This report, with videos and photos, is a contribution from our occasional correspondent, Tara Linhardt, a veteran of many weeks at Galax.
Well, we just finished the 79th Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention, and once again it has offered a huge number of hot bluegrass and old time pickers a chance to play tunes with other hot pickers, meet new friends, try their hands at the contest stage, and have a big ol’ family reunion with other great musicians and music lovers. The Fiddler’s Convention is a wonderful place because unlike many festivals out there, it is not about who has the best press agent or gig calendar, it is just about the music. No paid performers, just musicians everywhere talking and making great music.
Legends of both old time and bluegrass can be found playing in the campgrounds. Some of them the average fan would recognize, some who don’t tour and are only known within their local and regional music communities. It’s just this environment that can generate some of the best jam sessions of the year. A new 12 year old wonder kid no one has ever seen jamming with a guy well known on the touring circuit, and an older legend who has not been touring for years because he decided that he loved the music, but not driving all night and being away from family, and eating road food, making a spontaneous jam session that can melt faces… Well that sounds like yet another Galax moment.
Another facet of the Fiddler’s Convention is the stories that are being passed around – funny stories from road life, the newest or oldest strategies for instrument care or playing, and first hand accounts of music and cultural history. I have heard so many stories in that sometimes muddy field of hanging and pickin and gigging with the likes of Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Tommy Jarrell, Benton Flippin, Buddy Pendleton, the Stanleys, Bobby Hicks, and more – and also had the opportunity to jam with a few of them.
One of the gems was a chat with Joe Wilson, who is a goldmine of great stories about bluegrass music, fiddler’s conventions, and plenty of other things that he has experienced, done, and organized. He one of the main creators of Virginia’s Crooked Road project, and has a wonderful book for sale with all sorts of info about the Crooked Road – all sorts of great spots for music, culture, jamming, and shows in southwest Virginia. It is a great resource and I highly recommend getting a copy.
Here he is talking a bit about the book, and sharing some little Appalachian music history.
You can buy the book from Joe, at the Blue Ridge Music Center, at some of the other stops along the Crooked Road, or you can get it online.
As well as stories and jams there were of course huge numbers of truly amazing pickers for a whole week in all the contests of all ages taking the stage. Here is just a taste of the kids who were tearing it up. Too much fun to not share.
The funds raised by the Moose Lodge from The Galax Fiddler’s Convention also go to supporting elderly folks in need, an orphanage, the local rescue squad, fire departments, and scouts. They are also a main sponsor of the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) Program at the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts. The Lodge helps cover the cost of the classes, and help buy instruments for kids in need. A true win-win situation with an event that is fun to attend, and goes to help so many deserving people.