Old Fiddlers Reunion Keeps Them Coming Back For More
By BETTY WATERS
ATHENS -- Fiddle music popular in the days of the American Revolution still has appreciative followers proven Friday when crowds descended on the Henderson County courthouse lawn for the 81st annual Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion and Contest.
Fans settled in folding chairs and sprawled on blankets in front of a stage to soak up the sounds of fiddle music while others gathered in small groups across the courthouse lawn for impromptu jam sessions.
Young and old fiddlers converged under towering shade trees to compete in several categories as admirers of fiddle music, families and friends gathered to listen, visit and enjoy the music.
|The winner of the $600 grand champion prize was Mia Orosco, of Lorena. The runner-up, who received a $400 prize, was Wes Mooreland, of Temple.|
Contestants competed in several categories for prizes of $200 for first place in each competition, $150 for second place and $100 for third place.
Division winners were:
Senior contest (ages 66 and older): first place, Tom Fonzille, of Flint; second place, Earl Garner, of Elkhart, and third place, Larry Boddie, of Fort Worth.
Adult contest (ages 30 to 65): first place, Wes Mooreland, of Temple; second place, Gene Banks, of Athens; and third place, Kevin Freeman, of Greenville.
Young adult contest (ages 19 to 30): first place, Bubba Hopkins, of Fort Worth; and second place, Devon McCarley, of Burleson.
Youth contest (ages 18 and younger): first place, Emil Williams, of Flint; second place, Anthony Orosco, of Lorena; and third place, Eliot Nychka, of Canton.
Open division (all ages): first place, Mia Orosco, of Lorena; second place, Alfred Mouledous, of Dallas; and third place, Jacob Johnson, of Godley.
Acoustic guitar division (all ages): first place, Troy Saunders, of Payne Springs; second place, Austin Mixon, of Larue; and third place, Brent Bassham, of Heartland.
"I like the quietness and peace and camaraderie and all the people are so friendly. It's just a good, laid-back day," said Ann Boyd, of Dallas, who has been coming 50 or 60 years because Athens is her husband's hometown.
Deloris Davis, who lives north of Murchison, also comes every year with her daughter and son-in-law because she likes the "picking and grinning."
In the opening ceremony, Mayor Randy Daniel exclaimed, "What a great day in Athens when we can come together and listen to some great fiddling music." He told the crowd, "We're glad that you're here."
The fiddler's reunion has become an historic event in Henderson County, County Judge Richard Sanders said. "It's a very, very special time for people and families to get together, come out here and enjoy all this music."
Sanders recalled a conversation recently -- during a meeting of county judges from around the state -- when three or four asked about the fiddlers reunion and told stories about coming here with their families and enjoying not only the music but all the activities that are a part of the event.
"It's good to know that people have come here over the years and enjoyed this much like we are doing this year," Sanders said. The fiddlers reunion and contest is part of what makes Henderson County a great place to live and raise a family, he said, calling the event a great tradition in Henderson County.
A group of professional musicians set the tempo for the reunion with an opening hour-long performance. They kicked off with renditions of "Take me back to Tulsa" and "Carina, Carina."
Many in the crowd tapped their toes and patted their hands in tune with the music.
"It's good music, good people, and a nice shady place to sit under the trees all around the courthouse with restrooms inside. It's just a good, fun thing," Darrell Farney, who has been coming four or five years, said.
His wife, Evelyn Farney, added, "I just like being outdoors and enjoying being out here and seeing the people and listening to the music and eating."
Several booths and concession stands hawked a variety of foods. The menu included funnel cakes, barbecue, brisket, beverages, turkey legs, corn on the cob, fried pies, ice cream, sausage on a stick, nachos and cheese, pickles, curly fries, shaved ice and other goodies.
Contestants mounted the stage to compete in several age categories or divisions for monetary prizes. There were new contest divisions this year. Each contestant played two tunes: an old-time breakdown and a tune of the fiddlers' choosing.
They were evaluated for tempo, tune, how closely their sound approximates old-time fiddle music and other qualities.
"It's old-style fiddlers, old tunes of a long time ago," said Kelles Miller, of Wills Point, as he watched the stage, "My daddy was a fiddle player so I remember all those old tunes."
John Vaaler, of Malakoff, said, "It's nice to sit here and enjoy the music. ... The setting is good. It's a nice day with a breeze blowing."
John Tagitt, of Dublin, has been coming for 62 years and met his wife here a few years ago. "We come back every year. I like the sound of the music and the songs they play. I'm a country western fan," he said.
Bill Struthers, of Montana, who is visiting friends this weekend in Athens, said, "We love it; it's beautiful. We like the little groups on the lawn; they really have character. They are really good."
His wife, Millie Struthers, said "I love the music and I'm trying to learn to play the violin, so I'm watching everybody and trying to learn something. It's pure country. It's great music (with) a great feeling."
Don Meade, of Alvin, and other members of a wood carver group parked at the Athens Lake RV Park, took a break and came to the fiddlers contest for the first time to listen to the music.
"We are thoroughly enjoying the music. Some of us are amateur musicians so we can appreciate what these people do with their instruments," Meade said. "I like the speed of the fiddle tunes. They are a little faster. I like for them to get up on the high notes. I like the bluegrass music and fiddling."
Dwain Spradlin, of Chandler, also likes the bluegrass music played around the square.
"I like the diversity of it (the fiddlers reunion)," said Meade, who plays the banjo and guitar.
A carnival was set up in the Old City Market Square.
After the daylong competition, a street dance kicked off and was expected to last until about midnight.
The fiddlers contest, which preserves a style of music known in East Texas since the time of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, had its beginning in 1932 in the Bethel Community six miles north of Athens when a group there decided to start a countywide fiddlers contest as a climax to a farmers' study course.
Fourteen string bands entered the contest and about 900 people attended. Because of the enthusiastic response the event received, they decided to make the contest an annual event and moved it the next year to the Athens High School auditorium.
Since 1934, the contest has been held on the courthouse square. It is always held the last Friday in May and produced by the Texas Fiddlers Association Inc.
Contestants were evaluated by a panel of judges, including Little Red Hayes, Texas Shorty Chancellor and Benny Bennett.
The climax of the fiddling contest was competition for grand champion. Mia Orosco, of Lorena, took home $600 as grand champion