Athens State University will host the 50th annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention on October 6-8 at the school’s campus in Athens, Alabama. The musical competitions will be held on the Alabama Farmers Cooperative Main Stage in front of Founders Hall and other locations throughout the campus. Over $18,000 in prize money will be awarded, and on Thursday evening there will be some additional special events added in honor of the golden anniversary.
The convention is sponsored annually by the Athens State University Foundation and the Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce. Proceeds from the convention fund student scholarships and other university projects.
The convention has historically attracted more than 15,000 people for the Friday and Saturday competitions, with more than 200 musicians participating. There are 20 different categories, including several fiddle and guitar categories, harmonica, mandolin, bluegrass banjo, dobro, dulcimer, old time singing, banjo, and buck dancing.
The Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention is the home to the Alabama State Fiddle Champion competition. The festival is also hosts other Alabama State Champion categories including Harmonica, Bluegrass Banjo, Dulcimer, Old-Time Banjo, Classic Old-Time Fiddler, Buck Dancing, Mandolin, Dobro, Old-Time Singing, Guitar – Finger Picking, Guitar – Flat Picking, Bluegrass Band, and Bluegrass Old-Time Band. The winners in all of these categories shall for that year be known as the Alabama State Champions respectively.
Mark Ralph was named “Fiddle Champion” at last year’s convention. He won the “fiddle off,” which now pits the top fiddlers from the junior, intermediate, and senior divisions. This year’s fiddle champ will earn a total of $1,200 in cash as well as a trophy.
On Thursday evening, October 6, there will be an unveiling of the fiddler sculpture in the courtyard behind Founders Hall at 5:30 p.m., followed by a dedication of the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention Memorial Room located in the lower level of McCandless Hall at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m. Bobby Osborne & the Rocky Top X-Press take the stage in McCandless Hall for a special anniversary concert. All Thursday evening events are free and open to the public.
This year’s special guests at the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention will be Riders in the Sky, performing on the Alabama Farmers Cooperative Main Stage on Friday, October 7 at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. For over thirty years, Riders in the Sky have been keepers of the flame passed on by the Sons of the Pioneers, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers, reviving and revitalizing the Western musical field. Remaining true to the integrity of that genre of music, they have become modern-day icons by branding a group with their own legendary humor and wit.
Norman Blake, with Nancy Blake and James Bryan, will also be performing on the Alabama Farmers Cooperative Main Stage on Saturday, October 8 at 5 p.m. Blake is an American instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter. In a career spanning more than 60 years, Blake has played in a number of folk and country groups. He is considered one of the leading figures in the bluegrass revival of the 1970s and is still active today, playing concert dates and making albums with his wife, Nancy.
Approximately 150 booths featuring old-fashioned arts and crafts are part of the convention. Convention goers will see everything from traditional artwork to coal-fired metal works. Food vendors will also be on hand to provide anything from a quick snack to a full meal. Contests begin Friday, October 7 at 7 p.m. following the Riders in the Sky performance and resume on Saturday, October 8 at 8:30 a.m. Gates open at 8 a.m. Cost is $15 for Friday, $15 for Saturday and $20 for both days. Children under 12 are admitted free with a parent. Advance tickets are available from the Athens State Business Office located in Founders Hall at 300 North Beaty Street.
The festival culminates on Saturday night with the naming of the Alabama State Fiddle Champion. Being named Champion is highly competitive and is a coveted prize. Come and join us for this golden anniversary celebration of one of the highlights of festival season in Athens, AL, and for more information visit http://www.athens.edu/fiddlers.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner