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Take down the fiddle and bow – Grand Master Fiddler – a great show

Fiddling rang out from the Henry Ford Theater stage at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for two days recently welcoming fiddlers of all ages and styles which represent a cornucopia of American musical experience.

The 46th Annual Grand Master Fiddler Championship continued its great legacy began by the Grand Ole Opry with fiddlers from across the U.S. competing for thousands in cash and prizes and an opportunity to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. The contest which was once just a focus for the top contest style fiddlers now boasts three distinct categories – Traditional, Youth and an Open category.

Mia Orosco competes.

The traditional category allows fiddlers sharing Cajun, Irish, Scottish, Southern Appalachian, bluegrass and Ozark influences among the mix.

Youth category sets aside a special place for youth fiddlers to be rated and grow in their talents, with many often nearing the competition level of the adults.

Finally, the open category is all ages who wish to stand toe to toe with America’s best fiddlers performing the classic Texas style contest fiddling to make their mark as the official Grand Master following in the path of fiddlers such as Mark O’Connor, Jimmy Mattingly, Dan Kelly and last year’s winner Maddie Denton.

I was privileged to mark my tenth-year walking in the footsteps of Roy Acuff and Porter Wagoner as celebrity host of the Grand Master Fiddler Championship, now settled in at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum annually on Labor Day weekend joined by emcees Kevin Mudd and Craig Havighurst.

Randall Franks

My association began with the event when I first competed in the competition as a teen and later served as a Grand Ole Opry guest entertainer at the event.

The late Dr. Perry Harris forged the creation of the contest with the backing of legendary Opry figures including Roy Acuff. Each year an award is given in his honor – this year Grammy © winner and champion fiddler Larry Franklin of the Time Jumpers and formally of Asleep at the Wheel was honored for his work in support of the traditional art of fiddling.

Howard Harris and Ed Carnes continue the tradition of making the event a success with the support of a board of directors.

As part of the event weekend Grand Ole Opry stars the Riders in the Sky and Mike Snider appeared and last year’s winners Maddie Denton and Ivy Phillips made their Grand Ole Opry appearances.

The Grand Master Youth Champion is Benjamin Lin of Lexington, Ky., the Grand Master Traditional Champion is Tyler Andal of Nashville, Tenn. Both won $300, a $500 gift certificate courtesy of D’Addario, a Grand Master Fiddler plaque, and will appear on the Grand Ole Opry.

The Grand Master Fiddler for 2017 is Mia Orosco of Woodway, Texas who took home $1,200 in cash, a $500 gift certificate courtesy of D’Addario, a Grand Master Fiddler plaque, and will appear on the Grand Ole Opry.

Congratulations to all the competitors and thanks to Howard and Ed for working so hard to keep the tradition growing!

Grand Master Fiddler Champion Mia Orosco (third from left) of Woodway, Texas receives her trophy, from left, GMFC Host Randall Franks, GMFC Director Ed Carnes, and GMFC Director Howard Harris. GMFC Photo by Susan Harris

Country Fiddlin’ at the Ford

Every time I step through the doors of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., I am struck with the immense size of the museum and all its facilities. Knowing our genre’s starting point, having such a place to remember, honor, foster and preserve, what has been accomplished is amazing.

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America’s Morning Show co-host Kelly Ford and Randall Franks host the Grand Master Fiddler Championship.

I stood outside the Ford Theater listening to the notes of “Sally Johnson” fill the air and looked at lines on Labor Day weekend waiting to buy their ticket and it took me back to the days of seeing the lines of country music fans waiting for a show at the former Opryland amusement park.

When I was a boy, that was the center of activity when people visited Music City; one of the big annual attractions that brought people from around the world was the Grand Master Fiddler Championship, now in its 45th year, the show is held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in its Henry Ford Theater.

While as a youth, I competed; as a Grand Ole Opry guest star, I performed, today, I am the celebrity host of the Grand Master Fiddler Championship stepping in the shoes of Roy Acuff, Porter Wagoner and Grant Turner. This year I welcomed the help of Grammy winner Jim Lauderdale, journalist Craig Havighurst and from America’s Morning Show’s CMA winner Kelly Ford who assisted me with the emcee duties.

This year’s crop of fiddlers spanned fiddlers from coast to coast from early elementary school to retirement age performing tunes from “Red Wing” to “Bridget’s Waltz.” What was consistent throughout the two-day event, was the level of proficiency shared by each competitor reflected a desire to bring home the nation’s highest fiddling honor and a chance to perform on the Grand Ole Opry.

The crowd was moved with every pull of the bow sometimes bringing the cheers to a rousing pitch.

After 14 hours of competition, Grand Ole Opry stars Riders in the Sky were on hand to entertain and help crown the 2016 Grand Master Fiddler Champion Maddie Denton from Murfreesboro, Tenn.

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From left, GMFC Board Member Ed Carnes, Woody Paul of Riders in the Sky, Maddie, GMFC Board Member Howard Harris and GMFC Celebrity Host Randall Franks.

I am especially proud because Maddie won the 2016 Randall Franks Trophy at the 1890s Day Jamboree Old Time Fiddler Convention winning an opportunity to compete in the finals this year.

Organizers Howard Harris and Ed Carnes also crowned a Youth Grand Master Ivy Phillips and a Traditional Grand Master Brian Christianson.

The organization presented the Dr. Perry Harris Award to Woody Paul of the Riders in the Sky. The Grand Master Fiddler Championship. Inc. presents the honor to individuals who have had a lasting impact on the fiddling art form. The award is named for the late Grand Master Fiddler Championship founder Perry Felton Harris, M.D., D.D.S, Colonel U.S.A.F., who convinced the Grand Ole Opry’s E.W. “Bud” Wendell that the organization needed a fiddle contest.

The Charlie Bush Award was presented to Eli Bishop honoring the traditional fiddle performance which would most reflect the tastes of former late contest volunteer and board member.

I encourage you to join us in Music City next year and enjoy the fiddling fun. 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.

A new fiddling master

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.

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