For fiddler, Wayne Cantwell, Oklahoma folk life is life itself

Great State

DEL CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – Put what you’re hearing on the prairies of Del City in 1889 and you wouldn’t be too far off according to Wayne Cantwell, who busies himself with teaching roots music to the next generation, who will then carry on what started when the first fiddles and banjoes came to the Americas.

“It all came over on the boat,” he smiles about early music in U.S. “There really wasn’t a lot of entertainment back then except what you could bring with you.”

Wayne himself was a ‘wanna be’ rock and roller as a kid, but by the time we met him 20 years ago, he was arranging regular bluegrass jams at his dad’s motorcycle dealership in Del City.

“Something about that music grabbed me,” he says.

A few years after that he was playing coffee shops with a Celtic band.

Somewhere along the line he started looking the part of how you might think a roots musician would appear.

Cantwell admits, “We started dressing the part, dressing 19th Century.”

Covid put the brakes on playing in public, but the lessons continued.

Then the Oklahoma Historical Society came calling.

Sarah Dumas was helping put together a folk life festival at the History Center, bringing cultures from all over the world who settled here, to form a folk life melting pot in the parking lot.

“We focus on all aspects of Oklahoma culture,” declares Dumas. “Everything from early day Oklahoma to modern day Oklahoma, to any groups who came here. We focus on a wide variety.”

It was the smallest instruments that came first, the harmonicas, the spoons, then the fiddles and banjoes.

But the culture of roots music invites them all to play by ear or to sing along.

Folk life, by its very nature, is something anyone feels worthy of passing on.

The 2021 Folk Life Festival takes place October 16.

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