That's fiddler Tony Ellis playing off stage and on the fly at Old Fiddle Convention in Galax, Virginia.
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the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation’s great artists to explore how art works. I’m your host, Josephine Reed.
A multi-day competition of traditional and bluegrass music, The Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax is the oldest in the country.
fiddler and director of the Blueridge Music Center Erynn Marshall
musician and luthier, Gerald Anderson
I was lucky enough to go to the Old Fiddler's convention last week...While I loved the performances on stage--i spent a lot of my time walking around the park and campgrounds where the convention takes place, recording jam sessions or just asking folks walking around with instruments to play--which they were happy to do. I can say without exaggeration that i have seen so many talented musicians in one place in my life--Even though it's called the Old Fiddlers Convention, the age range of the musicians is immediately noticeable---with a remarkable number of young people playing old time and bluegrass music--in fact, Monday evening is devoted exclusively to the youth competition. here's a couple examples from backstage on Monday at fiddle convention.
Daniel Smith/Tanner Hansen
as it turned out--Tanner Hansen took 4th place in Youth Bluegrass Fiddle and Blake Lanning placed first in youth Bluegrass banjo. But young people aren't only consigned to youth night, you can see them on stage competing any night of week--or hear them when they're trying out a fiddle that's for sale.
Although he's sixteen, Daniel took 3rd place in the Bluegrass Fiddle competition.
My guide to Galax and the fiddle convention was National Heritage Award recipient and former head of NCTA Joe Wilson. Joe suggested that we meet at Barr's Fiddle Shop. Barr's is in the center of Galax geographically and musically. it was a great introduction to Galax-- Every day of the week, you can find musicians in the shop coming together for jam sessions. The store motto is "Anyone is welcome to come in and pick and grin." That includes Stevie Barr who owns the store with his father Tom:
Here's Stevie playing Sally Ann--with Joe Wilson's commentary.
By the way, Stevie took a 9th place finish in the bluegrass banjo competition
Naturally, when the fiddle convention comes to town, the music moves from the store to the campgrounds. Barr's Fiddle shop sets up a big tent, where instruments are sold and musicians gather. That's where Joe Wilson hung out and caught up with his many friends--
here he is with musician, Tony Ellis who we heard at the top of the show. Tony's known for his fiddling, but here is playing the banjo-- Joe and Tony talk about national heritage award recipient Mike Seeger who passed away in 2009.
and Tony explains the difference between Old time music and blue-grass
It seems as though local legend and National Heritage fellow Wayne Henderson knows half the population of southwestern Virginia. It's hard to figure out what Henderson excels at most: his guitar playing or his guitar making. Owning a Henderson is something guitarists dream of and very few achieve....and it's not for impatient. there's a very long waiting list. Just ask Eric Clapton--he waited nine years for his guitar. The sound of a Henderson guitar is so distinct that without even looking, Joe Wilson identified one being playing 10 feet away-- in a loud busy tent no less. here's the proud owner.
Gerald Anderson dropped by to say hi to Joe and took some time to talk with me-- Gerald learned about making string instruments from Wayne Henderson
then along came Herb Key---he plays music with Wayne Henderson and works in his shop too. At Joe Wilson's suggestion, Herb played the song Otto Wood the Bandit.
Walking around the campgrounds, the sound of music was everywhere--
Later that evening I got watch and listen to a first-jam session as it came together---
it began with fiddler player Keith Williams--
suddenly young Daniel Greeson-- our third place fiddle champion-- jumped in on guitar
I learned very quickly that everyone apparently plays more than one instrument--switching back and forth from fiddle to guitar to mandolin in the blink of an eye.
Keith swapped instruments with Daniel for awhile-- then someone lent Keith a fiddle and those two went to town.
Ivan Oglestreet--- happened to be passing by with his mandolin, and liked what he heard.... I recognized Oglestreet from my wandering around earlier in the day--he had been jamming with another group---only then, he was playing the dobro and singing. But tonight, he played the mandolin. Sit back and enjoy--you're about to hear some fine music.
40,000 people come to Galax for the fiddle convention--a huge economic boost for the town. But Gerald Anderson says, that's only the half of it.
Erynn Marshall agrees:
Stevie Barr summed it up saying, I just can't wait for my son to play this music. His son Gibson Thomas was born on August 1, 2013.
You’ve been listening to Art Works, produced at the National Endowment for the Arts.
Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.
Music performed by
and The Buck Mountain Band
thanks to Gerald Anderson
and special thanks to Joe Wilson
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Next week, author Nicholson Baker--it's preview of the authors you can hear at the NEA sponsored Poetry and Prose pavilion at the National Book Festival on Sept. 21 and 22.to find out more, go to arts.gov and click on news.
To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed . Thanks for listening
The 78th Old Fiddlers' Convention in Galax, Virginia. Where music happens on and off the stage. [32:13]