Music can be a powerful force — even stronger than the weather at times, as proven by the crowds flocking to Veterans Memorial Park Saturday for the last day of the Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention.
Along with throngs of other musicians, the convention attracted at least one special attendee Saturday, Dom Flemons, a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a Grammy Award-winning, African-American old-time string band based in Durham.
Heavy rain in the morning had threatened to put a damper on the day’s festivities, only to give way to sunny skies that drew in legions of late-arriving music fans to the 42nd annual event beginning around mid-morning.
Many were like Steve and Bobbie Harper, a couple from Clemmons who didn’t let a little precipitation stop them.
“Even though it was raining this morning, we took off in the rain to come here,” Steve Harper said. It was the first time the Harpers made their way to the Mount Airy convention after years of trying.
“We’ve known about it for a long time, but wouldn’t actually be able to get here until I retired — so I made time,” Harper said in a determined tone.
When all the numbers were in, overall attendance was expected to rival that of 2012 for an event that has grown gradually each year — with only a slight dip possible because of persistent rain all week that left behind muddy conditions.
“It’ll be pretty close to the same as last year,” Michael Thorpe, a convention organizer, said of overall attendance by both contestants and fans. In 2012, upwards of 5,000 people came, including about 200 bands and nearly 1,000 contestants altogether
The camping population, which normally sets up shop early in the week, was a little down, which Thorpe attributed to the on-and-off rain all week. “Especially the ones that camped up on the hill in tents.”
Activities officially started with band competition Friday night, resumed Saturday morning and were expected to continue until the late-evening hours Saturday when band performances concluded.
Music was in the air everywhere one turned, not only being performed from the convention stage but in dozens of jam sessions throughout the grounds. Along with catching acts onstage, fans could mingle around and hear endless impromptu concerts.
Dean Brown, a city councilman who was assisting his son Mark with the sound system for the WPAQ stage — where the entire convention was broadcast both on the air and online — noted a distinction with this year’s convention.
“There’s a lot of new people here who haven’t been here before,” Brown said.
That was true for Jim and Nancy Falanga, who journeyed to the convention for the first time from their home in Raleigh.
“We like bluegrass, so we thought we would give it a try,” Nancy Falanga said. She explained that this was partly due to the urging of a nurse she works with in Raleigh who is from Mount Airy, Cindy McCabe.
Chocolate Drops Member
The Carolina Chocolate Drops competed at the Mount Airy fiddlers convention in the past, before going on to fame.
That has included the band winning a Grammy for its 2010 album, “Genuine Negro Jig,” in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops also has performed on the Grand Ole Opry several times and on BBC Radio, in addition to opening for such performers as Taj Majal and Bob Dylan and appearing at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
Flemons said he was the only member of the group visiting Mount Airy Saturday. He was not here to compete, but walked the grounds and mingled with other musicians while also posing for pictures with fans.
At one location, he was spotted playing the bones to keep time for a heavily watched jam session that included local musician Andy Edmonds and others.
In addition to the music, a wide range of vendors was set up at Veterans Memorial Park, including instrument makers displaying their craft.
Steve and Bobbie Harper, the Clemmons couple, offered two words each to describe their experience at the Mount Airy fiddlers convention.
“Laid-back,” was Bobbie Harper’s assessment, while her husband sounded a bit like Tony the Tiger in offering his:
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.