Fiddle contests were once an established part of the rural American entertainment scene, exceeded in drawing power only by the occasional circus, and rarely equaled by a camp meeting, or a political speaking. The first-place winner could rake in as much as a month’s regular earnings.
This year’s Arkansas State Fiddle Championship in Mountain View honors that tradition with an expanded contest and increased prize money.
Set for Sept. 20-21 at the Ozark Folk Center State Park, the event will feature a Traditional Old Time Ozark Competition on Friday, and a Contemporary Style Competition on Saturday. Top prize in each is $500 in both senior (age 60 and over) and open age divisions, with $300 for second place and $100 for third. Junior divisions (age 16 and younger) for each contest pay $200, $100 and $50. Contestants age 16 have the option to enter the open division instead of junior.
A special award for Friday’s competition will honor the “Dean of Old-Time Fiddlers,” Joseph Mulkey Kent of Sharp County, who was an avid contest fiddler. He won 31 first prizes, including the Arkansas State Fiddle Championship in 1927, held in Fayetteville. The Joseph Mulkey Kent award – trophy and $300 – will go to the contestant who best exemplifies traditional Ozark fiddling.
The event is supported this year by Mountain View Bluegrass Association and Old Time Ozark Traditions, Inc.
“It is the goal of the Arkansas State Fiddle Championship to memorialize fiddlers past and present, recognizing that fiddling is a long-standing tradition in Arkansas, and particularly in the Ozarks,” organizers say.
Friday’s competition will highlight traditional fiddle playing specific to the Ozark region. Judges for the contest are Judy Warner, Drew Beisswenger, and Rachel Luster. Warner and Luster will also perform at the evening concert, along with Ozark Traditions, and The Lazy Goat String Band.
Junior division takes place at 10 a.m. Friday with open at 1:30 p.m. and senior at 4:30. Finals in the junior division (if needed to break ties) and trophy presentations will be conducted immediately following the competition. Finals in open and senior divisions, if necessary, will be at 6 p.m. Trophies for those two divisions will be awarded during the evening music program.
Saturday’s competition will promote contemporary contest fiddling characterized by more modern, progressive styles that are commonly heard today, including Texas-style fiddling, Western Swing, Country, Bluegrass, Blues, and modern, progressive arrangements of old-time tunes.
Junior division takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday with open at 1:30 p.m. and senior at 4:30. Finals in the junior division (if needed to break ties) and trophy presentations will be conducted immediately following the competition. Finals in open and senior divisions, if necessary, will be at 6 p.m. Trophies for those two divisions will be awarded during the evening music program.
Judges for Saturday’s Contemporary Contest – who will also perform on the evening program – are Tim Crouch, Brandon Apple, and Roger Fountain.
Each contestant will play three tunes: a breakdown, a waltz, and tune of choice. Visit the contest page on the Folk Center website (www.ozarkfolkcenter.com) for specific details regarding each contest. Registration is $10.
For spectators, admission requires craft village ticket and includes activities from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Evening activities require music ticket. Combination tickets are available for both daytime and evening activities. Season passes will be honored.