updated 10/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Spitting out tobacco juice, belting bourbon and cussing exuberantly, old-time Western fiddlers love to jam together till dawn. But these days that hallowed breed has an unlikely new member: a blue-eyed, 5'2" prom princess and ex-surfer girl whose favorite approbation is "really neat." Heather Bennett, 18, is a fiddling fanatic who enters as many as 20 contests a year all over the West, and this year she took the women's championship at the legendary National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest in Weiser, Idaho.

Growing up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., Heather started picking out piano chords as a 2-year-old and took up classical violin at 6. Her passion for fiddling emerged when her family attended a Death Valley 49er Encampment celebration in 1974. "I wanted to learn to play those old tunes," she says. Bennett began study with "Slim" Lambrigger, 84, a longtime fiddling champ. "They'd start at 7 p.m.," recalls her mother, Pam, "and I'd have a hard time tearing them apart at midnight." Having finished high school, Heather is now spending a postgraduate year studying in Italy, but she'll be back next year for college, probably at North Texas State, and those old jamborees. "Heather plays more like a man than a lady," notes another Bennett tutor, Merle Haggard's fiddler Tiny Moore. "She has the force."?

Thanks to the paid lecture-note takers at UC-Berkeley, California's frat boys and coeds don't have to miss so much as an hour's sleep or play cooped up in a classroom. But think what you will, Scott Davis insists that's not how it works. As editor-in-chief of Black Lightning, Davis, 35, runs the university-approved program that gives more than 15,000 undergraduates detailed class notes for about 350 a lecture. "One reason students buy notes," he explains, "is that it gives them a chance to listen in class rather than scribbling away madly." Indeed, some high-powered, pre-med classes boast a subscription rate of 97 percent. An outgrowth of a service that goes back to 1934, the program hires about 35 scholarly seniors and grad students to attend classes for $18 to $50 a lecture. Davis and his 13 helpers then edit and distribute their notes within two days. Sponsored by the student government, Black Lightning grossed about a quarter of a million dollars last year (Davis earns $16,800 annually). The son of a Fresno ad executive, Davis admits he could have benefited from the program in college at Sonoma State, where he graduated with the class of '80: Working his way through Sonoma with such jobs as sound engineer for a live, underwater mermaid show, it took him 14 years to finish.

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