Students participate in old-time performance competitions

Students participate in old-time performance competitions

Lovey Cooper


Traveling bands, seasoned performers, talented children and Appalachian State University students competed as equals Saturday at the Old-Time Fiddlers Convention.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Solarium and Whitewater stages of Plemmons Student Union hosted competitions in guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and string band for both adults and youth.

Sophomore physics major Quinlin Riggs started playing the fiddle a year and a half ago. When he learned there would be a bluegrass and old-time musical community awaiting him at Appalachian, he joined the Appalachian Popular Programming Society’s Heritage Council, which hosts the Fiddlers Convention.

He has since made connections with other musicians in the area.

“It’s just a really wholesome community,” Riggs said. “With music this esoteric it’s hard to find people who actually enjoy it, so to come here and find all the people who live for it is really nice.”

Riggs, along with freshman biology major Ben Banick, competed Saturday in judged competitions for both individual and group musicians that took place throughout the day.

“People who play old-time are some of the most diverse people you’ll ever meet,” Banick said.

Banick has been playing bluegrass banjo for four years, and got involved in the old-time style a couple of years ago, he said.

While Riggs and Banick entered as many competitions as they were eligible to, they did not expect to win, nor did they particularly care. For them, the goal of competition is to further connect with the living culture of old-time music.

“You don’t make a living off of these competitions,” Riggs said. “You go up there to perform and promote the music, essentially, and share what song you have with everyone else.”

Though they both frequent other competitions and festivals, this was their first time participating at the Appalachian festival. For many, the Fiddlers Convention serves as a teaser for the main festival season, as it is the only in the region to take place in the winter.

In addition to solo performances, Riggs and Banick threw together a band of other students through mutual acquaintances to take advantage of the opportunity to perform for judges, having only met their other two guitarists the night before.

“Old-time music was meant to be played in a group,” Banick said.

Regional fiddler Sally Anne Morgan judged competitions for the first time this weekend, for both the banjo and mandolin categories.

In addition to overall performance and tone, timing and rhythm among groups of performers plays a key role in determining scores, Morgan said. Regional differences in style also account for a large majority of the distinct sounds that come out of the competition winners.

Both of these skills cannot be taught without the sort of experimentation and collaboration that festivals like this offer – a key aspect in learning an instrument and style of playing that Riggs and Banick both said is initially daunting.

“The challenge and the idea of showing up somewhere with people you’ve never met who are playing some weird song – all those factors add up to what looks like an intimidating entry, but we have to show people that it’s not,” Riggs said.

Riggs also hopes that through his personal effort, more students will get involved with the old-time community. While Riggs and Banick did not win in any of the categories they entered, the effort of the weekend was not wasted, they both said.

“We literally put our band together last night, and that’s not uncommon, but it’s interesting as a student because it gives us a different perspective,” Riggs said. “We don’t have an old-timer telling us this is how the music should be played, it’s just our generation’s interpretation of it. This is how the music is going to sound in 50 years.”

Virginia-based trio The Grayson County Daredevils won the string band competition, while Van Kenney won adult fiddle, Kelley Brieding won adult banjo, Rodney Hodges won adult Mandolin, Steve Lewis won adult guitar, Julie Shepard Powell won dance and Rick Ward won folk song.

Story by Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter