Galax Fiddlers 2013
or “What I Did On Summer Vacation“
by Louie Beasley
August 5-10 of this year, thousands of musicians and musical fans gathered at the small town of Galax in Grayson County. Grayson County is located in the Southwestern corner of Virginia, on the border with North Carolina; near the North Carolina town of Mt. Airy (often mentioned on the Andy Griffith TV series). This was the 78th Annual Fiddler’s Convention, which began as a fund-raising event in 1935 and is sponsored and managed, by the Galax Moose Lodge, No.733.
Galax is also known as the origin of old time mountain music. Only a few miles away is Fries, Virginia which is the birthplace/home place of the famous Pop Stoneman Family which includes Patsy Stoneman on autoharp, and Ronnie Stoneman on banjo. Ronnie was also a long-time feature on the TV program Hee-Haw. Galax is the home of many well known for banjo players in the surrounding areas to include Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, and Kyle Creed, as well as others who set the standard for banjo playing and banjo styles. There are banjo licks known as “Galax Licks”.
Galax is known for a particular style of Appalachian or Mountain Dulcimer and dulcimer playing. The Galax dulcimer is shaped somewhat like a boat, having 4 strings all tuned to the same pitch, a deeper body than the standard dulcimer, played by a wooden noter, and strummed with a turkey quill (note that plastic picks had not been invented back in the 1850 timeframe). Another feature of the Galax dulcimer is the double back, generally known as the Galax Back. The Galax dulcimer does not utilize any wound strings and the Galax Back is employed to produce an increased volume.
A large number of musicians are locals who compete every year. However, many musicians travel a long distance for the Galax Fiddlers Convention. Musicians wishing to camp on the grounds, as well as play in competition, are required to pre-register. Logistically, there is simply no way to register contestants on the play date. This year there were pickers from Texas, New York, and most of the states East of the Mississippi, but also from as far away as Melnik, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom. To give you an idea of the size of this gathering, here are the total applications from each category:Old Time Fiddle: 139 Dobro: 62 Mandolin: 176 Bluegrass Fiddle: 127 Dulcimer: 75 Bluegrass Banjo: 185 Claw hammer Banjo: 139 Autoharp: 57 Guitar: 285 (down from 300+ last year), Bluegrass Bands: 172 Old Time Bands: 93 Folk Song: 217 Dance: 92.
Total entrants: 1727 (counting bands, which may have as many as seven members, as one).
It should be noted that all registrants did not play as some were unable to attend. In order to enter, one must pre-register prior to 15 July. And, in order to camp on the grounds, you MUST be listed in the program book.
Monday night, starting several years ago, is reserved for competition of youths, 15 and under. Youth contestants are not required to pre-register and may sign up a few hours before competition begins. Generally, there will be anywhere from 10 to 20 entrants in each of the following categories: Old Time Fiddle, Bluegrass Fiddle, Mandolin, Claw Hammer Banjo, Bluegrass Banjo, Guitar and Bands. The musical ability and stage presence of these youngsters is simply amazing.
Youth awards are acknowledged and ribbons are presented at the end on competition on Monday night. Youth compete for ribbons (1-5 places each category) only, as there are no cash awards. Adult awards, and prize money is presented at a ceremony after the last band has played on Saturday night. This event generally occurs about 2-3 AM Sunday morning!!
It is not possible to describe the magnitude of this event; one must witness to adequately comprehend the scope of the Galax Old Time Fiddler’s Convention. To do six days of music on basically a 24 hour cycle, one has to be dedicated and have endurance. But we LOVE IT!!
Click on each photo for larger image:
Lou competing in dulcimer (no, I did not win)
Lining up to play (long lines, long wait)
Only a small portion of the crowd, stage in background
Typical jam session
Roan Mountain Hill Toppers in Old Time Band