So big was the life of South Sound musician Burt Meyer that it’s taking more than one event to celebrate it.
Meyer died July 13 in Mount Rainier National Park at the age of 75. There’s already been more than one celebration of Meyer’s life, and more are on the way.
Meyer and his wife, Diana, known as Di, were for more than a half-century major figures in Olympia’s music community. Di died in 2016.
Meyer was a singer and multi-instrumentalist, playing banjo, button accordion, concertina, guitar and several other instruments. He loved folk music, Irish music and sea shanties and founded numerous bands, including Snake Oil, Cricket on the Hearth, Before the Mast and the Budd Bay Buccaneers. He also built instruments.
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“He was Mr. Music,” said Karen Fraser of Olympia, a retired state senator and longtime friend of Meyer. “He was really a beloved person and a fabulous musician. He could memorize the longest, most complicated songs. We all just loved listening to him.”
As much as he loved to play, Meyer loved to bring people together to listen to music, learn about it and make it. Before his retirement, he taught German and French at Tumwater High School, and after retirement, he taught music.
Over the years, he and Di founded or co-founded the Tumwater Bluegrass Festival, Applejam Folk Center, the Olympia Folklore Society, the Old Time Medicine Show and the Columbia Street Seisun. They hosted countless jam sessions, hootenannies and concerts.
“Burt was like a big brother to we musicians in town, encouraging and educating,” said singer and oboeist Ingrid Ferris Olszewsky of Olympia, a longtime friend of the Meyers. “Burt and Di are irreplaceable.
“To say they will be missed is a huge understatement. It’s like saying Santa Claus will be missed on Christmas Eve or Peter Pan by the Lost Boys.”
At Applejam, which hosted traveling artists and locals alike, Burt Meyer helped attendees build their own dulcimers, creating kits with cigar boxes, demonstrating how to assemble them and teaching people to play such familiar tunes as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
“It was a great way to get people of all ages and stripes involved in making music,” said Dusty Rhodes, Meyer’s best friend and a longtime musical collaborator. “Part of what Burt and Di were always trying to do was get people to not just experience music as listeners but to be active and learn how to make their own music.”
Burt Meyer was a regular visitor to Sean Williams’ Irish studies classes at The Evergreen State College.
“He threw himself into singing, playing and talking about Ireland and Irish music with different groups of students over the years,” said Williams, a musicologist and multi-instrumentalist who met Meyer through the Columbia Street Seisun.
She described Meyer as “swimming in music.”
“As a music professor, you would think that I have music in my life all the time,” she said, “but I think Burt had it even more than I do.”
Meyer was a devoted hiker and a pilot, too.
After Di Meyer’s death, he set out on a mission to sprinkle her ashes in all of the couple’s favorite hiking destinations — a mission he was working on when he died.
“Near each summit, Burt would go off privately to spread Di’s ashes while lustily singing a song in German,” according to Meyer’s obituary on funeralalternatives.org.
That’s what he was doing when he went off the trail on Eagle Peak in Mount Rainier National Park and was killed in a rockfall.
“He died singing,” Williams said. “And he died with his wife’s ashes. They were joined.”
Meyer, who was born Oct. 18, 1941, in Olympia, is survived by sisters Vicki Deakin of Palmer, Alaska, and Rainy Knight of Vancouver, Washington.
Memorial fund set up
Donations may be mailed to the Burt and Di Meyer Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, 212 Union Ave SE, Suite 102, Olympia, WA 98501. The option to make an online donation will be available starting Aug. 1 at www.thecommunityfoundation.com.
Community memorial service
Burt Meyer’s family has set the date for his official memorial, to which the community is invited. It will be 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Olympic Flight Museum on Old Highway 99.