There’s really nothing special about missing outdoor events this summer. All over the world, popular gatherings have been cancelled for 2020, with even a few next year already announcing postponements.
But it’s doubtful that anyone is grieving harder than those who regularly attend the various contests and fiddlers conventions held across the Appalachian region every year. Long running events like the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, VA have been cancelled, along with similar ones in Sparta and Mt Airy, NC, leaving annual visitors who plan their vacations around them each year feeling mighty blue.
So Clay Jones, notorious North Carolina guitar slinger and outsized bluegrass personality has decided to do something about it. In just a few weeks’ time, he has organized what he is calling the 1st Annual Overlook Farm Fiddlers Convention, set to run the same week in August as the Galax convention would have been held.
He tells us that it was actually his girlfriend who was the impetus for the creation of this new event.
“I was talking with my girlfriend, Donese Helms, who was just distraught over Galax being cancelled. She goes every year, and looks forward to it for months as soon as the weather warms up. So we basically looked at each other and thought, why don’t we do one here?”
Here being Overlook Farm, a 100 acre horse ranch in Stoneville, NC where he is currently working tending horses and cutting fields. So he spoke with the owner, Abby Jones (no relation), and she loved the idea right away. It won’t be high tech, but he says it will serve as a place where people can get together and pick, something most grassers are feeling after months of social isolation and COVID-19 restrictions.
The Convention will run August 4 – 8, and registration will be on site only, first come, first served. Rough and RV camping will be offered, but no hookups as they don’t have time to bring that all in. Campers are welcome to bring and use generators, and there is a full service campground just across the street.
Jones offers tremendous credit to the farm’s owner, an experienced horsewoman who used to train the Lippizzaner Stallions for their show in Las Vegas.
“Abby has really opened up her heart, as she understands that people are dying to pick and get together.
We know that some people are still cautious about getting together in groups, and we respect everyone’s decision – no judgement. But I also respect those who just want to get out there and pick like we used to as a kid.
And since this is private property, if the governor doesn’t approve we just hold a peaceful music protest.”
Some of Clay’s enthusiasm to move ahead with this surely comes as a result of a recent near death experience. He tells us that he has recovered nicely from triple bypass surgery just a few weeks ago.
“I was working in the Texas oilfields over the winter, and suffered a heart attack while I was coming back. I had been driving about 18 hours and thought I was just really tired. When I filled up with gas in Birmingham, two cops who were at the next pump asked me if I was OK. They said I was sweating a lot and it was really cold, and they wanted to call the paramedics to check me out before I headed back out.
Once they got there, they told me I was having a heart attack and took me straight to the hospital. The doctor said I had 100% blockage in one artery, 80% in another, and 70% in another. He told me that I would have died on the road if they hadn’t brought me right in.
I feel awesome now. It was tough after the surgery but feel like I’m 20 years old again. I Feel so much better, and know that I’m fortunate to be alive.”
Overlook Farm Fiddlers Convention will accept competitors in the usual competition categories for both bluegrass and old time music, but the actual contest won’t be broken into certain times. Anyone with a contestant registration can come up anytime over the weekend and compete, regardless of whether it is a band or an individual, on any instrument.
Tickets will be sold at the gate – $40 for a contestant ticket, $40 for the full week, and $100 for RV camping. Each contestant will receive their fee back after they play on stage. Clay is especially excited about launching the Clay Jones Flatpicking Guitar Contest, where the winner will receive a title belt just like the wrestlers do.
Jones invites everyone to come on out the first week of August. The gates will open on Tuesday morning, August 4, with youth competitions on Thursday and regular adult competitions on Friday. He says that there is a golf course across the street, and the Dan River park is only a short distance away. They will not be able to allow 4-wheelers or dirt bikes on the farm, or glass containers.
“We want to make this a low key and very enjoyable convention, like I remember as a kid. And electric bass is OK!”
More details can be found on their Facebook page, where you can contact Jones for additional details.