Acoustic musicians are coming to Owensboro on Saturday from 12 states — as far away as Colorado — to compete in the 48th Official Kentucky State Fiddle Championship at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum.
The competition starts at 10 a.m. in Woodward Theatre and goes all day.
Tickets are $10.
Chris Joslin, executive director of the Hall of Fame, said 67 musicians competed in 90 contests last year.
“Last year at this time, we had 49 people registered,” he said Tuesday. “And today, we have 56. A lot of people show up and register on the day of the contest.”
It’s a great chance to see musicians who might be famous someday.
In October 1979, Towne Square Mall held the first Owensboro Old-Time Fiddling Convention.
Danny Roberts and Jimmy Mattingly, both from Leitchfield, placed second in flat-top guitar and fiddle competition respectively that day.
Years later, they were members of the popular bluegrass band The Grascals.
Mattingly is a past Kentucky state fiddle champion as well.
Joslin said, “We’ve become a destination for musicians. We’re on a lot of their bucket lists.”
The competition fits into the city’s promotion of Owensboro as the “Bluegrass Music Capital of the World,” he said.
Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recently that although there is prize money — ranging from $100 to $350 for first place in several contests — for contestants, it’s a chance for two to three minutes of fame before a large crowd of spectators — and a title they can boast about.
“It’s a powerful thing,” he said. “They want to get on that stage and make their mark.”
Joslin said, “This plays into our mission. We’re a cultural center as well as a museum. This contest brings a lot of young musicians in.”
The Hall of Fame produces “My Bluegrass Story,” a 13-episode series of bluegrass shows that appear on RFD-TV.
In the first six weeks of the program, Joslin said, it’s already producing results for the Hall of Fame.
“When people buy anything from our site, we ask how they heard about us,” he said. “More and more people are responding that it was the television show.”
Fiddling contests are a part of the fabric of American music — older even than the country.
The first on record was a St. Andrew’s Day celebration in Hanover County, Virginia, in November 1736, according to “The Thistle and the Brier: Historical Links and Cultural Parallels Between Scotland & Appalachia.”
This year, musicians are coming to Owensboro from Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Missouri, North Carolina, Maryland, Iowa, Colorado, Alabama and Illinois.
The Kentucky fiddle championship, first awarded in 1974 at Rough River Dam State Resort Park, had been dormant since 2014.
But the Hall of Fame acquired the rights to it in 2020 and brought it back last year.
Joslin said, “Virtually every state has a fiddling championship, and Kentucky definitely should.”
After all, he said, Kentucky is the birthplace of Bill Monroe, the “father of bluegrass music.”
Saturday is about more than fiddle competition though.
There are four fiddle categories ranging from 12-and-under to a senior fiddle category for fiddlers 50 and over.
But musicians will also be competing for the state title in mandolin, flatpick guitar, bluegrass banjo and dancing.
Dancing crowns two champions — 17 and under and 18 and over.
Joel Whittinghill of Bowling Green won last year’s fiddle championship as well as the mandolin title.
Winners in other categories came from Kentucky, Texas, Illinois and Tennessee.
More information is available at www.kyfiddler.com.
Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301 email@example.com