Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest – 23 Years and still Counting!

Maddie Denton, 2020 Open Division winner at the Grand Lake Fiddle Fest

Jana Jae, the Hee Haw star known for her blue fiddle, hosted the Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest at the American Heritage Music Festival event for the 23rd year.

The festivities kicked off Thursday night at Snider’s Camp framed with the calming view of the lake, richly colored by the evening setting sun. You could hear fiddle tunes mingling with the buzz of the June bugs and excited conversation. There was a Gambler’s Round, where Jake Duncan, fiddle phenom, and 2006 National Fiddle Champion took his bow and fiddle in hand, as well as his extensive knowledge as he was selected the winner of the Gambler’s Round.. Judges for the Gambler’s Round were Barry “Bones” Patton, the 2019 International Bone Champion, and Rene Patton.

After the Gambler’s Round, you could hear Patton warming up his bones, double fisted style, on the side of the stage as he performed with the Farnum family. The Farnums are a Missouri Ozarks based group, a family with a string of talent. They entertained the crowd and every toe was tapping. Throughout the evening, Patton could be found helping bones enthusiasts learn the basics. Thursday evening wound down as the sun began to set, but the jamming continued as it always does out in the campgrounds.

Normally the AHF is held indoors at the Grove Civic Center, which was built with enormous assistance from Jae. However in 2020, since the state of Oklahoma had just recently reopened in Phase 3 after the COVID scare, Jae took precautions as she encouraged social distancing and masks. While the atmosphere has changed, there were live boat races in the background, and it didn’t stop the talent from continuing to soar. The Grand Lake National Fiddle Contest kicked off a three day event, Toes in the Grand, in Grove OK, which was held at Wolf Creek Park with cash prizes, contests, and entertainment throughout the day. Judges were Jake Duncan, Dale Morris and Roger Klein. With a breathtaking backdrop of water, and trees, engulfed in sounds from speedboats and fiddles, it was a grand moment as the event got started.

The following were judges for the day’s event:

Jake Duncan has held many titles starting from an early age. By 18, Duncan, a fiddle phenom from Jenks, won a national championship in 2006 at the Walnut Valley National Fiddle Championship in Winfield, Kansas.

Wayne Head is a 4th generation fiddler, who has also won several contests. He has been quoted previously as saying,”The more fiddle music I hear, the better I like it.” He not only plays the fiddle, but also rhythm guitar and mandolin. “I have met some of my best friends at fiddle conventions and contests. I am always striving to play a tune better than the last time.” Wayne has encouraged several young fiddlers to pursue fiddling and guitar playing.

Dale Morris Jr. is a well known and highly respected fiddler. He has won many state and national fiddle competitions including the prestigious Grand Masters Championship in Nashville. This year celebrates his 50th year playing the fiddle. He has performed and recorded with artists such as Ray Price, Marty Stuart, Boxcar Willie, Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, John Mayall, Charley Pride, and many others. With a rich musical heritage steeped in tradition, Dale is the “real deal.” In November 2020, Dale will be inducted into the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame (and YES, Bluegrass Today will have it covered).

Jana Jae’s granddaughter, Sandra Coleman, kicked off the day singing the National Anthem. Then the judges took to the stage, to showcase their strengths. Under the shade trees, you could find divisional entries, rosining up their bows as they awaited their turn. Thunderheads rolling above the stage didn’t dampen the spirit of the festival, as the clouds split into the heat of the Oklahoma Summer. Splinter Middleton, (Nixa Missouri), took center stage as the emcee.

Adult division entries were:

  • Charlotte Ryan
  • Janelle Edwards
  • Sydni Coleman
  • 2nd place: Nate Jacobson
  • 1st place: Tanner Marriott
  • 3rd place: Sally Ann Ryan
  • Aimee Peterson
  • Robin Coleman

Senior Division Entries were:

  • Britt Young
  • 1st place: Larry Hayes
  • 3rd place: Marcia Denton
  • 2nd place: Babette Allen
  • John Blevins

JR. Division Entries were:

  • McKenna Peterson
  • Carolina Land
  • 2nd Place: Ora Lee Ryan
  • 3rd place: Riley Buttress
  • Jolia Marshall
  • Colton Smith
  • Noah Lang
  • Sienna Yutters
  • 1st place: Preston Marriott

As always, Jae has a Take me Back to Tulsa, swing fiddle division. Entries were:

  • Bailey Sitton
  • Hannah Farnum
  • Melissa McCreely
  • 2nd place: Monty Gaylord
  • Bubba Hopkins
  • 2nd place: Justin Branum
  • 1st place: Maddie Denton
  • Tanner Marriott
  • Jocelyn Rendenloth

Everyone loves the sound of two fiddles, each accenting the other. AHF always has a twin fiddle contest, and the winners this year were:

  • Justin Branum & Bailey Sisson – 1st
  • Monty Gaylord & Tanner Marriott – 2nd
  • Aimee Peterson & McKenna Peterson – 3rd

In true American Heritage Fiddle Fest fashion, there was a “Hot” fiddle-off between Maddie Denton and Justin Branum, who were your 1st and 2nd place finishers in the Open Division. Each took their bows and were hot on the trail of the $,1000 prize. Branum said, “There hasn’t been a lot going on in the music world since COVID, so we decided to load up the car, 4 kids, and all and drive to Oklahoma.” Denton also traveled from Tennessee with her Mom to enter the contest. During this playoff, Branum accompanied Denton. Splinter said, “ In America, we all help each other out. You see two champions coming nose to nose in a run-off, and one accompanies the other.”

Throughout the day, you could hear the laughter of children, the smell of BBQ, the engines from the speed boats, and the sound of the bones. Barry “Bones” Patton could be found under the shade tree teaching Meaghan Syrjala, Saudade Vintage clothing designer, the art of the bones. In her custom made bell bottoms and 1970s look, Syrjala took the lesson in stride and, and within an hour had her own set of bones in her hand. There were times when the boat racers could be found standing in awe of the music. I walked through their pit area during a break, and heard the rustle of whispers, “Have you been to the stage?”

As the sun began to set, Jae and her band took over. Jana entertained like always, with emotion flowing through her movements and music, as she leaves her heart on the stage. Jae ended her performance with her timed arrangement of Bumble Boogie, a show-stopping tune which is a grassy version of Flight of the Bumble Bee, written by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov in the late 19th center. Jana had an audience member time her as she plays 8652 notes in one minute. Of course she did it again! Jae is never one to disappoint and her lovely sound sends out a fervent welcome.

As the festival came to an end for 2020, an earlier statement from Splinter, the MC, seems to wrap it all up. “If the rest of the world got along like fiddlers, we would all be better off.”

Here are some photos from the Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest, put into a video collage form.

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About the Author

Pamm Tucker

Growing up in Oklahoma, music runs throughout Pamm Tucker's veins. Her earliest memory of music is standing beside her Grandma's upright, singing. "Trust in The Lord". Little did the 5 year old realize that this was the foundation of things to come. Being very active in 4-H, Pamm was elected as reporter at the age of 9 and held this position for many years. Taking extensive journalism marketing and free-lance writing classes while attending college helped to spark her interest in being a journalist. Her skills helped her acquire the position of journalist for the Northern Oklahoma college school newspaper. An Oklahoma native and no stranger to music, she has performed with the likes of Lulu Roman, Jean Shepherd, Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker (no relation) Gene Watson and Charlie McClain just to name a few. Even today you can find her tapping her foot to every genre of music.