Before the second weekend in August each year, lovers of country and mountain music leave their homes in time to be in Galax, VA for the Annual Old Fiddler's Convention. For some this means hundreds of miles of travel, while for others it will be a short trip from their nearby homes. Most of these people don't play music, and come just for the listening and renewing old acquaintances.
However, a few hundred come with their instruments to show their skill, and compete for the cash prizes which total thousands of dollars. But most of them would come without the prizes being offered. They want to see and be seen, and hear and be heard. The instruments vary from mouth harps in pockets to bull fiddles strapped on top of cars. Many of these musicians have played in most of the conventions since 1935, but this group is growing smaller by the year.
The Old Fiddler's Convention was originated in the spring of 1935 when a few members of the then new Moose Lodge #733 needed something to raise funds and promote publicity. In a newspaper item at the time it was stated that the Convention was dedicated to "Keeping alive the memories and sentiments of days gone by and make it possible for people of today to hear and enjoy the tunes of yesterday". The original purpose is held in the same regard today, and the sponsors feel that in some measure this purpose has been accomplished.
Two conventions were held in 1935,
but by the last one that fall the indoor facilities had been
outgrown, and the convention was moved to Felts Park, and has
been held there each year since except when weather forced it
indoors temporarily. One convention was omitted during
World War II, due to limitations of travel. The 2020
convention was cancelled due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.
The Old Fiddler's Convention has grown steadily until now each year people must be notified often that SRO is available in the park and room for parking is filled.
In 1965, a Saturday afternoon program was started to relieve the pressure on Saturday night. In 1967 NBC-TV covered the entire three nights and Saturday afternoon. A few years ago a Wednesday night performance was added. In 1999, Tuesday night competition was added. A Fiddlers' Youth Competition was added in 2000, which added Monday night to the schedule.
A unique aspect of the convention is the camping area where the musicians rehearse and try to get in tune. Some listeners and onlookers follow these bands around and lose contact with what's happening on the stage. Often dancers and players try out their abilities in the parking lot when they would not dare go on the stage.
Contestants must register in advance of the convention and there is no charge for registration. Some of these come from distant states and at times from foreign countries, but when they play, the tunes are usually the same that have been heard at the convention down through the years.
In the early years, the contestants came chiefly from Carroll, Grayson, and adjoining counties in Virginia and North Carolina. Now bands and individual performers come from the big cities, the college campuses, and every place where the old music is loved and played.
The promoters feel that the Annual Old Fiddler's Convention is fast becoming a tradition in country and mountain musical circles, and will do their best to continue bringing to you the tunes which have been handed down from generation to generation in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fact that many of the contestants are youngsters is encouraging, and we feel that the future of Folk and Country Music is secure.
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