Bits 'n' Pieces: Local fiddler will share stage with bluegrass icons

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He begged for a fiddle when he was 5. Later, he won the Washington State Fiddler’s Contest. Multiple times.

That love for the fiddle has led Martin Stevens to be part of the RiverCity Music Festival this weekend at the Red Lion on the River in Jantzen Beach. The highlight at the Portland gig is music legend and flat-picking icon Dan Crary and singer-songwriter Steve Spurgin. Their band is Dan Crary and Thunderation.

Stevens can say his brothers are responsible for him getting into music. He followed along when they started jamming with Chick Rose in Vancouver. Like any little brother, he wanted to do what the big boys were doing. That’s when he asked for a fiddle.

Stevens said, “Bluegrass is very social, and I met a lot of great musicians. I still play with them today.”

His association with Rose and the other youngsters he met during the days of jamming with Rose has led to future gigs.

Music was what matters most to Stevens. In February 2009, he started playing with friends — musicians he met at the Rose jam sessions. Something clicked and the music was good. But the band had no name, no gigs and no plans. They formed The Bluegrass Regulators. The band is doing well and in 2010 the band released its first CD featuring mostly original pieces.

Stevens said, “It is a little bizarre that I performed a Spurgin song when I was just starting, and now I will join Crary and Spurgin on stage.”

Along with performing, Stevens is excited about teaching bluegrass newcomers in the manner of his old friend Rose, who died in 2011.

Stevens attends Washington State University Vancouver and has a couple of years left to earn his teaching degree. He wants to teach elementary-school students. He said he will offer a little of his music in the classroom.

On the Web: Bluegrass Regulators.

—Mary Ricks

Camas 6-year-old wins title as 50 millionth visitor to Oregon Zoo

photoLeland Heflin became the Oregon Zoo’s 50 millionth visitor.

Six-year-old Leland Heflin’s trip to the Oregon Zoo’s annual ZooLights display just got a bit brighter. On Dec. 27, the Portland attraction reached a milestone, welcoming its 50 millionth visitor since the current zoo opened in 1959. To decide the lucky 50 millionth visitor, zoo officials held a drawing that night.

Leland’s mom, Ericka Lytle, 34, told the story: “We were home maybe five minutes when we got a phone call, and my daughter answers. She said, ‘Uh Mom, Leland won.’ I was like, ‘What?!’”

“I had put all our names in the drawing. They were giving everyone a chance to be the 50 millionth visitor.”

Leland won a one-year zoo membership, gift bags from the zoo’s gift shop, and the biggest surprise of all, the opportunity to help deliver Packy the elephant’s 50th birthday cake at a party this April.

“He’s really excited to get to see Packy,” said Ericka.

When Leland heard the news, he said, “I was so excited, I almost fell asleep. But I was still awake and my mom said ‘Leland you won,’ and then Mom said, ‘You get to feed Packy!’ It was exciting!”

Leland said his favorite animals are elephants and giraffes, “because elephants like peanuts, and I like peanuts, too.” When asked what kind of birthday gift Leland would pick out for Packy, he said it would be lots of peanuts.

The zoo drew more than 1.5 million visitors in 2011, the fifth year in a row that visitation has topped that mark.

Leland and his family, who live in Camas, are frequent visitors to the Oregon Zoo. “It’s a fun, educational experience,” Erika said. “I act more a kid there than my kids do sometimes!”

Leland just enjoys seeing all the animals. “I love monkeys; sometimes I act like a monkey,” he said.

— Ashley Swanson

Bits ’n’ Pieces appears Mondays and Fridays. If you have a story you’d like to share, call Ruth Zschomler, 360-735-4530, or email ruth.zschomler@columbian.com.