Preparing for the Fiddlers’ Convention

Cliff Clark General Manager/Editor

January 16, 2014

In an effort to “pass the heritage on to future generations” a organizational meeting was held by the Ashe County Arts Council on Monday, Jan. 13, to get a sense of how the Council should run the annual Ashe County Fiddlers’ Convention.

“We don’t want to do this in a vacuum,” said ACAC Executive Director Jane Lonon as she opened the meeting held to gather information on “what works and what doesn’t” to host the annual summer event.

As the question was asked about what works and what doesn’t, a chorus of the nearly 50 people who attended the meeting responded with “good weather.”

However, there were concerns that participation from musicians and overall attendance is challenged because the Fiddlers Convention is held in Galax, Va., the weekend after the Ashe convention.

Lonon asked if the date for the convention should be changed.

Most of the audience shook their heads “no,” but suggested closing the convention earlier to allow those musicians who also perform in Galax to have enough time to travel there.

There were also questions about the actual running of the show.

“It’s really a labor intensive job,” said Lynn Worth of Sparta, who helped start the Alleghany Fiddlers Convention and offered several suggestions from how to handle food vendors to campsites.

Worth said one of the elements of a successful convention is having a solid group of volunteers - anywhere between 15 to 20 people.

She also offered suggestions on concessions. Worth said at the Alleghany Convention, local charitable organizations are invited to sell food and other items as a fundraiser.

Michael Bell, the programming chair of the Council, asked for ideas on the technical details of holding the event, which included questions about the sound system, potential categories and judging the performances.

When the topic of judging was tossed out, like who should or shouldn’t be a judge for the convention, Lansing’s Tim Varner summed it up when he said, “if they don’t know who Flatt & Scruggs are, they probably shouldn’t be judging,” which was met with lots of laughs from the audience.

The idea of having the judges listen to the performances “blindly” was also offered as a suggestion.

While there was some support for that idea, which had been tried before at the Ashe Convention, others said the stage presence of the performers should have some bearing in the judges’ decisions.

There was also a suggestion of having past convention winners serve as judges.

When local musicians Bruce Henderson and Steve Lewis were suggested as potential judges, the audience gave a big round of applause.

Lonon asked for suggestions for someone who might serve as the MC of the show. There were several suggestions, some local folks and others known in bluegrass music circles as being excellent MC’s.

As the meeting wound down, Lonon said, “we want to do this year right, but what about the future, three years from now?”

The idea of having a “feature band” perform was suggested. While that idea seemed to get some traction, Worth said, the event is about the local people competing.

Varner said it would take a couple of years to get the convention back to where it was.

Arvill Scott suggested making it easier for the performers to play and reminded the Council, “they’re (the performers) putting on your show.”

Lonon admitted that the Council had some reservations before it decided to take on the responsibility of holding the annual event.

One of those was the amount of financial resources it might take to be successful.

However, in the end, Lonon said the Council decided that its goal was to continue the program.

“Our goal is to get good musicians to come out and perform. If we do that, the money will follow,” she said.