Friday, August 04, 2006

Old Fiddler's Convention

Starting Monday, August 7, the Granddaddy of music festivals kicks off in Galax, Virginia. I type, of course, about the 71st Annual Old Fiddler’s Convention. During the next week, over 40,000 people will hear the sounds of strings being plucked and pulled in harmonic and steady rhythms.

The convention is held at Felts Park, which its grounds are normally covered with Dixie League baseball players and sandlot football teams but during this week it becomes one giant party. Gate won’t open for campers to lay claim to their 10x10 plot until Sunday morning but the line for entry started earlier this week. By this time Sunday, a sea of pop-up campers, tents, motor coaches and tarps will cover virtually all grass patches in the park except for walking paths. The Galax version of Fredrick Law Olmstead has arranged the camping sites in blocks so that it’s easy to get from one site to another but it can be tricky to find your way back. Especially if you find a friend with a mason jar on the other side of tent city from your plot.

The Fiddler’s Convention was started in 1935 with a goal of “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". Several hundred people compete in Old Time Bands, Bluegrass and flat-footing contest with the lure of cash prizes and pride. As for me and most of the other attendees, the attraction to the convention is walking around, listening to the hundreds of “jam sessions” taking place in the tent city. You’ll hear every type of music being played, from Bill Monroe to Ben Harper. You’ll see impromptu square dances. You’ll find good eats and friendly folks that won’t let you leave their “home” until you’re nourish and watered (Someone gave me some damn good ‘gator meat the last time I was there). You might see a celebrity or two in the mix. David Grisman is known to attend and jam with the locals. You’ll watch people from all walks of life share stories only because their love of music and its history brings them together


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