Kentucky may be known for its bluegrass music, but that tradition is fairly new. Bluegrass as a genre dates to the mid 1940s when Bill Monroe and his band, the Bluegrass Boys, introduced the nation to the high energy music style that took its name from the band. But the roots of that style go back much further, to front porch picking sessions and square dance bands playing traditional songs across Appalachian communities.
"Bluegrass is more solo and individual driven music, whereas old time is more about the tune and not so much about how well one person can take a hot break," explained convention organizer John Ryster. "Old Time music is the music they were playing before the radio was invented."
That's the type of music that will be featured at this first annual Elliott County Fiddler's Convention, though the instrumentation will be familiar to fans of bluegrass as well and may even feature some bluegrass style licks.
"This is an old time fiddler's convention, meaning it is being modeled after the types of gatherings that would have been common in the mountains prior to the modern bluegrass festivals we are all familiar with," Ryster explained.
Like at those older gatherings, he said, at this convention, "people will get up to compete to see who is the best in individual categories like fiddle, old time banjo, bluegrass banjo and so on. So if you plan to come, bring your instruments! This is very much a participation driven festival. The competitions are all for fun. It's really about showing old friends and new friends what you're working on. Aside from the three judges it's a very judgement free zone. I know bluegrass is King in Elliott County more so than true old time these days, but with most of the true old timers they're almost interchangeable. So we're combining the two and calling it old time and traditional bluegrass."
He said Sandy Hook was chosen as the location for the convention because of the music traditions of Elliott County.
"Sandy Hook Kentucky has such a wonderful history in traditional music and folk art," he said. "Upon driving into the county you see folk art all around, on barns and road signs. Drive down the road on any given Saturday evening this summer and you're still likely to catch a group of folks playing music outside in the yard just like they would have done 100 years ago. That doesn't happen most places anymore. I wanted to showcase what the county has to offer in way of folk arts that most people might not realize."
It's also a tradition he wants to pass on to the next generation.
"My wife's family is from Elliott County, and have been there literally since the county's founding," he explained. "They all play music in the traditional ways. We just had a daughter and I hope that she grows up to cherish this music and I hope that by doing this festival my young daughter and other folks see how special and fun traditional music can be."
The convention starts on Friday, July 12 and runs through Saturday, July 13. For more information on the First Annual Elliott County Fiddler's Convention, check them out online at kyoldtime.org/elliottcountyfiddlersconvention.
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