Fiddling has always been part of my life, since the earliest tunes that I looked up at my great Uncle Tom and heard him play to this very day. I have come to know and learn from some of the greatest fiddlers in history. They have richly blessed my life.
The 39th annual Grand Master Fiddler Championship is the nation’s championship event held at the International Bluegrass Music Association Fan Fest in Nashville, Tenn. Since I was a little fiddler with hopes of winning, that was the prize to be sought.
With the talent of the fiddlers today, I am glad I do not have to compete but honored to stand in the shadows of the great stars that serve as celebrity host including Roy Acuff and Porter Wagoner.
This year’s event was filled with some of the most talented fiddlers to ever draw a bow. After two days of tight competition in an attempt to take home over $14,000 in prizes, Grand Master Fiddler Champion for 2010 was crowned – Justin Branum of St. Louis, Mo.
Branum took home $2,000 in cash, the bronze Grand Master Fiddler statuette, appeared on the IBMA main stage, and on the Grand Ole Opry. This was his first Grand Master championship.
A six-time contender Tashina Clarridge of Roslindale, Mass. once again claimed the second slot. Clarridge received $1,500 and a plaque.
“In my forty-years of association with the Grand Master Fiddler Championship, I have never seen a younger group finish in the top-10 nor the level of competition been keener,” said Howard Harris, GMFC president. “Clearly I am most encouraged by the level of participation by our young people that will ensure the future of fiddling for generations.”
Other organizers include Grand Master Fiddler Championship vice president Ed Carnes, directors Crystal Plohman, Gayla Tanaka-Bollinger, Alva T. “Trey” McClain, Charlie Smith, Megan Lynch and Bobby Taylor.
Competitors showed their talents amongst some of the leading performers in acoustic music including the Whites and friends, Brand New Strings, April Fools Old Time String Band, Carpenter and May, Rocky Top Revue Square Dancers, Cathy Roberts, Cadillac Holmes, Aly Sutton, Debra Connelly and Dawn-Joy Thornton.
In honor of its founder, the organization presented the Dr. Perry F. Harris Award to Buck White for his work in support of the traditional art of fiddling and especially to the Grand Master event. All of the White clan attended including Ricky Skaggs to see Buck honored.
“Vernon Solomon of Texas was crowned first champion in 1972 and appeared with Roy on his live radio show that Saturday night,” Howard Harris said. “That began a tradition of the Champion playing the Saturday night Opry that continues today.
“Buck White actually played behind Vernon in that contest,” he said. “He and his late wife Pat supported this event throughout its history. Buck, Cheryl and Sharon have shared their talents for the event again and again through the years. But most of all Buck loves fiddling; he loves the people who continue this tradition. Throughout his career, he has put fiddling in front of millions of fans through his music.”
White said he was honored to receive the award and feels his role towards fiddlers is as an encourager.
“That was a big thing for me cause I wanted to fiddle,” he said. “I got a hold of those Tommy Jackson records in late forties and tried to learn all those. I was a lover of those fiddle tunes – the breakdowns.
White is best known for his instrumental work on mandolin and piano.
“My wife hid the fiddle from me,” he said. “I was wearing her out with it.”
She just told me she had to have some relief, he joked.
“I have always tried to encourage old-time fiddling and loved to sit-in and play with fiddlers,” he said. “It would be ashamed if it got lost, I don’t believe it will because so many kids are playing now especially in the northeast.
“It’s not going to be a lost art and I am so happy about that,” he said. “There are kids playing the dog out of those tunes.”
I was also pleased to bring to the stage two of the greatest fiddlers in history Bobby Hicks and Tex Logan who encouraged the contestants with their presence.
Contest judges were Matt Hartz, Junior Marriott, Dale Morris, Jr., Hyram Posey and Bobby Taylor.
Among the sponsors were Choice Food of America, Mayberry’s Finest, Vietti Chili, Carnes Group, IBMA, Metro Nashville Arts Commission, Tennessee Arts Council and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
The other top-10 winners included in descending order: Mia Orosco of Lorena, Texas; Jacie Sites of Idaho Falls, ID; Eischen Harkins of Canon City, Colo.; Jesse Maw of Kalispell, Mont.; Maddie Denton of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; James Schlender of Bozeman, Mont.; Doug Fleener of Leitchfield, Ky. and Adrianna Ciccone of Timmons, Ont., Canada.
Contestants placing 11 through 20 are Greg Henry of Sombra, Ont., Canada; Kimber Ludiker of Somerville, Mass.; Elisha Peter Voetberg of Chehalis, Wash.; Ellie Goodman of Boston, Mass.; Laura Cash of Hendersonville, Tenn.; Isaac Callender of Pendleton, Ore.; Casey Driscoll of Goodlettsville, Tenn.; Paul Lemelin of Sudbury, Ont., Canada; Kerry Varble of Toledo, Ohio; and Tim Hodgson of Victor, Idaho.
Doug Fleener received the Charlie Bush Traditional Fiddler Performance Award from the GMFC presented by the Bush Family – Sam and Janet – in honor of their father late director Charlie Bush.
The Grand Master Traditional Champion is Scott Miller of Ironton, Ohio. Other top five fiddlers were Gailanne Amundson of Longwood, Fla.; Kelsey Wells of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Hillary Bevels of Fayetteville, Tenn. and Natalie Grimes of Avon, Ind.
Winning guitar accompanists are Anthony Mature of New Waverly, Texas; Darin Meeks of Post Falls, Idaho; Melika Lemelin of Hanmer, Ont., Canada; Joe Sites of Idaho Falls, Idaho and Terry Ludiker of Post Falls, Idaho.
Whether you love fiddling or not, this is a unique part of our American heritage that I hope you will consider supporting by visiting their website, maybe making a donation, or simply planning to attend the annual event. The Grand Master Fiddler Championship, Inc. is a Tennessee non-profit and a U.S. IRS 501(c)(3) charitable corporation, formed to educate about and perpetuate fiddling as an art form and cultural treasure. For more info, visit www.grandmasterfiddler.com.