Annual fiddlers convention fueled by friendship

Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention participants wait for their turn on stage Saturday. Organizers said this year’s event appeared to have more young competitors. Long-time participants said the convention has an atmosphere like a family reunion.

Fiddler Trevor McKenzie and washtub bass player Adam Smith perform at the Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention Saturday. Smith, who lives on the Island of Hawaii, met McKenzie when the two were students at Appalachian State University.

Isabella Gorman of Charlottesville performs in the bluegrass fiddle division Saturday during the Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention.

Fiddlers convention announcer Harold Mitchell calls out the next competitor’s name to the judges. Organizers of the annual event are considering adding a Wednesday night jam session to mark the competition’s 45th year next year.

Organizers Saturday appeared pleased with the turnout for the 44th annual Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers Convention which opened Friday in Veterans Memorial Park. The large amount of people camping was a testament to the old-time music community’s tradition of making musicians feel like family.

The convention brings together musicians and fans for two full days of competition, jam sessions, dancing, singing, education and family entertainment. It was established in 1972 and is dedicated to old-time and bluegrass music, as well as dance. The event features solo and band competitions.

“I believe we’ve had as many participate this year as last year but there seems to be more young musicians this year,” said spokesperson Mike Thorpe. “We’ll be equal to or better than last year before it’s through. We’re thinking about adding money prizes to the youth competition next year.”

Thorpe said plans also are being discussed about adding a Wednesday night jam session next year to mark the 45th anniversary of the convention. Organizers also may seek out a headliner musician like Doyle Lawson of the group Quicksilver to feature at next year’s event.

He said participants in this year’s convention came from far flung places such as Australia, England, California, Louisiana and Finland. Regular festival participant and Charlotte resident Gerald Lemonds brought his family up for the day Saturday. He said they usually camp out at the convention as well as compete.

Lemonds said his pygmy goat “Lucy” is also a regular at the convention. He said his 14-year-old daughter Sarah recently decided to compete in the adult divisions for bluegrass fiddle as she decided to up her musical game.

“The first time we came here with Lucy she was just a little thing,” Lemonds said. “So many folks came over to see her, it took us an hour to get to the bandstand.”

Lemonds said so many new people have migrated to Charlotte the yearly trip to the convention is like a homecoming to them as they “catch up” with old friends.

Fiddler Trevor McKenzie of Zionville and Adam Smith, who lives on the island of Hawaii, made quite an impression on the audience with Smith playing washtub base. The two met when they were students at Appalachian State University. McKenzie explained that Boone boasts a lively old-time music community which offers lots of jam session opportunities.

“He (Smith) started hanging around town and I grew up playing this type of music after barber Jim Lloyd taught me to play. We had mutual friends. He (Smith) just showed up and started playing with us. He plays better on the washtub bass than many I’ve played with who use an actual one. He can follow all kinds of music like a jazz bassist. When you can play like that, it’s not hokey.”

Smith is a physics major who works as a telescope operator at Maunakea. He frankly admits he sees two mountains on his nightly job. One is where the telescope is located and the second is the mountains he has grown to love locally. The Eastern Virginia native applies a scientific approach to an instrument affected by the surface it is set on, its only cord and how best to make it fit in with the music and still sound like a bass.

“I always wanted to play the bass. It (a washtub bass) was cheap and I got a lot of positive feedback at the start,” said Smith, who had his favorite cord break right before competition. “This place is amazing. When we come to Mount Airy, I have so much fun.”

Dave Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.