Old-time fiddlers convention returns Saturday

Old-time fiddlers convention returns Saturday

March 7th, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Chattnow Music

Organizer Matt Downer speaks to the audience at Lindsay Street Hall during the inaugural Great Southern Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in 2010.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Great Southern Old-Time Fiddlers Convention

When: Noon-10 p.m. Saturday, March 9

Where: Lindsay Street Hall, 901 Lindsay St.

Admission: $5 adults, free to children 12 and under

Phone: 423-755-9111

Website: www.oldchattanooga.com

In this historic photo, members of a string band sit on a Lookout Mountain outcrop. They are W.G Keith, Gid Tanner, A.A. Gray and Henry West.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

SCHEDULE

• Noon. Doors open

• 1 p.m. Guest performance

• 2 p.m. Dance contest

• 3 p.m. Banjo contest

• 4 p.m. Guest performance

• 5 p.m. Traditional song contest

• 6 p.m. String band contest

• 7 p.m. Fiddle contest

PRIZES

• Note:Amounts are for first, second and third places.

Fiddle: $200/$100/$50

Banjo: $100/$50/$25

String band: $150/$75/$50

Dance: $60/$40/$20

Traditional song: $60/$40/$20

For generations, the Chattanooga area has been a hotbed for old-time string bands, but back in the 1930s, the city was the genre's equivalent of Motown or Nashville. Nowhere did it better.

For about two decades, the Scenic City drew crowds in the thousands for a contest known by names such as the All-Southern Championship or the Championship of the South. Other states had championships, but hundreds of the region's top musicians came to Memorial Auditorium to saw away for top honors.

Several years ago, local old-time musician and field recorder Matt Downer stumbled across historic newspaper articles about the event, which faded away in the '40s. In 2010, he revived it as the Great Southern Old-Time Fiddlers Convention.

The all-day event returns for the fourth time to Lindsay Street Hall on Saturday, and while it hasn't quite reached the heights of its predecessor, it's helping make Chattanooga a destination again, Downer says.

"Every year, there are people who come who I've never met or seen play or heard," he said. "It's always cool, that chance aspect of not knowing what you'll hear or who will pop up."

Last year, Downer says, the convention attracted about 80 musicians in contests for fiddle and banjo, buck dancing and string bands. This year, the convention will add a new category for traditional songs written before 1930. Buzz for that event has Downer convinced even more musicians will compete this time.

This year, the convention will once again be held over one day. After experimenting in 2012 with splitting the event into a special guest revue at the Chattanooga Choo Choo followed by a day of contests at Lindsay Street Hall, Downer says the decision was made to eliminate confusion.

Special guest performers this year include banjo guru Leroy Troy of the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band and fiddler Brittany Haas, who performed on Steve Martin's Grammy Award-winning second album, "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo." Haas also will serve as a guest judge for the fiddling contest.

As always, the performances will be purely acoustic and unamplified. In addition to encouraging audience members to keep their conversations to a dull roar, Downer says playing unplugged helps set Chattanooga's event apart -- yet again -- from other contests around the country.

"It's not only true to the origins of the contest; it's true to the music, too," he says. "That's how this music thrived and survived for centuries. It sets the tone of the event."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.