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Fiddle and Old-time Music Contests

Tennessee towns host over thirty fiddle and old-time music contests every year. Many of these current music festivals date only to the 1970s as Tennesseans rediscovered their local musical and folklore traditions, but fiddle contests have a long history in the state. Local competitions often took place on an informal basis on courthouse squares on Saturdays or during annual county agricultural fairs. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, local chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy or the Daughters of the American Revolution were sponsoring more formal competitions in order to perpetuate and honor the "good old times" of the antebellum era. A Fiddlers' Carnival, like that held in Gallatin in October 1899, was an effective way to attract rural people to town. In the mid-1920s the Ford Motor Company sponsored national fiddle contests, where competitors first won at the local level, then with the sponsorship of a local Ford dealer, moved into larger regional and national championships. During the mid-twentieth century champion fiddlers traveled from town to town, challenging locals to prove who was best. Uncle Jimmy Thompson of the Grand Ole Opry, Arthur Smith from Dickson County, Paul Warren of Hickman County, Curly Fox of Rhea County, and G. B. Grayson of Johnson County were among the most acclaimed fiddlers of this era.

In 1967 a group of musicians and admirers of old-time music created the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers' Association, which soon sponsored some of the first fiddle and old music contests in the region. By the early to mid-1970s the state's best known music festivals were in operation, including the State of Tennessee Old-Time Fiddlers' Championships (1974) in Clarksville; the Fiddler's Jamboree (1972) at Smithville; and the Uncle Dave Macon Days (1978) in Murfreesboro. These festivals not only highlighted fiddlers but also included competitions in old-time and bluegrass music, banjo, mandolin, guitar, dobro playing, and clogging and buckdancing. Other competitions in Tennessee that date at least to 1980 are the Holladay Fiddlers Jamboree (1956); the Sewanee Bluegrass Convention (1971); Opryland's Grand Masters Fiddling Championship (1972); the Minor Hill Fiddling Convention (1977); the Elizabethton Fiddlers Convention (1972); Adams's Bell Witch Festival (1978); the Mountain City Fiddlers Contest (1976); the Crossville Fiddlers Contest (1976); and the Chattanooga Fall Color Cruise and Folk Festival (1974).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010