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Old Time Fiddlers Convention keeping the music alive

By Marlana Ward

Old Time Music enthusiasts from around the country and beyond gathered by the shores of Laurel Creek on August 26 and 27th to celebrate the music that has rung through these mountains and valleys for generations.  This year’s Old Time Fiddlers Convention marked the 92nd year of musicians trekking into Johnson County to showcase their talent for fans and to compete for the title of best in their class.
This year’s categories for competition included:  Band, Fiddle, Twin Fiddle, Banjo, Autoharp, Mandolin, Bass Fiddle, Dulcimer, Guitar, Folk Song, Vocal Duet, Harmonica, Adult Dance, Youth Dance, Youth Band, Youth Fiddle, Youth Banjo, and Youth Guitar.
The emcee for the convention was Dale Morris who has proudly helped with the event for four years.  “This event includes instruments that others don’t,” Morris expressed why he enjoys this gathering.  “I’m so glad that they have included things such as duets, twin fiddle, and harmonica.  The old time community really loves it.”
A walk through the field adjoining the Old Mill Park offered the chance to hear the talented musicians in a laid back atmosphere as they laughed and prepared with friends and family while enjoying barbeque and other campsite favorites.   The many tents and campers parked for the weekend gave the event a special sense of community as old friends and new acquaintances came together to share a love for old time music.
On the Old Mill Music Park stage, performers of all ages stepped up to the microphones to share their talent and passion with those who looked on.  Musicians from Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Michigan, as well as a couple originally hailing from Australia were among the field of old time music competitors.
The judges sat amongst the audience to experience the showmanship of the artists and decide who brought their very best to the stage.  The audience gave enthusiastic approval for those who came forward to share their craft.  Energetic children showed their appreciation for the musical acts by dancing in front of the stage as stringed instruments and harmonicas echoed into the night.
Backstage, friends could be found catching up on tales of performances and life with wide smiles and jovial spirits.  The atmosphere was not one of competition and envy but rather fun and camaraderie.  Each person was eager to help bring out the best in their fellow musicians and provide the best show possible for those who turned out to show their support of old time music.
The historic Old Mill Park with its old train station and mill remnants set the perfect stage for the traditional styles of music performed within its boundaries.  Owner Jackie Warden and her late husband Douglas felt a great passion for the music of the mountains and set out to help preserve its roots in Johnson County.  “My husband loved the Fiddlers Convention,” Warden shared. “He was a talented musician playing bass with Clint Howard and Doc Watson.”
The Wardens spent years working together to maintain the historic Old Mill Music Park site and sharing their love of old time music with others.  “In the early days, we would visit other conventions handing out flyers to spread the word about the event we were hosting here,” Warden recounted.  Today, Warden, with the help of friends and family, continues the dream she shared with her husband.  Her hard work ensures a safe, family-friendly location for the convention and guarantees that everyone who visits has an enjoyable time.
Even with being busy playing piano for her church, working, and enjoying her grandchildren, Warden is known throughout the community for her giving spirit and love for others.  “She cares so much for the community,” Nancy Garrick of the Johnson County Arts Council explained.  “No matter where she goes, she leaves the people feeling cared for and loved.”   Dale Morris also expressed his appreciation for Warden and what she has done with this event,  “Mrs. Warden and her late husband put a lot of energy and positive thought into this convention keeping the positive atmosphere and dedicated to preserving this music.”
This year’s Fiddlers Convention was a great beginning to an amazing two weeks of musical heritage celebration in Johnson County.  The Old Mill Park will be a site along The Long Journey Home as the event pays homage to the Fiddler Convention’s part in Johnson County’s proud musical history.  A mural celebrating the original 1925 convention will also be featured at the Johnson County Center for the Arts location on College Street to be unveiled Saturday, September 2nd.