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Museum funding: Musicians return to help raise money at annual event

Ravalli County Commissioner JR Iman and County Maintenance Supervisor Wes Young were the first to give the Ravalli County Museum’s newest attraction a whirl. People attending Saturday’s fundraiser, “On the Air with the Dillon Junior Fiddlers,” will have their own opportunity to try out the African Wild Winds exhibit.

Thirty-two years ago, a couple living in southwest Montana’s Horse Prairie came up with an idea of offering fiddle lessons to youngsters, with a focus on creating a musical group that would represent everything right about Montana.

Sandy and Jeannie James called that fledgling group the Dillon Little Fiddlers.

“We never really thought it would last this long,” Jeannie James said recently. “The continuity has just kind of been amazing. About the time we think it’s starting to slow down, here comes a whole new group of beginners and we’re up and going again.”

Besides the musicians’ faces, the only thing that’s changed over the years is the group’s name.

“We’re the Dillon Junior Fiddlers now,” James said. “As the kids got older, they didn’t like to be called little.”

For the second year in a row, the Dillon Junior Fiddlers will take the lead at the Ravalli County Museum’s fundraiser: “A Musical Evening for the Museum: On the Air, with the Dillon Junior Fiddlers” on Saturday, April 25 at 6 p.m. at the Hamilton museum.

Ravalli County Museum executive director Tamar Stanley said the group of young musicians was such a hit last year that everyone wanted to invite them to return.

“We all just fell in love with the Dillon Junior Fiddlers,” Stanley said. “Their program last year offered historical vignettes that instantly made a connection with everyone. It was both entertaining and educational.”

This year’s program takes a step back into time to the golden age of radio.

“This year’s radio show – with apologies to Garrison Keillor – is in the vein of Prairie Home Companion,” James said. “It explores a variety of fiddle styles through the ages in the format of a rather magical radio show. We think it kind of allows time to stand still. Our radio announcers are right out of the 1930s. It’s just a lot of fun.”

This year’s troupe includes 17 young fiddlers ranging in age from 7 up through high school.

“I have two grandchildren in this year’s show,” James said. “It’s really neat having them there. We’ve had a lot of kids come through our program over the years. We’ve always said that they’ve done far more for us than we’ve done for them.”

James hopes a lot of people will spend a couple of hours with this year’s talented group.

“We just know that people are going to like this show a lot,” she said.

Tickets for the event are on sale at the museum, Chapter One Books, Mountain Music and Rooted Music. The cost is $25 for adult non-museum members, $20 for members and $10 for students through grade 12.

Stanley said there are a limited number of scholarships for students who can’t afford to buy a ticket. People interested should contact the museum.

There will also be a silent auction at the event that will feature some unique items, including a ride in a 1920 Model T.

Museum members will also offer people behind the scenes tours of the museum.

The event gets underway at 6 p.m.. The musical review starts at 7 p.m.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Stanley said. “It’s a good chance to try something new and have a light-hearted Saturday night.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.