Friends to celebrate Olsen at Gayville Hall Owen DeJong, Nick Schwebach, Tom Schaefer and friends join in concert to celebrate the late Wakonda fiddler and singer Chester Olsen at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, at Gayville Hall in Gayville.
Olsen, who was born and raised in rural Irene, was a retired farmer whose memory of the old-time songs was legend. He became a mentor to the musicians who are celebrating him after taking on a few fiddle students during the1970s and informally teaching the old songs to any musicians who were interested.
Some of the songs were those he sang with his siblings in childhood or when they performed on WNAX in the late 1920s, when Lawrence Welk was just a "big kid."
After his retirement from farming, Olsen played regularly with Wilber Foss and the South Dakota Old Time Fiddlers across South Dakota and the surrounding states.
An instrument maker since 1959, Olsen built about 80 violins and 75 guitars and made repairs to countless instruments brought to the basement workshop of his farmhouse.
Schaefer is a Wakonda native who learned to play the fiddle under Olsen's tutelage while a medical student at USD. He reigned as South Dakota's fiddle champion several years and played with the Rocky Mountain Oysters. He returns for the Olsen tribute from his home in St. Paul, MN, where he is an anesthesiologist.
DeJong has played fiddle in the Poker Alice band for a decade and a half and was in The Travelin' Band of Nashville during the 1980s. He
is classical music director at South Dakota Public Radio and lives in rural Wakonda.
Schwebach, also of rural Wakonda, founded the Poker Alice band. He and DeJong have performed together in the Public Domain Tune Band for more than 23 years and tour in the Comfort Theatre Company's production of Always, Patsy Cline.
Other performers include Larry Rohrer of Poker Alice on bass, Rich Muller on accordion, and fiddler Bill Peterson of Canton.
The musicians are donating their salaries for the evening to the Fiddle Camp, a musical instruction program for young players co-sponsored by the Friends of Traditional Music and the Sioux Empire Youth Orchestra.
Gayville Hall is at 502 Washington Street in Gayville. Advance reserved seating for "A Celebration of Chester Olsen" costs $12.50. Call the box office at 605-267-2859. Tickets will be $10 at the door.