Author: Grandish, Shauna
Date published: February 1, 2010
Returning to your roots can be a rewarding experience.
Former Saskatchewan resident, Eric Ashdown, took home 'Best Fiddle Album of the Year' at the 2009 Aboriginal Music Awards, held last November at Hamilton, Ontario, for his album Back Home Fiddle.
"It was an exceptional pleasure and a major milestone in my music career to travel to the awards ceremonies with my wife Linda to receive this award and meet many other award winners and nominees from the Aboriginal music scene," said Ashdown from his home in Fort Nelson, B.C.
The nomination and award came as a surprise to Ashdown since this was his first album and he only began playing professionally full-time last year. Receiving critical acclaim and recognition wasn't even on his mind when he was recording the album in Saskatoon, he said.
While recording Back Home Fiddle at Saskatoon's Turtle Island Music, Ashdown was able to lay down his tracks in a single day.
"Kelly Parker (owner of Turtle Island Music and who produced and engineered Back Home Fiddle) said it was the fastest fiddle album and the best he had ever done," said Ashdown. "I haven't heard him do any other ones, so I just took his word for it and it worked out."
Parker encouraged Ashdown to submit his album to the Aboriginal Music Awards. A short time later, Ashdown found out he was one of the nominees.
"Things moved quite quickly," he said.
Ashdown, 62, was born in Saskatchewan into a musical family, music was everywhere in the Ashdown home. The fiddle was always around in his house and all of his relatives' homes. His father, as well as several of Ashdown's uncles, played the instrument, which Ashdown admitted he loved to listen to as a small boy. The family played music for country dances and other events that were taking place in and around the small Saskatchewan farming communities of Okla and Lindlaw.
Ashdown started playing the guitar when he was a child, then at about the age of 14, he began playing the fiddle.
"It just kind of gets in your blood," said Ashdown.
As a young man, Ashdown played in several bands with his late sister Doreen, his brother Lonnie, and several of his cousins.
After leaving Saskatchewan for Fort Nelson B.C. in 1968, Ashdown played and won his first fiddle competition: "The Old Tyme Fiddlers Competition" at the Fort Nelson Rendezvous. This win was the launching pad to several more first place finishes over the next several years at the event.
Over the years, Ashdown has played with several bands in and around Fort Nelson, as well in Dawson Creek, B.C., the Yukon, and Grande Prairie, Alberta.
However, since Ashdown had to earn a living and raise a family, he didn't have the time to pursue his music professionally. At least, not until he retired last year when he decided to get into it full-time.
Although he has lived in B.C. for more than 40 years, Ashdown said he still considers Saskatchewan home and Back Home Fiddle is his tribute to the province.
"Being born and raised in Saskatchewan, I wanted to do my first album there," Ashdown added.
Many copies of Back Home Fiddle have been sold, with the album being a big seller before Christmas, said Ashdown. His music is available for purchase at his concerts and through Turtle Island Music.
A follow-up album is currently in plans to be recorded at Turtle Island Music in July of this year while Ashdown is en route to his second "Back to Batoche Days" festivities near Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.
"This is always exciting because of my Métis heritage and also because I am in my original home territory," said Ashdown.
He also plans to make a fiddle music video this year, which Ashdown said he hopes it will be ready in time for the 2010 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.
Ashdown continues to travel and perform at fiddle competitions and festivals.
Last year, he was invited to play the fiddle and dobro (steel guitar that uses a slider) at the 2009 Midway Lake Music Festival. The 4-day event has been held for the past 23 years about 25 kilometres from Fort McPherson located one hour from Inuvik, N.W.T. Many wellknown musicians from Canada and the U.S. meet to perform at the festival.
"It was a truly rich and incredible experience for any musician," said Ashdown.
Helping to keep the Métisstyle of fiddling alive brings Ashdown a sense of gratification and pride.
It wasn't all that long ago that there was a concern that fiddle music would be lost to new musical styles, such as rap and pop. However, there is currently a renewed and big interest in this kind of music.
"I think people are starting to get back to their grassroots," said Ashdown. "I've noticed it in the Aboriginal community."
"This style of music is not only enjoyed by the Aboriginal people, but by everyone," he said. "There is nothing like the toe tapping reels and the jigs like the Red River Jig to please a crowd and get them dancing."
BY SHAUNA GRANDISH