News/Thoughts

Fiddlin’ In Galax

Is your musical bucket list like ours here at the magazine? Our bucket is just too full of wonderful festivals and other musical events and not full enough of time to fit them all in. Such was the case recently when a press release hit our in-box with details about the release of a documentary film about the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention.

Of course; it was THAT convention. It is that same convention you and we have planned to attend every summer but never seem to get there. Yes, that same fiddler’s convention held in Galax, VA on the second weekend in August just as it has been every year for the last 80-some years. To make up for our lack of ability to attend this revered music event, let me tell you about the convention and also about the film that documents the event.

Dedicated To Preservation
The history of the Galax Annual Old Fiddler’s Convention is the history of a group of dedicated individuals bent on preserving old time string-band music and its performers both the past generation and the new comers as well. The Old Fiddler’s Convention was originated in the spring of 1935 by some members of the then newly formed Moose Lodge #733 as both a fund raiser and to promote publicity. The founders were quoted in a newspaper story at the time as saying the convention is dedicated to, “Keeping alive the memories and sentiments of days gone by and make it possible for people of today to hear and enjoy the tunes of yesterday”. All the reports from folks who have been to Galax in the last oh so many years is that today’s promoters hold the original purpose in the same high regard.

The organizers held two conventions that first year—a spring and a fall gathering; however, by the fall date the event had outgrown its indoor venue space. Thus, they moved outdoors to Felts Park; and that is where the convention has been held every since. With the exception of the war years in the 40s, the convention has been an annual event.

The Old Fiddler’s Convention has grown steadily from its beginning until presently event officials must often notify attendees that standing-room-only is all that is available in the park and there is no more room for parking. Currently, the convention is a several-day event with every variant of string-music talent on display to be judged for excellence.

Many believe that camping is a big part of any outdoor music festival but Galax excels in that area. A unique and compelling aspect of the Galax camping area is that it is the place where the musicians and other contestants rehearse and try to get in tune prior to the competitions. Some listeners and onlookers follow the bands around the camp and lose contact with what’s happening on the stage.  Often, dancers and players try out their abilities in the parking lot when they would not dare go on the stage. One old-time banjo picker once told this writer that she played her banjo in the campground all night each night of the convention without ever sleeping and never once picked her banjo on stage.

Talent and Determination
Of course, the main part of the convention is the talent contests held to determine who will be judged the top performer in each category. Contestants register for free in advance of the convention. Many of the contestants are from the Appalachian region; however, there are contestants from distant states and at times even from foreign countries. The bands and the individual performers now hail from the big cities, college campuses, and every place where the old music is loved and played. Nevertheless, it does not seem to matter from where the contestants arrive because when they play, the tunes are usually the same tunes that have been heard at the convention down through the years.

The promoters feel that the Annual Old Fiddler’s Convention has become a tradition in country and mountain musical circles, and they pledge to do their best to continue bringing to the convention goers the tunes which have been handed down from generation to generation in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When the promoters learned that many of the contestants are young, they were encouraged because they feel this is an indication that the future of folk and country music is secure.

Having now given you a glimpse of the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention, it is time to discuss that documentary film we mentioned in the beginning of the story. The film is titled, FIDDLIN’, and it is a love-letter to Americana roots and to the uplifting power of music. It is a celebration of a place, its people and their music; and is an inspiring documentary that shines a light on what is best about America. The film, FIDDLIN’, is already a winner of 15 awards and counting.

For Future Generations
Sister filmmakers Julie Simone and Vicki Vlasic returned to their Appalachian roots to produce a documentary film at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention. Their objective in making the film was to preserve the visuals of multiple generations of folks jamming together; and to bear witness to some of the picking, fiddling, and dancing that is keeping the old-time and bluegrass music alive in the Appalachian Mountains and beyond. Julie Simone (director) and Vicki Vlasic (producer), were given permission to film at this world’s oldest and largest fiddler’s convention in Galax after members of the sponsoring Moose Lodge discovered the sisters were local folks who recall the convention from their youth. Their local connection also earned them the trust of the talented musicians who open their hearts and share their stories in the film.

In the press release, Julie Simone said: “Old-Time and Bluegrass music were born in these mountains and have been passed down for generations with most musicians learning and playing by ear. This music essentially gave birth to country music, and subsequently rock and roll. The global impact of this area and its history is much more powerful and compelling than we had ever imagined when starting our journey with FIDDLIN’.” She added: “Seeing hundreds of young kids carrying around musical instruments instead of smart-phones and jamming with their elders really blew me away. The notion of community was one of the many inspirations for making the film, which became a family affair with our kids, nieces and nephews acting as crew and our mom cooking for everyone while our dad helped set up camp.”

Making The Movie
Vicki Vlasic said: “Creating FIDDLIN’ with my sister and re-connecting to our roots has been an extraordinary experience and a special journey for both of us. We are honored that the inspirational characters you get to know in this movie trusted us with their stories. It was important to me, as we made this film, to shine a light on the beauty of the area and the talent, intelligence and persistence of the people there. Many local folks have been left jobless with the exodus of manufacturing but they have turned to their music to create new opportunities. These ever resilient people remain positive and dedicate themselves to keeping the heritage of old-time and bluegrass music alive by mentoring the next generation of players.”

I know we will not again delay attending the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention when the opportunity next arises, I also know that I very much want to see this film that these home-town ladies produced as a love-letter to their Americana roots and to the uplifting power of its music.

The film’s producers have scheduled a theatrical event tour to release the film complete with special musical performances. This tour is set to kick off on August 27th at the Little Theater in Rochester, NY. Additional special theatrical events are planned for across the country including, of course, Galax, VA. The film producers will also release FIDDLIN’ nationwide on all major VOD platforms in October 2019, courtesy of Utopia.

To learn more about the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention and view the list of 2019’s contest winners, visit the WEB site:
www.oldfiddlersconvention.com/

You can find out more about the film’s theatrical tour schedule by getting in touch with Sisi Cronin at sisi@sicilypublicity.com.

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