Mike on America

Fiddle De Dee: Violin Magic With The Barretts


Where do you think you find magic? I found it in Rapelje, Montana. Rapelje is an hour or so northwest of Billings. The population is 73 at last count, and that's an increase of six or so in the last year.

It has from the beginning been a farming community, and like so many others in the U.S. it has been on the decline. One farm family at a time giving up, moving away, or being bought out by the bigger operators.

It would seem like a strange place to find magic, until you walk into what used to be the general store. Open the door on Lisa Barrett's shop and the music pours out. Even when nobody is playing. Barrett is something few of you have ever met--a luthier, someone who makes and repairs violins. The walls of her shop are lined with them. For that matter, so is the floor. They come in from all over the world. Barrett is one of those folks who feels she was 'born' to do one thing and this is it.

She started out in the hardscrabble of Western Nebraska--Rapelje is actually BIGGER than where she grew up. Her introduction to music was on the banjo, her marriage was to the violin and to one of the great fiddle players in America, Dick Barrett. He's been playing music his whole life too, a man who had his own band back in 1950. Look at black and white pictures of Dick Barrett's family from the Depression you'd swear you were looking at the Joad clan from the "Grapes of Wrath." Western or Texas, swing is what he plays and plays it better than maybe anyone else.

Lisa went to study with him and ended up marrying him. They've performed music together all over the country, but on this morning in Lisa's shop in Rapelje she was playing with friends, a man she called 'Montana's Musical Genius' and another guy she called '..the best antique guitar repairman West of the Mississippi'. We did our interviews, took our pictures, and moved on down the road a bit to finish up another story. An hour or so later, we stuck our heads in to say goodbye to Lisa.

They were still playing, because they love it, because it is who they are. They are lucky people to have found that out. Magic in Rapelje.

We'll swing through Upstate New York, Western Massachusetts and Newport, Rhode Island this week. See you along the road.

Questions?  Comments?  mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com