The Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention has no official song — but for its 47th-annual edition this weekend, “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” might have been appropriate.
“It was bad enough we had a couple of campers come in on boats,” convention Manager Gary Willard joked Saturday afternoon.
A rainy pattern that has persistently drenched this area for what seems like weeks didn’t let up for the fiddlers convention, instead unleashing a huge downpour during the opening day Friday and threatening more showers leading to its Saturday night conclusion.
This left behind muddy roads throughout the campgrounds of the convention venue at Veterans Memorial Park, puddles of water and soggy conditions all around — none of which caused any blues or otherwise put a damper on the event.
“Actually, I think it’s going great — the attendance isn’t off that much even with the rain,” Willard said.
“The rain hurt us this year a little bit, but overall I’m tickled with it,” he added of the turnout among both musicians and fans.
Learning to play an instrument requires a certain perseverance, an ability to overcome obstacles, which Willard believes was evident with this year’s fiddlers convention.
“The ones that have been planning to be here for the competition are going to show,” he said of the spirit they embody.
Near and far
Areas surrounding the official convention stage at the park seemed to be occupied by as many recreational vehicles and tents as ever, with a large number of campers arriving early in the week and digging in for the long haul.
Registration lists for band and individual instrument contests revealed participants from foreign countries including Australia, along with numerous states such as California, Washington, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The number of bands signed up to compete on Friday and Saturday nights, 51 in the old-time category and 17 in bluegrass, was almost identical to the 72 total bands registered for last year’s competition.
There were another 305 or so entries for adult individual competition in categories including bluegrass fiddle, old-time fiddle, bluegrass banjo, old-time banjo (clawhammer), guitar, mandolin, bass, dobro, dulcimer, autoharp, folk song and dance.
In addition to those were about 50 entries for youth contests.
Mike Thorpe, who also is involved with the convention, estimated that the contestant lineup was down about 20 percent because of the weather. But, “we had some new people who just found out about it,” Thorpe said of the convention.
That was the case with Jake and Shirley Kuiper, a retired couple from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who learned of the Mount Airy event while attending the Fiddler’s Grove music festival last weekend at Union Grove.
“You ought to go up there to Mount Airy,” Jake Kuiper said they were told by some folks at Union Grove. “So Tuesday, we drove out here and checked it out.”
The two are diehard bluegrass fans as opposed to musicians, although “I’m attempting to learn the mandolin,” Shirley Kuiper said. The Michigan couple said Saturday afternoon they were happy about making the trip.
“It’s been good,” Mrs. Kuiper said of the convention. “We enjoyed last night — except for the mud.”
Closer to home, Guy Ferguson drove from Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia to compete in the guitar contest, which continued a tradition for him.
“I’ve been here probably 20 times” off and on, Ferguson said of the Mount Airy convention.
“It draws a lot of people and a lot of good musicians — that’s what I like about it,” he remarked.
Along with the “official” performances onstage, fans meandering along the grounds were treated to any number of jam sessions by groups of musicians gathered under tarps at campsites.
As a whole, the fiddlers convention participants did not appear to deterred by the weather, treating it as a minor inconvenience on the way to further enjoying an art form they love.
This was alluded to at one point Saturday by Deborah Cochran, a former Mount Airy mayor and radio personality who served as emcee for the convention, as she addressed the crowd in between performers:
“I’ve heard it said that some people would rather play music than eat when they’re hungry.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.