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Jam session at Athens College, late 1970s
Jam session outside Founders Hall, Athens College (now Athens State University), late 1970s Photo courtesy Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention

Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention

The Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention is known as the "Granddaddy of Midsouth Fiddlers Conventions" for its role in reviving the tradition of competition in old time music. It was born 33 years ago, when a few musicians who were meeting in a rural Limestone County home decided it was time to bring fiddling out of the living room and on to the stage. Receiving an enthusiastic response to two local fiddling contests held as tests, they formed the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Association in 1967 to organize an annual event. Today, it is estimated that approximately 20,000 people attend the convention from 30 states and several foreign countries, during its annual October weekend.

The convention brings some 200 contestants and an estimated 20,000 folk music fans to the grounds of historic Athens State University, where it has been held since 1967. The contestants compete for prize money in 15 different categories, including several fiddle and guitar categories, harmonica, mandolin, bluegrass banjo, dulcimer, old time singing, banjo, and buck dancing. The Convention culminates in a "fiddle-off," whose winner is declared "Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddle Champion," and takes home a trophy and $1000.

Seven of the fifteen members of the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention Steering Committee are part of the Athens State University staff, one is the President of the Athens State University Foundation, one is the Director of the local Chamber of Commerce, and six are local residents and area musicians. In addition to the musical performances, each annual event includes faculty/staff from the University and local residents who display their work at an arts and crafts fair. Proceeds from the fiddlers convention go primarily to the University scholarship fund. To date, more than $350,000 has been awarded to deserving students.

The project is documented with five pages of text; a booklet, "A History of the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention"; a list of pictures of Fiddle Champions from 1966 to 1999; ten 8 x 10 black-and-white photographs with descriptions; contest rules; category winners of the 1980s and 1990s; a brochure; a copy of "The Athenian," the campus newsletter of Athens State University, covering the Fiddlers Convention; and a videotape cassette entitled "October Weekend."

Originally submitted by: Robert E. (Bud) Cramer, Jr., Representative (5th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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