Members of the Kelley Farm band, from left, Jim Vekasi, Rick Barter, Amy Kurman, Beth Herrick and Fred Benson, perform songs in honor of Ruth Grierson Friday at the American Legion Hall in Southwest Harbor for Grierson's 90th birthday. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Grierson feted with song, story

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The American Legion hall here was packed Friday evening to celebrate the 90th birthday of the local musician and naturalist sometimes referred to as the “ancient fiddler.”

Ruth Grierson is a classically trained violinist who, about eight years ago, decided to start playing fiddle at open mic nights. Now she plays fiddle, and sometimes piano and other instruments, with many groups and at events, song circles and dances all over Mount Desert Island two or three nights a week.

She also is the Islander’s nature columnist, inspired by walks in the woods almost every day.

Dozens of friends signed up to play songs and tell stories in the early part of the evening while a potluck supper was shared. Later, the chairs were pulled into a circle, and the jam session continued.

One story from a few years ago told of a middle-aged couple struggling to get a large kayak off their car and into the water at a local boat launch. They paused to watch as a Subaru pulled up, and a spry, older woman hopped out. She flipped her kayak off the top of the car and onto her shoulders in a fluid movement, jogged down to the water carrying the boat, hopped in and paddled away.

The Kelley Farm band, which took its name from their first gig together, at the dedication of Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Kelley Farm preserve in Tremont, played and sang several songs with and without Grierson.

Rick Barter, one of the band’s ukelele players, wrote lyrics to Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell,” a waltz that Grierson loves to play.

Ashokan, for Ruth
By Rick Barter, to the tune of “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar

Ruth walks onto the stage, with her fiddle and her bow.
While she’s tuning up her strings, the crowd begins to grow.
But the room, it settles down, when they see her sitting there.
Abiding affection is felt in the air.

Please play us a dance tune, or a droll Broadway song,
An old ‘50s ballad, and we’ll all sing along,
But before the night is through, when the eve’s end draws nigh,
Please play us that sweet waltz that brings tears to our eyes.

Not the leader of the band, she doesn’t run the show.
Yet she’s there at center stage, its very heart and soul.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, with an elegance and style,
Our treasure and our muse, here on Mount Desert Isle.

Can you fiddle some country, or a blue jazzy song,
Old rock and roll, and we’ll all sing along,
And before the night is through, when the eve’s end draws nigh,
Will you play that sweet waltz that brings tears to our eyes?






Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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