I have had the opportunity to witness and document on many occasions the results of the creative energy that flows through the Carolinas. Many creative gifts to the world come from people who were born in the Carolinas and some from people who move to the Carolinas.
Such is the case with fiddle maker Bob Kogut who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
When Bob was in his late 20s, his younger brother, John, invited him to attend a Bluegrass festival in Maryland. At the time, Bob played guitar for a rock band and had never been to a Bluegrass event.
By the time they arrived the only seats available were on the front row. Making it just in time, the announcer introduced Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Having no idea who they were, when Kenny Baker, a former coal miner played Bill Monroe’s “Jerusalem Ridge,” Bob was amazed and moved by the performance, and by the end of the song he knew he had never heard such beautiful fiddle playing.
This was a profound moment in Bob’s life, and a seed was planted that would one day grow and open the door for him to not only play, but also make beautiful fiddles and violins that would entertain countless numbers. At that time Bob had not even dreamed that dream.
Eventually, work and the allure of Orlando, Florida would bring Bob south. While in Florida, Bob would meet a man who would teach and share with him the wisdom of fiddle making.
In any event, Bob’s time with his mentor paid off, and those lessons and trade secrets have helped shape who Bob is today.
Some years would pass, and in the early ’90s, Bob was invited to the Carolinas to play at MerleFest.
It was on that trip and others to follow that would create a yearning for the Carolinas that would become far too strong for Bob and his wife, Roberta, to resist. The day did arrive, and the decision was made to move to the Carolinas. The only question was where?
It was on an extended trip to North Carolina for job interviews that the Koguts found themselves in Lenoir, North Carolina where Bob was offered a job.
He somewhat expected Roberta would rather live in a larger city like Asheville or Raleigh, however when Bob shared the news, they concluded the area felt right.
In 1998, Happy Valley, North Carolina would become their new forever home.
Once settled in, Bob was soon inspired to put on a fiddlers’ convention in Happy Valley. The only problem being that Bob had never produced a fiddlers’ convention, and on top of that he did not have the budget to do so. Happy Valley is a small place and as soon as the word spread Bob received a phone call from a local preacher who offered to help by providing a large tent for the event, complete with a stage, chairs and a generator – all to be set up and taken down by his crew. His only payment was the opportunity to share his message for anyone who might want to attend a Sunday morning service.
Encouraged with this development, Bob knew he needed an excellent headliner to help draw people. He approached the Kruger Brothers who he knew from MerleFest. Bob shared the idea, he asked them how much. After the brothers talked, they told Bob they would do it. When Bob again asked how much they told him that this is now their home and they believed in what he was doing. They wanted to and did support him.
They would do the event and bring their sound person to handle the entire convention, and that’s what happened. A lot more people were involved, and that’s the way the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention got started.
Bob would lead the charge for 10 years, and now it continues under the administration of the Caldwell Arts Council. Bob attends, talks about his fiddles and enjoys sitting in with other players.
I asked Bob if he makes fiddles or violins. With a chuckle, he said “I make fiddles and sell violins.” At the time of this writing, Bob is making No. 225, and her name is “Shambala.” They all have female names and they all end with an “a.”
Bob is on a quest to make the perfect fiddle for himself, one with the ideal tone. I asked what he will do when he finally makes his perfect one. “That will be the last one I make” was his response.
The man from Philadelphia is finally at home in the Carolinas where he now shares his talents with the world.