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Fairbanks old-time dance band Five Buck Fiddle (www.fivebuckfiddle.com) will return to the Alaska Folk Festival for its second appearance in three years, this time with its brand-new, 15-song, debut, self-titled compact disc. But the seven-piece string band will be missing its founder and namesake, fiddler Uncle Buck, aka Richard Schoen. A carpenter, he accidentally sliced three finger-tips off his fretting hand two weeks ago in a table-saw accident.
"It's pretty ugly, but he's in good spirits," said banjo player Pete Bowers. "He'll be able to play again. He might have to be Django Reinhardt." (Reinhardt, the gypsy jazz guitar great of the first half of the century, lost the use of two fretting fingers in a fire when he was 18.)
Buck's absence means Christa Wisneski will be fiddling alone, and the band probably won't play "Country Ham and Gravy," its signature tune. Still, expect three evenings of old-time standards from Five Buck, considered one of the finest bluegrass groups in Fairbanks.
Five Buck will play at night until close Thursday, April 15, at the Imperial with Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band, until close Friday, April 16, at the Hangar and for 15 minutes at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 17, on Centennial Hall's main stage.
"You need three things to make great old-time music," said Mike Flynn, editor of "The Folk Sampler" radio program, in Five Buck's press release. "First of all you have to play well. Then you have to pick good songs. Finally, and maybe even most important, you have to sound like you're having a wonderful time. Five Buck Fiddle has an abundance of all that, and more."
Five Buck formed four years ago and includes Buck, fiddle; Wisneski, fiddle; Bowers, banjo; Kliff Hopson, percussion; Phil Cassel, mandolin and bass; Nate Williamson, acoustic bass; and former Juneau resident Joe Karson, guitar. Karson used to play in Tidewater, a Juneau bluegrass band that disbanded a few years ago.
"It started as people sitting around playing on their own time," Bowers said. "We decided to move on to playing at clubs. It changed a little over the years, as people have come and gone."
Five Buck Fiddle has played throughout Fairbanks, Ester, Healy, Talkeetna, Girdwood and the Interior festival circuit. They were playing the fiddle standard "Cumberland Gap" at a Fran Ulmer rally at the Dog Musher's Hall in Fairbanks when the 7.9 earthquake hit Alaska on Nov. 3, 2002.
Most of the members have played at the folk fest before. Bower's first appearance was 20 years ago with One Size Fits All. His son, Ryan, and daughter, Aurora, play in Slightly Askew, a teen bluegrass band playing at 3:15 p.m. Saturday, April 17, at Centennial.
"The folk fest is a wonderful time," Bowers said. "It's so much fun. It's a great time to gather in musicians, learn tunes from other people and trade stories. It's a great learning experience for a lot of people."