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Theo Paige
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Theo Paige

The Not.So.Mad Fiddler

By Andrea Perkins

IT IS ALWAYS EXACTLY 12:15 IN THEO PAIGE'S KITCHEN. THE LARGE wall clock above the door looks ancient, stuck in a perpetual midday or midnight. Young Theo Paige, fiddle prodigy, sits beneath the clock, rubbing sleep out of his eyes with muscular fingers that emerge from the soiled cuffs of a white long-john shirt.

As a street musician, Theo makes his own hours. Most people strolling down Pacific Avenue on a balmy weekend afternoon have noticed Theo and his Ifshin fiddle, its worn neck a lighter shade of wood then the rest of the banged-up instrument. They notice him because Theo Paige is really, really good. Irish reels and furious jigs pour forth from the 22-year-old's fingers with a sweetness and virtuosity that even the least sophisticated passersby find arresting.

"Play that one from the Titanic movie," demands a chubby fellow in a logo-laden T-shirt and baseball cap. It's a warm March morning and Theo, who just sat down, already has two crisp dollar bills and a few quarters in his fiddle's velvet-lined case.

"Sorry. Don't know that one."

He says the question he gets asked most often is "What is the difference between a fiddle and a violin?" The answer, of course, is how the thing is played. Theo plays a lot of Irish music, which makes him a fiddler. He also plays the bodhrán (an Irish drum), the guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo and piano.

The entire Paige family is musical. Theo's great-grandmother came to America from Ireland carrying a concertina, and his mother sings with a women's Bulgarian choir. Theo picked up the cello at 9 and started working Pacific Avenue with his bodhrán at 14. He switched to the fiddle at 11 and after some lessons from various Bay Area fiddlers, taught himself by listening to records and "going to Ireland a bunch of times."

He has played with the Irish bands Dervish and Lunasa, as well as with established Celtic musicians in Portland and Boston, and he has a CD, called Theo Paige (Aniar Records). One of the best tracks is "Roy Trouncer's Doggedness," written by Theo for his dog, Roy.

Theo used to play regular gigs at Rosie McCann's until he figured out he could make more money on the street. On a good day he can rake in $60 an hour. When asked if he agrees with the oft-cited supposition that all good fiddle players need to be a little bit, well, mad, Theo quickly chirps, "No," then hesitates. "I don't know. No. I think that fiddle players to be good should just practice a lot."

Does he think he might be a little off-kilter?

"Me? Off-kilter? Well, as long as that doesn't keep me from having good friends, I'll be happy. You can call me crazy or anything as long as I can have a girlfriend and good musician friends and as long as the world treats me right, I don't care if they think I'm mad."

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Readers' Choice Awards

Best Food & Drink
Best Music & Nightlife
Best Goods & Services
Best Sports & Recreation
Best Arts
Best People & Places
Best Write-Ins

Critics' Choice Awards

Jesse Davis: All the Shoes That Fit
Stuart Finch: Rock Balancing Act
Isabel Piekarski: Latin Dance Sensation
Juan Cuellar: Compassionate Warrior
Nate Brunskill: Film Fanatic
Warren Odell: Tour Guide to an Anomaly
Sarah Gerhardt: Woman Who Rides Mountains
Seema Weatherwax: Late-Blooming Photographer
Stephanie Smith: Student of the Sciences

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From the March 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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