Hundreds gather for Happy Valley fiddlers convention

Sep. 01, 2013 @ 07:57 AM

If you’ve never been to a fiddlers convention before, the first thing you should know is there are a lot more instruments than just fiddles.

Donna Fox of Hickory hauled one of the more extreme examples onto the stage at the Happy Valley Old-Time Fiddlers Convention early Saturday afternoon, a large, dark, octagonal, wooden instrument that creates a kind of percussive bass sound. She called it a type of marimbula, an African-Caribbean instrument. On stage, from a distance it looked like she was thumping a hollowed out snapping turtle’s shell.

And she wasn’t even on the stage to compete. Her husband, Michael, was, in a banjo category. She was just accompanying him. Michael Fox, who has been competing in fiddlers conventions and other competitions for around 40 years, actually built the instrument. He also built his own banjo, which was kind of a banjo-dulcimer hybrid they called a dulci-jo.

“When you talk about unique and unusual, that’s my husband’s middle name,” Donna Fox said.

Unlike today, when nine bands are scheduled to play mostly half-hour sets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday was all about competition, with about a dozen categories. The competitors in each category ranged in age from pre-teens to senior citizens, with a range of abilities that didn’t always follow age and experience.

This weekend’s is the ninth annual Happy Valley Old-Time Fiddlers Convention, which takes place in a cleared field between N.C. 268 and the Yadkin River, with small mountains looming up on the south side of the river. The edge of the field near the river is lined this weekend with a couple dozen camp sites, where the distant music from the convention site blends with the rushing of the river and the occasional nearby informal jam session.

Those informal sessions are the real draw for many of the musicians, said Amanda Wright of Collettsville, who was competing Saturday in the old-time banjo, old-time fiddle, bluegrass fiddle and flatfooting categories.

“It’s kind of like a family reunion for us musicians, the same four- to five-hundred people go to all the ones,” she said. “You learn so much from the jam sessions, from the older musicians.”

Though Wright has competed in many events, particularly in southwest Virginia, she doesn’t particularly care for that part.

“I don’t like the competition part. I get nervous,” she said, but she does it because she also teaches music and tells her students they should compete.

The truest lesson of competition already has been learned by Daniel Greeson, a 16-year-old from Jamestown who was competing in the mandolin and two fiddle categories. The competitions are an excuse for the musicians, he said.

“They compete, but they don’t come TO compete,” he said. “They just come to have fun.”