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Young fiddlers on stage, 1984
Young Suzuki Fiddler Players performing on stage at the Festival, 1984. Photo: Ann Parks Hawthorne

Ole Time Fiddler's and Bluegrass Festival

The Ole Time Fiddler's and Bluegrass Festival is a gathering of families and musicians who come to compete in traditional old time bluegrass band and individual competitions and to share music that has been handed down from generation to generation. It began its long journey in 1924 in the small rural community of Union Grove, Iredell County, North Carolina, as a fund-raising venture by local teacher and musician H.P. Van Hoy and his wife Ada to raise money for school supplies. Van Hoy's Fiddlers Convention, in which half of the proceeds went to the school, half as prizes to competing musicians, grew into the most important family entertainment event of the year, garnering the support of the community, the school board and staff, and the musicians who participated. During the late 1920s and 30s, the Convention began drawing musicians and attendees from a wider area.

The traditional style of old time music was influenced by the growth of radio, the broadcasting of the Grand Ole Opry, Renfro Valley Barn Dance, and other such programs. The advent of Bluegrass, a new style of traditional music developed by Earl Scruggs and the Monroe Brothers, and the popularity of the Big Band sound eroded the popularity of old time music, for a time threatening its extinction. Nevertheless, during the 50s, the Fiddlers Convention maintained a local following, and began attracting young people from around the region. Increasing crowds necessitated the move, in 1969, of the Ole Time Fiddler's & Bluegrass Festival to the Fiddler's Grove Campground, purchased for that purpose by Van Hoy's son Harper. The name Fiddlers Convention was retained by Harper Van Hoy's brother, and he moved that event to a site on his farm. Harper Van Hoy also moved the date of his Festival from Easter weekend to Memorial Day in 1973; he instituted a strict rule for the Festival--no alcohol or drugs--which remains in effect to this day.

On Memorial Day, 1999, the Fiddler's Grove Festival celebrated the 75th anniversary of the tradition begun in 1924, the oldest continuous festival of its type in North America. This three-day festival is organized to allow each age group to participate. In the individual competitions, there are junior and senior categories in fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin. (There is no age requirement in the autoharp, dulcimer, bass fiddle, harmonica and dobro competitions.) The most coveted award of the Festival is the "Fiddler of the Festival" in the "Certified Old Time Fiddler's Category," for fiddlers 55 years of age and older who play strictly by ear and have no formal training. There are also "Twin Fiddle" and "Heritage Tune" categories, the latter for the performance of tunes more than 100 years old. The highlight of the Festival is the play-off for "Fiddler of the Festival," in which five fiddle champions, one from each category, vie for the title.

To ensure that the art of traditional music is preserved, workshops are conducted at the Festival each year, taught by experts in their instrument or in their craft: storytelling, shape-note singing, children's folk music, etc. Since 1970, the Festival music has been recorded each year live on stage, preserving the heritage of old time music. Tapes from 1970 to 1984 have been donated to the Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the 75th anniversary celebration, in 1999, a crew from UNC/TV filmed the Festival for a program Carolina Preserves, to be broadcast in the spring of 2001. Traditional grass-roots American music is a legacy that will live on provided there is a place for musicians, family and friends to come together once a year for a weekend of fellowship and old time music: that place is Fiddler's Grove.

The Festival is documented with an eight-pages of text; thirty 8 x 10 black-and-white photographs; letters of support; flyers, brochures and programs (1970-1999); a newspaper article; a videotape, "Fiddler's Grove: A Celebration of the Old Time Music"; two audio cassettes from the 1980 and 1984 festivals; and a CD, "Ole Time Fiddler's and Bluegrass Festival, 25th Anniversary."

Originally submitted by: Jesse Helms, Senator.

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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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