Compared to other musicians, Dennis Fischer considers himself limited in ability. It did not stop him from finding a way to express himself through music and entertainment.
“I consider fiddling to be an art form that will never die out,” he says. “Popular as ever, maybe more popular than it’s ever been because there’s a lot of people who enjoy the old-time string music. It connects us somehow with something deeper than ourselves, I guess.”
Fischer first started on guitar at 17 shortly before joining the U.S. Army. After returning from service at 21, he played in a country band and a bluegrass band. When he was 26, his band’s fiddler sold him a fiddle.
Though he never took lessons or learned to read music, Fischer still learned how to play the fiddle and never let anything stop him from playing it.
“I’ve loved music all my life,” he says. “I guess it was just a happy accident that our fiddler sold me that fiddle and showed me how to play a couple of tunes. I’ve been in love with it ever since I started playing it.”
He knew early on that he wanted to host barn dances while playing the fiddle. After retiring, he and his wife moved to Nathrop in 1999, had a barn built and carried out that dream. They have continued their barn dances thrice each year.
Last year, they celebrated the 20th year for the barn dances.
“I’ll do that ‘til I drop over,” Fischer says.
But he didn’t stop with barn dances. He would also play 1-hour gigs for visitors at the Elk Mountain Ranch for many seasons. In ’94, he picked up poetry and added that to his entertainment gigs.
“I was good at connecting with my audience because it was kind of an intimate setting, a living room-type situation. Everyone was comfortable on the couches, and I would play the guitar and sing cowboy songs, and I would crack a joke, and I would engage with the audience,” he says. “I did it to the point that people said I was entertaining.”
In addition to guest ranches, he played at a nursing home once a month for 16 years. He has also played for funerals, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas and private parties, as well as Business After Hours and Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy.
“That’s really fun because I’m by myself. I don’t have to keep time with anybody else or wonder what I’m going to play with somebody else or whatever. I can just stand there and, off the top of my head, just play tune after tune after tune,” he says.
Some of the songs he plays include tunes from the Civil War era that he knows people recognize and have heard, “but until I would stand there and play a tune in front of them, they’d never think of it in their daily lives.”
All of his performances stand out in his mind, but one moment stands out in particular: Being asked to play at Frank McMurry’s memorial service at Mount Princeton.
“Being who Frank McMurry was and what his life was and what he meant to the county, that was the highest mark that I could hit, being asked to play for his memorial service,” Fischer says. “That was awesome. That’s something I will never forget.”
Fischer would even take his music and poetry on the road and out of state before retiring from that, too.
He would travel on his own dime to locations in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming and other states to do gigs he enjoyed. He would even get paid as a featured entertainer in many instances.
“Entertaining is a challenge,” he says. “It’s something you have to learn and practice. You learn from other people and study it and practice it. That’s a challenge, to get where you’re good at it.”
Fischer has joined in with Carole and Randy Barnes, Sue Greiner and other musicians for the community dances since he started living in Chaffee County. He also breaks out the fiddle for the end of the annual Wagon Train across Chaffee County that he leads with his mule-driven covered wagon.
“Everybody always wants to hear ‘Orange Blossom Special,’ and I don’t play it. I don’t like it, never have, and I just never wanted to play it,” he says. “When people are familiar with the tunes they’ve heard me play, then they have favorites. When they’ve heard my poetry, they have a favorite or two that they like to hear.”
He still picks up the guitar on a daily basis, and the fiddle at least once a month.
An accident that cost him his index finger forced him to relearn how to hold the bow for his fiddle.
“I was washing a motorcycle … and I got to thinking I was pretty cool, spraying it with the wand at the car wash. I wasn’t doing a good job, so I got a rag and I was holding it on the wheel while I had the bike running. I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’ But it wasn’t so cool. It grabbed my finger and tore it off,” he says.
He may not play as much as he used to, especially since retiring from entertaining several years ago, but he doesn’t plan to stop, even after suffering from vertigo for 15 months a couple of years ago.
“It’s a hell of a gift. It’s a gift that not everybody has. I cherish it, and I try to pass it on to anybody else that would like to learn or anything,” Fischer says. “If I can get them started on the guitar or the fiddle, or if they like what I do and it inspires them to do something, inspires them to sing or write poetry, I’d like to give the gift away that I was given. That’s golden. That’s the cherry on top.”