Well, I just came back from my first time to Idaho and the big National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest & Festival out there in Weiser. As a Virginia festival goer, it was really interesting with some definite differences between our festivals out east and the way they do it in Weiser.
The scenery just coming into the festival was beautiful. I drove in from the Oregon side to a wonderful view of fields and mountains, and then saw the signs for the contest as soon as I hit Weiser, Idaho. The festival is rather spread out through the town, with the contest being held in the high school, some vendors and stage shows happening in the park in town, and jammin’ happening in the different campground areas – all of which is either very affordably priced or free to the public. On the last day there is even an official parade and carnival.
The contest is only for fiddle players. It is very sad that folks out there don’t get to watch a long mandolin contest (’cause what is better than that?), but maybe they could add that soon. They just added a brand new banjo contest this year, so maybe mandolin people will be next?
People pay to enter and the fiddling contests are broken down into many categories based on ages of the contestants, and limited to a certain number of entrants. That way people feel the contest is more fair since they are going against folks of a similar age group. They have Small Fry (under 9), Junior Junior Division (under 13), Junior Division (under 18), Young Adult (18-36), Adult (37-59), Senior (60-69), and Senior Senior (over 70), each with prize money and trophies.
The Grand National Champion contest has all ages going for gold together. They also have a Twin Fiddlin’ Contest, which I have never seen in the East Coast festivals I have attended.
They also have Certified Showcase contest, where the people who have won contests in other National Old Time Fiddlers Contest (NOTFA) states can come and have a fun and entertaining different type of contest where they compete for Best Costume, Fanciest Fiddlin’, or Best Entertainer, and this stuff is generally really fun with silly, wild costumes.
Another difference from my usual East Coast festivals is that adults can have up to 3 instruments accompanying them and kids can have up to 2 accompanists. They mic the contestants and their band with a single mic that hangs from the ceiling and just adjusts up and down depending on the height of the fiddlers, and the judges are sequestered in the library where they can only hear and not see the contestants (except the twin fiddling contest where they watch you work together).
They have a good bit more Western Swing influence out there in the contest music as well as in the campgrounds. There still was some bluegrass and old time jammin’, but I have never been to a festival with that many great musicians who could play swing and different types of acoustic jazz, so that is what I really got into. I guess for me that is the fun, gourmet campground jammin’ that I don’t usually see as much of.
The official dates for the contests at the festival are Monday, June 17th through Saturday, June 22nd, but many of the jammers in the campground are not really as interested in the contests as the campground jamming. They get there the week before, with the pickin’ really kicking into high gear by about the Wednesday before the festival starts.
Understanding the campgrounds took me a little bit to figure out too. There are a number of different small campgrounds, each with its own name, fees and culture. There is Fiddletown which is in a grassy field behind the high school where the contests are held, and is generally where the contestants and their families camp. It has its own road signs to help folks navigate their way through the campground, which sure seems like a great idea to me after all the funny ways we often have to describe how to find our campsites at the festivals.
People who are not camping in Fiddletown call it “Tintown” because of its tendency to have many large RVs camping there.
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About the Author (Author Profile)
Tara Linhardt is a music educator, recording artist and independent film producer in Loudon County, VA. She has a Masters in Education and has been performing and teaching traditional music for years both privately and in festivals, workshops, and traditional music camps such as the Traditions Week at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD and the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. Tara also holds the Guinness Book World’s Record for organizing the Largest Mandolin Ensemble in the history of the world!
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