Weiser Mayor Diana Thomas said the fiddle contest is "absolutely" important economically to Weiser. She said if the city had more motel rooms the dollars that are spent on motels and meals in Ontario could be captured locally. The shuttle bus takes visitors around town, including downtown, so that brings some commerce to businesses.

The tourism division of the Idaho Department of Commerce keeps track of the spending on lodging for every Idaho county. The revenue generated by motels, hotels and campgrounds in Weiser and elsewhere in Washington County spikes in the month of June, which is one measure of the economic impact of fiddle week.

In June of 2012, a total of $110,070 was spent on motel rooms, commercial camping and RV spots in Weiser and the county. The June amount was a five-fold increase over May's figure of $24,537 that year. In June of 2013, the amount reached $112,703. In June of 2014, the total amount spent on all accommodations was $110,324, a more than five-fold increase from May of 2014, when a total of $17,691 was spent.

The numbers from the state's tourism department only include commercial motel rooms and campsites and do not include the camping areas provided by the fiddle contest organizers.

"There is a significant impact," said Cathy Bourner, an analyst with Idaho Tourism.

The Colonial Motel's 23 rooms are booked solid for fiddle week, said Lavenia Ecret, who is the daughter of the owner. Many of those who will stay at the motel are repeat customers and she looks forward to seeing her fiddle friends again.

"It's one of the most important weeks of the year," she said.

It's not only businesses that profit from the fiddle festival, there are nonprofits that see their coffers boosted during the week.

Pat Moore said fiddle week is important economically to the Weiser Senior Center. The center serves breakfast every morning Monday through Saturday of fiddle week. Last year, 1,600 hungry people took advantage of the breakfast, and that count may be low because there were family passes issued.

The Elks Lodge on West Main Street in Weiser will be serving dinner every evening during fiddle week. The lodge is located right across the street from city hall.

The city will be busy this week preparing for fiddlers and fans. The city's electric department will hook up the power supplies to the parks for vendors. The water department is putting up signs. Each state represented at the fiddle festival will have a flag. The street department is working on a parade entry for Saturday,

June 27. The city also will handle the extra garbage removal generated at Fiddletown campground and elsewhere.

Besides the economic boost, Thomas said, the fiddle festival is a great way to bring the city together. There have been and will be many volunteers working on the festival to make it a success and a great tourist attraction for Weiser.

"It brings the community closer," the mayor said.

There are plans in the future to bring more activities to Slocum Hall, which will bring more visitors. The NOTFC organization has turned the old building into a cultural folk art center and plans to hold more events there. The fiddle organization also added a banjo camp that brings in another group of musicians to Weiser immediately prior to the fiddle festival.

"Everybody talks about economic development, but I like to think we're doing it in our own small way," the NOTFC's Cooper said.

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Original Publication Date: June 17, 2015

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