Granite Quarry Fiddlers’ Convention back after COVID

Gospel Plowboys at the 2021 Granite Quarry Fiddlers’ Convention in Salisbury, NC – photo by Gary Hatley

Music lovers and musicians alike were eager to return to Granite Quarry Fiddlers’ Convention near Salisbury, NC. After 2020 was put on hold due to COVID-19, it had been two years since the Civitan Club had hosted their annual October event. This year marked the 55th time for the service club’s otherwise annual fundraiser.

The idea for the string music talent competition originated with James Mathis. In 1966, he moved from Union Grove to become principal of Granite Quarry Elementary School. Union Grove held an annual fiddlers’ convention that proved to be a very successful fundraiser for the elementary school. Held at his new school, Mathis established the same format for the Civitans. It soon outgrew the facility and was relocated to nearby East Rowan High School.

In 1970, the convention began honoring individuals who had contributed significantly to the bluegrass community. This year, the convention held two separate recognitions since they were unable to do so last year. For 2020, the club posthumously honored David Murph, a mandolinist, who was a founding member of the Gospel Plowboys. Though Murph passed away in 2017, the group remains active and performed prior to the adult competition on Saturday night in his memory.

The 2021 honorees were Steve and Penny Kilby of southern Virginia. The husband and wife duo are both accomplished musicians. With Penny on autoharp and Steve on guitar, the couple has won numerous awards at fiddlers’ conventions in the region. Steve became the first instructor for JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians), and the pair have taught music camps, private workshops, held house concerts, and served as judges at fiddlers’ contests, including Granite Quarry. The Kilbys offer a music education program, Echoes of the Blue Ridge, to libraries, schools, churches, and civic organizations. Steve and Penny performed several numbers midway through the night’s competition. They were joined by one of Steve’s guitar students, fourteen-year-old, Gavin Woodruff, of Ennice, NC.

Following a welcome by the Civitans and Vivian Pennington Hopkins, NC Bluegrass Association president and strong supporter of the convention, the fiddlers’ contest began with the youth competition at 4:30. Big T Lassiter of West End served as master of ceremonies for the evening. A picker himself, he has a passion for bluegrass music and is a huge supporter of young musicians. Big T’s wife, Pammy Davis Lassiter, founded the High Lonesome Strings Bluegrass Club in Greensboro, NC. Together, they work tirelessly to get youth involved in performing music before live audiences.

The Don and Margaret Livengood Memorial Award for the outstanding youth performance was presented to seven-year-old, Anna Parker, who sang an original composition. 

The other Youth Winners were:

  • Fiddle: Payton Brown
  • Banjo: Ayden Young
  • Guitar: first – Gavin Woodruff, second – Ethan Wagoner, third – Lois Chaney
  • Mandolin: first – Jonah Chaney, second – Blane Young, third – Luke McCallister
  • Vocal: first – Sarah Luther, second – Anna Parker, third – Savannah Baysinger

After the youth competition and the Gospel Plowboys set, almost 30 entries from multiple states competed in the adult talent contest.

Adult Winners were:

  • Bluegrass Band: first – Old River Road, second – Adinoid Hynkelstien and Company, third – Hazy Ridge
  • Bluegrass Gospel Band: first – Strings of Victory, second – Crossroads
  • Fiddle: first – Grace Bemus, second – Malachi Freeman, third – Gary Hatley
  • Banjo: first – Jake Eddy, second – Danny Bowers, third – Peden Williams
  • Guitar: first – Jake Eddy, second – Tommy Chandler, third – Bob Dotson
  • Mandolin: first – Graham Brewer, second – Jim Bob Thompson, third – Amelia Freeman
  • Bass: first – Carter Eddy, second – John Fogleman, third – Jeremy Nash
  • Dobro: first – Peden Williams, second – Sandy Hatley, third – Rick Hansen
  • Vocal: first – Morgan Brown, second – Michael Jenkins, third – Madison McCorkle

Grace Bemus, first place fiddler, also received the John Ralph Pennington Memorial Award, a miniature fiddle, given in memory of Vivian Pennington Hopkins’ late father who was a musician and a luthier.

Here is Old River Road performing You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.