By Jill Penley
East Tennessee has long been a land of deep musical traditions. Nearly 100 years ago, in 1925, the famous Mountain City Fiddler’s Convention attracted an enormous crowd including dozens of musicians skilled in southern Appalachian fiddling. One such fiddler, G. B. Grayson, who went on to write original music eventually performed by the likes of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Doc Watson and the Stanley Brothers, has descendants still living in Johnson County.
Gilliam Banmon Grayson, mostly known as “G.B.,” was born in 1888. Although he was legally blind, he learned to play music at a young age and became an accomplished fiddler by his early teens. He reportedly played at dances and small gatherings around Johnson County to make money.
It was at the 1927 Fiddlers convention in Mountain City that Grayson met guitarist and singer Henry Whitter. While many discounted Whitter’s singing ability, the two collaborated to record some 40 traditional ﬁddle tunes, many of which are still performed today, including “Tom Dooley, Handsome Molly, Train Forty-Five and Going Down the Lee Highway.” So although, fiddlers conventions take place throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky, Johnson County’s annual gathering has a “claim to fame” of sorts.
Though the convention originated in Mountain City and organized by the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, this fall will mark 20 years, it has been taking place in Laurel Bloomery at the nostalgic and picturesque Old Mill Music Park and since its move, Jackie Warden, owner of the park, has hosted the annual event.
“This event includes instruments that others don’t,” explains Dale Morris, an experienced musician, convention judge, music historian and emcee for the local convention the past four years. “I’m so glad that they have included things such as duets, twin fiddle, and harmonica. The old-time community loves it.”
This fall, organizers, campers and musicians from across the nation plan to converge on Laurel Bloomery to kick off the 93rd Anniversary of the Johnson County Old Time Fiddlers Convention, is planned for August 24, and 25.
This year’s program is expected to include: Old-Time Bands, Old-Time Banjo, Old-Time Fiddle, Twin Fiddle, Guitar, Mandolin, Bass Fiddle, Dulcimer, Autoharp, Harmonica, Folk Song, Duet Singing, Adult Dance, Youth Fiddle, Youth Banjo, Youth Guitar, Youth Band and Youth Dance.