By Richard Rourk
A pastime as old as the hills is returning to Flag Pond later this month when the yearly Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention marks its return.
Old time music has been a part of Appalachian culture for centuries and, thanks to Rocky Fork State Park and East Tennessee State University’s Department of Appalachian Studies, along with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the return of a popular music convention is coming back to the old Flag Pond School on Saturday, April 30.
The fourth annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention will celebrate a wide swath of Appalachian culture.
“We have a rich history of old time string music in this region,” Rocky Fork State Park Manager Tim Pharis told The Erwin Record. “We have had some talented musicians pass through.”
Pharis noted that a lot of people still talk about JD Harris and all the greats that once played in this region.
Pharis, a talented musician in his own right, knows a thing or two about the history of music in the mountains.
“Englishman Cecil Sharp knew this in 1916 when he selected Rocky Fork in Unicoi County as one of his primary stops to collect ballads,” Pharis said. “And in 1925 the famous Mountain City Fiddler’s Convention attracted a who’s who of southern Appalachian fiddling, and reminds us just how varied and unique this region is.
“The gateway mountain counties of Unicoi, Carter, Washington and Johnson give way to the great Tennessee Valley to the north and west, and to the upper reaches of the Western North Carolina mountains to the south and east,” Pharis continued.
“The story of the music here is one about the movement of people, both in and out of these highlands, and a story about people playing music, from generation to generation, in their chosen community,” Pharis added. “The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention celebrates not only the early influential musicians who made recordings — JD Harris, Osey Helton, John Dykes, George and Lloyd Payne, Dud Vance, GB Grayson, Charlie Bowman and many others), but also the those who played informally, for the love of music and fellowship with one another.”
Pharis said that the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention will feature several competitions throughout the day.
A Youth Competition, Old Time Banjo and Old Time Fiddle will be held beginning at 10 a.m.
The Main Competition, Traditional Song, Old Time Banjo, Old Time Fiddle, Dance and Stringband will get underway at 1 p.m.
The Flag Pond Ruritan will cook for a supper break from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Contest Finals will be announced at 8 p.m.
Categories and prizes will include: Fiddlingest Fiddler, $400; Next Fiddlingest Fiddler, $300; Last Fiddlingest Fiddler, $200; Top Banjo Picker, $300; Second Banjo Picker, $200; Third Banjo Picker, $100; Finest Singer, $300; Second Finest Singer, $200; Third Finest Singer, $100; Dancingest Dancer, $300; Next Dancingest Dancer, $200; Last Dancingest Dancer, $100; Hottest String Band; $600; Second String Band, $400; Third String Band, $200; Shyest Fiddler, a pair of shabby sunglasses; Most Likely to Have a Day Job, a piece of original pottery; Tallest Fiddler, an extra long tie; Best “Arkansas Traveller,” a jar of pickled veggies; and Best “Cumberland Gap, a bundle of local ramps.
Youth Competition categories and prizes include: Fiddlingest Fiddler, $75; Next Fiddlingest Fiddler, $50; Last Fiddlingest Fiddler, $25; Top Banjo Picker, $75; Second Banjo Picker, $50; and Third Banjo Picker, $25.
The fourth annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention will take place Saturday, April 30, from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the Old Flag Pond School. There is a $10 admission fee and a $10 fee for camping, which is available first come, first serve.
For more information please visit otfiddlersconvention.com.