When the 600 event wristbands printed for the “first annual” Upper Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention sold out and the crowd kept coming, volunteers working the gate lost count and organizers declared the event a resounding success.
Presented by Rocky Fork State Park and East Tennessee State University’s Department of Appalachian Studies with funding funding from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the convention was designed to replicate a nearly century-old tradition in the mountains.
Patterned after the 1925 Mountain City Fiddler’s Convention, still revered for the who’s who of nationally known fiddle players it attracted, Friday’s convention at the old Flag Pond school revolved around musical competitions and prizes of old.
In addition to cash awards of up to $350 for the fiddlingest fiddlers, top banjo pickers, hottest string bands, finest singers and dancingest dancers, the prizes included a plump laying hen, a peck of fine potatoes, a bushel of apples, a pair of galluses, a bottle of cod liver oil, a box of salted crackers and various other sundries of days gone by.
The plump hen with an egg to prove her laying capacity sat on a decorative stand by an open door at the front of the old school gymnasium. And above her on the stage, the props included a 12-foot-tall handmade fiddle, a 15-foot bow and a paneled reproduction of a photo of the fiddling stars of the 1925 convention.
And at center stage, some of better-known performers among the field of about 40 fiddlers, 20 banjo players, folk singers, string bands and dancers included fiddler Roger Howell, banjo player Bob Carlin and dancer Thomas Maupin.
“We’ve had a magnificent turnout, beautiful weather and musicians from across the country, really,” said Master of Ceremonies Corbin Hayslette, with the ETSU Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music program said.
Michael Luchtan with ETSU Appalachian Studies program said, “It’s definitely a success. And it’s going to happen again.This is just the first annual.”