When asked how he became a world famous guitarist, Wayne Henderson answered simply, “I wanted to win blue ribbons.”
Fiddlers, banjo players, and guitarists are just a few of the musicians who regularly attend competitions – such as the annual Old Time Fiddlers’ Conventions in Galax, Virginia – for ribbons, cash prizes and the bragging rights that come to the winners. More than just fun and games, these contests often are fiercely competitive, motivating participants to constantly improve their skills.
Contests span broad reaches of Virginia’s traditional art forms and help keep many of these traditions strong and vibrant, re-energizing old masters and encouraging new generations. This year’s Virginia Folklife Area at the Richmond Folk Festival, curated by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Virginia Folklife Program, showcases and highlights these diverse contest traditions. Some of the state’s finest musicians, oyster shuckers, dancers, and crafts people will be competing for coveted prizes.
“The contestants have been chosen based on their previous performances – these are folks that we’ve met over the course of ten years of fieldwork in the Valley, in Southwest Virginia, from the Piedmont, really from all over the state,” noted Virginia Folklife Program Director Jon Lohman. “Like an invitational, these contests allow them an incredible forum for their talents – and a chance for some exceptional prizes.”
Wayne Henderson built his first guitar using wood from the bottom of a dresser drawer, but has since built more than 400 on his way to becoming a world-renowned guitar maker. A sunburst-style Henderson guitar will be the prize young hot-shot players Travis Starkey, Aaron Williams, Thomas C. Coleman, Seth Taylor, Brandon Davis, and Eric Hardin will be competing for during their 3 pm Saturday afternoon performances.
Gerald Anderson, a blue-ribbon winning musician himself, has create an F-model mandolin as the top prize for the Saturday mandolin contest featuring Chase Johner, Ryan Blevins, Aaron Williams, and Andy Thacker at 1 pm on the Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Stage.
Cremona, Italy, is the birthplace of the violin inspiring Virginia instrument maker Don Leister to follow the old masters’ patterns. He uses his own oil varnishes, stains and sealers in creating hand-built Southwestern Virginia fiddles. Either Scott Freeman, Jason Phillips, Erika Godfrey, Danny Knicely, Erynn Marshall, Mike Ford and Lovell Coleman will go home with a Leister fiddle after Sunday afternoon’s 3 pm contest. This and all instrument contests will be emceed by Galax native Harold Mitchell, the famed voice of the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention for the last 40 of the convention’s 75-year history.
Saturday’s events kick off with a flat-footing contest and workshop at noon on Saturday, and will be followed by competitions between hot-dog eaters, oyster shuckers, turkey callers and Caribbean Carnival costume makers during the course of the weekend. A special marquee event will be a Step Competition, featuring members of various chapters of fraternities and sororities from historically black colleges and universities from throughout Virginia.
For more information about these traditional contests, all taking place Saturday and Sunday afternoon, October 15 and 16, see www.richmondfolkfestival.org
or Sunday, Oct. 9th’s feature stories in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.