Sounds of acoustic guitars and fiddles filled the Woodward Theatre on Saturday as contestants of all ages competed in the 48th Official Kentucky State Fiddle Championship at the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum.
Ed Carnes, contest coordinator, said the competition includes guitar, banjo, mandolin, junior and senior dancing, and four fiddle categories based on age.
“The four winners of the fiddle contest will then do a competition against each other for the title of Kentucky State Champion, and they win the Governor’s Cup,” Carnes said.
Carnes said the competition traces its roots back to Leitchfield in 1974. The event ran until about 2012, when a variety of issues caused it to go dormant.
The competition was revived last year after Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum Director Chris Joslin inquired about bringing a fiddling competition to the museum in downtown Owensboro.
“I said, ‘I have I have a good idea, the Kentucky State Championship is dormant,’ ” Carnes said. “Chris negotiated with those guys, who signed over all rights to the Kentucky State Championship to the Bluegrass Museum and Hall of Fame.”
Joslin said the competition is a great fit for the museum, helping them further its mission.
“I usually try to say that what we try to focus on is music with a mission, and I think this really feeds into that, because this is a competition, but really, what it is is it builds community with musicians,” Joslin said. “It helps teachers who have students. It gives them something to strive for, to work for.”
Joslin said that the 2021 edition of the championship brought in musicians from 14 states.
“We will probably have as many states or more this year represented,” he said. “It really brings folks who might not otherwise come to Owensboro to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, because this is their reason to come, and, hopefully, once they come and discover this, they will come back.”
Carnes said the museum had about 74 musicians pre-register for the competition this year, but onsite registrations were open Saturday.
“I am hoping to have at least 90 to 100,” he said. “It is continuing tradition, really.”
Reagan Brown, 11, of Tennessee, was practicing her mandolin in the museum gift shop before it was her time to take the stage.
“I have been playing bluegrass for five or six years,” Brown said. “My sister started playing, and it is kind of a tagalong thing.”
Brown said that while she plays the mandolin, tenor bass and banjo, her sister plays the dobro, guitar and bass.
Ashland Smith, 12, was one of the first competitors to take the stage with her acoustic guitar.
Smith said her grandparents were a major influence in her learning to play bluegrass.
“They took me to my first bluegrass event I went to every Friday,” she said. “They took me there for the first time, and I loved it.”
For more information about the Kentucky State Fiddle Championship, visit www.kyfiddler.com.