The weather for the first weekend in June possibly will be sunny and hot, but there’s a 100% chance of pleasant sounds during the 50th annual Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention.
In celebration of this milestone, a special concert is planned Thursday night to help kick off the convention that will feature competition both Friday and next Saturday when it concludes.
And free old-time and bluegrass workshops are offered from Tuesday to Friday, designed to perpetuate the area musical legacy for another 50 years or more through passing it on to younger generations.
The Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention is held on the grounds of Veterans Memorial Park at 691 W. Lebanon St.
Established in 1972, it is dedicated to the two musical genres, along with dance, and traditionally is held on the first weekend in June — although the coronavirus forced its cancellation in 2020.
Returning to normal
The event resumed in 2021 and gradually is recapturing its pre-pandemic stature based on attendance by the public and participation of musicians vying for cash prizes, trophies and ribbons in various competition categories.
“We’re about halfway there, I guess, three-quarters, something like that,” Veterans Memorial Park President Doug Joyner said this week of the convention’s recovery from COVID, judging by last year’s event and interest in the one upcoming.
Based on everything that’s happened, this year’s golden anniversary has special significance, Joyner added.
“It’s been going on a half-century,” he said of the convention, “and we’re glad that the park can be putting it on every year (now).”
Joyner hopes fans will come out and help celebrate the occasion.
The convention officially starts Friday at 7 p.m. and will resume next Saturday at 9:30 a.m. for a day-long slate.
However, there are always early arrivals who set up shop in camping areas at the park and provide music throughout the week.
The competition categories at the convention are open to both youth and adults, including old-time and bluegrass band, bluegrass and old-time fiddle, bluegrass and old-time (clawhammer) banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, dobro, dulcimer, autoharp, folk song and dance.
In addition to the performances during the convention, many impromptu jam sessions typically can be found when circulating around the grounds — and one never knows who might be involved.
Members of the group Donna the Buffalo have been spotted over the years along with other notable musicians such as Dom Flemmons of The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
The special Thursday night concert to celebrate the convention’s 50th anniversary will feature The Junior Sisk Band on the main stage at the park.
It is scheduled for 7 p.m., with $20 wristband tickets for the performance to be sold at the gate.
The admission cost to the park to attend both Friday and Saturday sessions is a $10 wristband each day.
Joyner says interest is high among musicians, including many returning performers.
“These people, they like to pick and grin,” he said.
“They keep emailing about it,” Joyner related. “I got a phone call the other night from a guy in England.”
That individual wanted to attend the convention in June 2021, but was prevented from doing so by COVID travel restrictions.
Joyner said he also has been contacted by a band in Russia which might show up for the event.
While convention organizers don’t relish capitalizing on others’ misfortune, the Mount Airy gathering also stands to benefit from the apparent demise of an early spring event in Dobson, the Surry Old-Time Fiddlers Convention. It has been cancelled the last three years due to the coronavirus and other factors.
“I think it will help us,” Joyner said of that development, particularly among the old-time musicians the Dobson convention was geared toward who desire a performance outlet to fill the void.
Another highlight of the convention week will be the free workshops in both the old-time and bluegrass styles.
The sessions are scheduled Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the grandstand area at Veterans Memorial Park.
Workshops are to feature the fiddle, banjo, vocals, guitar, jams, dance and more, organizers say.
Participating instructors and bands will include Emily Spencer, Martha Spencer, Kirk Sutphin, Kevin Fore, Chester McMillian, Wes Clifton, Trish Fore, The Mustard Cutters Band, The Pilot Mountain Bobcats, Nancy and Bill Sluys, Darrius Flowers and others.
A number of award-winning performers from the Galax fiddlers convention and others are among their ranks.
The special week-long workshops are made possible by grants from the Grassroots Program of the North Carolina Arts Council, with additional funding provided by the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources in honor of the convention’s 50th anniversary.
A complete schedule of workshops, jams and dances will be available at the park gate, according to organizers.
More information about the convention can be found at https://www.surryarts.org/mafiddlersconvention/index.html More information about the workshops can be found on page B12 of today’s paper.
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