Dec 31, 2018
Our guest on this episode of the Life in the Carolinas podcast is Bob Kogut, a northern native who has proudly called North Carolina home for the past 20+ years. He and his wife knew that they belonged in Lenoir during their first visit, and they have gotten plugged into the community in many ways.
Bob’s life changed when he was in his late 20’s and his brother took him to a bluegrass festival where they were front and center for the Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys concert. Bob had never heard of bluegrass before and he had certainly never heard anyone play a fiddle like that, and he was captivated immediately. Within the week, he had essentially traded in his rock and roll guitar for a mountain fiddle, and he soon found himself at every fiddle and bluegrass festival and convention he could get to. He gleaned as much wisdom as he could from the old-timers who would give him their fiddle-playing secrets, and all of these unofficial lessons paid off.
At the request of a friend, he started playing in the live bands at contra dances, and he found that this was the perfect fit. At these dances, there is no audience because the dancers and the musicians are both performing and feed off of the energy of the other, which is invigorating.
He soon started his quest for his “holy grail” fiddle that could become his voice, as the best instruments do, by buying, selling, and trading anywhere he could. Along the way, he was introduced to Bob Bragg, a world-renowned fiddle expert who dedicated his life to repairing and restoring violins that he acquired. Bob K. began going over to Bob B.’s house every Saturday to learn from him and he was able to get to know fiddles in a way that didn’t previously seem possible. Eventually, Bob K. began helping Bob B. with fiddle repairs, starting simple before progressing to the most intricate restorations. Without Bob K. realizing it, Bob B. was preparing him to build violins himself with all of the knowledge and experience he had gained through his time spent repairing them.
Bob B. soon told Bob K. that he was never going to find the perfect fiddle until he built it himself, so that’s what he set out to do, with a lot of guidance and secrets from Bob B. in the realms of tone production. Bob K. sold his first fiddle to one of his work clients in exchange for the tools and materials he would need to build his second one. Bob K. was very pleased with his second fiddle, and when he saw and heard it, Bob B. kept it because he knew that if Bob K. kept it, he would be satisfied to never make another fiddle. He was right, and now Bob K. is on fiddle #218. Along the way, he did finally make his “holy grail” fiddle for himself, and he has been pleasantly surprised by the global popularity of his handmade fiddles.
Bob emphasizes the importance of local festivals and jam sessions like MerleFest, the Pop Ferguson Festival, Carolina in the Fall, and events at The 1915 in the development of community around such a deeply emotional but non-controversial activity. Perhaps Bob’s attitude towards music and fiddle making is best summed up in the inscription he found inside an 18thcentury Italian violin: “Silent in life, in death I sing.”
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Photo Credit: Fiddler Magazine