Layna Hafer

The National Fiddler Hall of Fame



Layna Hafer

Layna Hafer's musical heritage started in Tulsa, Oklahoma where her mother grew up as one of the West’s first traveling family bands known as the “Capps Family Band”. Little did Layna know that her career would one day lead her back to where her family’s incredible musical story began.

Layna began her reign as the Director of the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival in 1989. For the next 17 years, she pushed every aspect of the event to the level that she believed would better preserve the history of fiddle music, perpetuate the growth of fiddle audiences and promote the importance of passing the music to the next generations of fiddlers and fans.

The Contest and Festival in Weiser, Idaho is an annual event that was started in 1953 during a square dance competition. Layna is one of many hands that have nurtured its existence into what is now one of the largest fiddling events in the World. Each year she worked year round assisting contest directors throughout the U.S. with their contests while also engaging 1100 community volunteers (in a town of 5200 people) to put on the six day event that welcomes over 300 fiddle contestants, their families and 20,000 visitors.

Layna, a Business Communications graduate from the University of Idaho, dedicated her career to making sure that the fiddlers had a place in Weiser and throughout the US to tell their musical stories. New generations of fiddle audiences are no longer created at local barn dances like previous generations and you don’t hear many hoe downs or waltzes on the radio. So Layna worked countless hours to help Public Television, HBO, several national television networks and national magazine publishers tell the story of fiddle music and contests. In 1992, the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Association Newspaper was going to cease publishing. Layna moved the headquarters to Weiser, reworked the newspaper and developed new NOTFA memberships. Layna served as the Association’s President for the next 10 years. The newspaper is in its 14th year in Weiser and continues to document stories about fiddling and fiddlers across America. She has also assisted in the creation of new State fiddle associations, contests and contest websites to expand the networking of fiddlers and their access to fiddle information.

With technology advancements and the introduction of fancy electronics, movies with incredible visual effects, and thousands of new choices for entertainment, Layna’s biggest challenge for the National Contest was bringing the event into the electronic age without altering the contest’s small town feel. So, not without bumps and bruises, contest registration, judging programs, and visual and audio recordings were computerized.

The contest stage was improved from a four pillar, florescent lit, wooden stage set on a lot of concrete blocks, to a state of the art sound, lighting and visual centerpiece. The thing Layna is most proud of is screens and cameras were added above the stage so that the fiddler’s fingerings and bowings could be watched up close from wherever you sat in the arena. The fiddlers appreciated the change as much as the audiences did. Layna remembers it took endless hours to get the acoustics on the stage correct and lighting cool enough for the contestants and their instruments.

For several years, she arranged for an onsite professional recording studio to preserve the music of the many talented fiddlers and families that did not have the financial means to record their music. She also reintroduced the professional recording of the fiddlers during the contest to preserve all the stylistic influences of the fiddlers that crossed the contest stage. These recordings, and recordings from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, can now be purchased on the internet.

Since Weiser is a melting pot of different styles of fiddling, Layna worked with musicians from all over the US to create free fiddle and guitar workshops during the National fiddle contest. The workshops are geared to all ages and abilities and are held every hour, 10 hours a day, for 5 days. Imagine some of the young kids getting an hour to learn from a Dick Barrett or a Mark O’Connor? The workshops also include history classes, dance classes and jamming etiquette classes!

A musician in her own right, Layna feels blessed to have been a part of the lives of so many wonderful fiddling families over the years. Both of her daughters became fiddlers and fans of the music. Layna’s husband used to say how much he envied her getting to do something she loved, that made such a positive impact on the community of Weiser and the fiddling community as well. Layna’s motto has always been “fiddlers first”.

Layna Hafer was inducted into The National Fiddler Hall of Fame in 2009.