With almost half a century loving music and performing in live gigs all across north and south east United States, Geraldine and Ed Berbaum are ready to take it down a few notches and settle down for a while in their Dunnellon, Florida, home. The couple left behind their professional careers as at teacher and as a banker, respectively, in the 70’s and moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to create a simple life as homesteaders.
Geraldine says their home of the 70’s was purchased for $5,000 and had no door or windows. She and Ed raised goats for milk and cheese, grew vegetables and got their other staples from a food co-op, existing as hippies and living on about $2000 a year. They began to travel as professional musicians in the 80’s with Ed playing fiddle and Geraldine singing and accompanying him on guitar.
Their neighbour was Jehile Kirkhuff, a blind fiddler known best for his championship victory in the 1954 Old Time Fiddle World contest that took place in Crockett, Texas. Ed and Geraldine recorded almost 800 of Kirkhuff’s songs with equipment provided to them by the Library of Congress and those were distributed to the Library, Kirkhuff’s family and the American Folk Life Center. Ed admired the old blind fiddler describing him as brilliant with an IQ of over 170.
Ed says his first musical love was an alto sax that he talked his parents into buying him when he was in high school. He says he and his friends used to play for $35 a night. It was meeting Kirkhuff that turned him on to the fiddle. Their first professional gig together was at Jehile’s last concert in 1979 at a high school and after that, they caught the fever and began to travel from town to town, playing schools, fairs and state conventions in New York, New Jersey and of course, Pennsylvania. When they were at home, they taught square dancing and gave music lessons.
The couple were enormously popular at the fairs and the managers talked about how they created an entertainment faction that appealed to the whole family and they were always in demand. In 1991, they purchased an RV to travel with and they would simply live on the road for fair season, making thousands of dollars in a matter of weeks and putting mile after mile on their traveling home. The couple speak of the time with warmth and joy, describing it as being a lifestyle of great fun and they felt a sense of community where ever they went. Geraldine says that they loved their travels through Georgia, Florida and the more northern states as well.
The couple is now in their early 70’s and they’ve decided to slow it down a bit. At one point, they were traveling about 300 days out of the year entertaining thousands of people along the East Coast of the U.S. About three years ago, they started to scale it back and have stopped playing large conventions, hand picking the venues that they’ll enjoy most, like the 2014 Cracker Days. They’re also scheduled to play at Rainbow Springs Park for the Native Plant Sale as a voluntary endeavour.
Geraldine says they still love being musicians and that their lives have been a huge blessing, due in part, to the inspiration of Jehile Kirkhuff who told them “Capture the spirit of the song. Don’t play it too fast and the people will get it and it will be well worth it.”