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Northern Michigan in Focus: Beaver Island Misses Fiddler Danny Johnston

There’s something—and someone—missing this St. Paddy’s Day on Beaver Island.

They canceled their annual games because of the virus. But more than the gatherings and parties, it’s the music that will be missed…and someone very special who played a big part in making those musical memories.

Jimmy Boynton says, “He’s been a big influence in my life.”

If you’ve been to a Beaver Island party, you’ve probably heard of Danny, Danny, Jimmy and Friends. One of those two Dannys was Danny Johnston. Whenever you saw him, he had an infectious smile and a fiddle in his hands.

“Music was how we met and music was our love together and through him I met other people like this guy’s dad and then him.” Jimmy says, pointing a thumb at the other Danny, Danny Gillespie.

Kind of like Michigan’s weather, if you we’re on Beaver Island, sometimes it seemed like all you had to do was wait five minutes, and there Danny was. On the ferry boat. In the school. On a deck. In a kitchen. Under a tent. In the bar. On the porch of the bar. And even outside the bar.

He was always there with all the energy and spirit of the songs he loved to play.

“We’ve played at churches we played at funerals we played at burials we played at weddings,” Jimmy says.

And when Danny Johnston wasn’t playing…he was dancing.

Danny Gillespie says, “I was just given a picture today but, we are playing at Brian Cole‘s on Beaver Island and it’s pretty emotional stuff, it’s pretty emotional stuff and we seen that song earlier and Danny was a very special man to me.”

On July 4, 2020, he would play his beloved fiddle for the last time on Beaver Island.

There is a video of Danny Johnston one day before, on July 3.

Jimmy says, “We played at the Fourth of July parade this year, which was stationary as the parade went by you.  And we were together for a number of days. Then he left on the fourth and then on the eighth his wife, Sherry, gave us a call and said he had passed. We were shocked and sad but we are so happy to have spent all the time that we spent with him and went right up to the Fourth of July. And after after drying each other’s tears we went and played Fiddlers Waltz.”

Danny didn’t write the Fiddlers Waltz, however, it sure sounds like the story of his musical life.

That music gave him, and thousands of us, memories that will last forever.

“I can’t play music right now without I’m thinking of him,” Jimmy says. “The music that I play is totally Danny.”

So as we celebrate this St. Paddy’s Day, raise one for the old fiddler…because in our hearts and memories, he’ll always be playing the right melody.

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