By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
We can now say that it has been more than a half-century since some old-timey musicians convened in a private home in West Limestone for the very first regional gathering of fiddlers, guitarists, singers, and buck dancers from the Valley. Back then no one could have dreamed that it would grow into what is now being called the “Granddaddy of Mid-South Fiddlers Conventions,” and has gone on to become one of the most important musical festivals in the region. It is estimated that more than 15,000 people will pleasantly invade Athens for the event, and some will stay clear through til the end of the month for the rest of our fall celebratory season.
This year also marks the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Delmore Brothers’ career, and in their honor, a duo called The Farmer and Adele will be performing a tribute concert to the brothers. It will be held on Oct 7 at 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. in McCandless Hall. The Farmer and Adele perform all over the country, and their songwriting is described as “uplifting, heroic and simple, but hearkens back to the time of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.”
I spoke with Terry Stepp and Chris Latham of Athens State University about the 2017 Convention, and found out what is new for this year. “We are bringing back the free Thursday night concert,” said Chris, who was hired about six months ago as Director of Marketing, Public Relations and Publications. The free concert will be held at 7:00 p.m. on October 5. It will be performed by Mark Kuykendall, Bobby Hicks, and Asheville Bluegrass. The Thursday night free concert will be held on the Alabama Farmers Cooperative Main Stage in front of Founders Hall.
Seeing as this is Chris’s first “Fiddlers,” he said that he is looking forward “to see how the campus is transformed.” Terry, who is the advisor for the Student Government Association at ASU, told me about how the Convention has been used for scholarship programs and other student projects. “The Fiddlers Convention is our main fundraiser,” he said. Through the years, over $460,000 has been raised, and this year will put the total of endowments considerably closer to the half-million dollar mark.
Another of the celebrity concerts will be performed by Dailey and Vincent, whom Chris has seen at the Grand Ol’ Opry. “They are really good,” he said, “and are a bit more geared to the younger crowd.” They will perform on October 6 at 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
There are typically more than 200 musicians participating each year, and there will be a total of $17,750 given away in prize money. There are 20 different categories, including several fiddle and guitar categories, harmonica, mandolin, bluegrass banjo, dobro, dulcimer, old-time singing, banjo, and buck dancing.
While the focus at Fiddlers is always going to be the music and the musicians, one of the best parts is having the chance to see the vendors and sample their wares. Approximately 150 booths featuring old-fashioned arts and crafts will be part of the festivities. Convention goers will see everything from traditional artwork to coal-fired metal works. There will be 25 food vendors on hand to provide everything from a quick snack to a full meal, and there are 8 new food vendors for this year’s festival. “There are 42 new craft vendors,” said Terry, “and some of them will offer such varied items as products from a lavender farm, as well as coffee that is custom-roasted.”
From the standpoint of logistics, another new feature of this year’s convention is that all Fiddlers attendees will have to wear wristbands while they are on campus. Blue will be the color for a single-day ticket, which will cost $15.00. The two-day will be a red wristband, and the cost for that one will be $20. “There are also group rates,” Terry said. “For every group of 20 or more, $3 will be knocked off the price of a one-day ticket, and $5 from the two-day ticket,” he added. There will be what they call the Cash Gate Prize, which is a drawing from ticket numbers at the ticket booth. “Friday’s will be $200, and Saturday’s will be $300,” said Terry. The Boy Scouts will be helping with litter control, and an army of volunteers will be on duty to answer questions as well as help see to it that the convention goes smoothly.
The Fiddlers Convention really is one of the best things to happen in Athens all year long, and there is something for everyone. It is also a family-friendly event which is more than reasonably priced. To see people who have never met before come together to make music, tell stories, and make friends is simply heartwarming. The convention culminates on Saturday night when the 2017 Alabama State Fiddle Champion is announced, and we would like to invite everyone to come and join us for the entire weekend to celebrate “the Granddaddy of ‘em all.” For more information please go to www.tvotfc.org.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner