JOHNSON CITY (Feb. 13, 2017) – The first fiddler’s contest in the area in several decades will be held in Unicoi County this spring, thanks to a partnership between East Tennessee State University’s Department of Appalachian Studies and Rocky Fork State Park.
The inaugural Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention will be held April 29 at Flag Pond School, 4399 Old Asheville Hwy., Flag Pond.
“It’s been more than 50 years since there’s been a fiddler’s convention in this part of Tennessee,” said Roy Andrade, associate professor in Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Studies in the Department of Appalachian Studies. “Tim Pharis at Rocky Fork State Park took the initiative to get one going and called to ask if I wanted to be involved. An important part of the Department of Appalachian Studies is the study of old-time music, and a partnership with the state park felt like a natural fit.
“It’s an event that celebrates not only music, but also the natural surroundings that gave life to the music and the mountain culture that supports it.”
Excitement is already building around this convention, which will become an annual event.
“The word is out about the convention,” Andrade said. “There’s a circuit of fiddler’s conventions all over the country, and when a new one emerges, people tend to spread the word, especially when there are prizes to be won. This event is exciting for us because the story of old-time music in Upper East Tennessee has yet to be told, and it is much deeper than the recording sessions of the 1920s – the Bristol and Johnson City Sessions.”
Andrade notes that volunteers for the event are already coming forward, and people have even offered designs for the T-shirt.
“There’s a lot of support for this,” he said. “I’m anticipating hundreds of people that day.”
Not only fiddlers, but also banjo pickers, singers, dancers and string bands are welcome to compete in the convention for part of a $3,000 pot of prize money, as well as other assorted prizes, including an oil lamp, a decrepit hammered dulcimer, a peck of potatoes, a plump laying hen, a bushel of apples, a cake of soap, handkerchiefs, a jar of shaving cream and razor, a bottle of cod liver oil, a pair of galluses (suspenders), a pound of Unicoi County roasted coffee and a box of salted crackers.
These prizes will be awarded to the top three finishers in five musical categories and to the Best Dressed Fiddler, Fiddler with Longest Whiskers, Oldest and Tallest fiddlers, Best “Arkansas Traveller” and Best “Cumberland Gap.”
Registration will open at noon, with the contest running from 1-5 p.m. A 6 p.m. supper will be followed by an 8 p.m. concert featuring The Flag Ponderers before the winners are announced at 9 p.m. The event will conclude with a 9:30 p.m. square dance.
Tickets are $10 for adults and free for children under 10. Camping will also be available for $10.
Funding for the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention comes from the Tennessee Arts Commission, Rocky Fork State Park, Friends of Rocky Fork State Park and the ETSU Department of Appalachian Studies.