Wish You Were Here: The IMSA Festival

This past weekend was the 41st annual International Musical Saw Association festival in Felton, California. The festival was started by Charlie Blacklock, and his family continues the tradition every year. It’s in a beautiful spot called Roaring Camp, in the redwoods of California with steam trains, gold panning, blacksmiths, barbecue, and of course, the annual musical saw festival.



There were saw players from all over the world at this year’s festival, and the festival included a contest, a workshop, and many musical performances. There was also a potluck the night before the festival and a gathering of saw players in Santa Cruz before the potluck.



The day started out with a friendly gathering of sawyers before the contest and then the contest. The first contestant was Caroline McCaskey, a previous champion, who played a beautiful rendition of Saint Saen’s “The Swan.” Then came yours truly, Rowena Southard, playing “Transylvania Lullaby.” (Unfortunately, because I was waiting for my turn to play, I didn’t get a photo of Caroline or myself.)  The next contestant was Klasse Möllberg who came from Sweden for the event and played “Tango Jalousie.”

Klasse Möllberg


Then there was a rendition of “Nature Boy” by Lou Mannick.Lou Mannick


Lou’s Mannick’s rendition of “Nature Boy” was followed by a great cowboy tune by a long-time saw festival favorite Donny Hodges. Donny always plays with his parrot on his shoulder and he plays by hitting the saw with finger, rather than a bow. You can almost see the parrot peeking out from behind Donny’s cap.

Donnie Hodges


The final sawyer in the contest was Dr. Haris Gershom playing a hymn. He came all the way from India to entertain us all and tell us about his music program. He plays a saw with a horn on the end that he calls the “Harisophone.” Dr. Gershom uses his music to help people relax and has developed a unique musical therapy program. He is also an expert ventriloquist and magician.

    Dr Gershom doing some magic!


Dr. Gershom playing his Harisophone


The judges made their decisions. The picture shows (left to right) Lou Mannick (3rd place), Donny Hodges (most entertaining performance), Rowena Southard (fourth place), Klasse Möllberg (second place), Caroline McCaskey (first place), and Dr. Haris Gershom (fifth place). 

Contest Winners


After the contest there was an afternoon of entertainment, the Blacklock Family band, Lou Mannick and Sam Yodice, and the president of IMSA Art Peterson with his accordion and friends. One of the highlights of the festival was a duet by first place winner Caroline McCaskey and previous champion Cindy Webster playing the “Flower Song” from Lakme followed by “Sleepwalk.” There were also performances by sawyers Terry Bergman (who has attended the festival for the last 20 years!), Peter Hong, Joe Eding, and Thomas Spearance. Terry Bergman gave me tips on how to choose a regular handsaw to play (he plays a Stanley with the teeth removed), and Joe Eding gave me some great bowing tips.


Terry Bergman plays gospel


Peter Hong


Joe Eding


    Three generations of Blacklocks played classics like “Old Dan Tucker”


Dancers enjoy “Waltz Across Texas”


The day ended with the chorus of saws which included many saw players, and then a workshop, and the sawyers’ farewell. The festival was two days of sawing, eating, dancing, and music. There were t-shirts, cds, postcards, and the opportunity to join the International Musical Saw Players Association. There was also the opportunity to meet with other saw players, some experienced, some just beginning, but all of them enthusiastic and happy to be with other saw players and share what they know. After all, we don’t get to meet other saw players every day.


The festival has been going on for 41 years, and hopefully it will continue for another 41. If you are a saw enthusiast, make plans to come next year. I’m already planning my song for the contest next year.


(You can see photos from past festivals on the IMSA website)




Rowena Southard, your blog hostess, is a musical saw enthusiast who lives in California. She loves all kinds of music and has a special fondness for unusual instruments.