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The weather for the first weekend in June may be sunny and warm, but there’s a 100% chance that some nice sounds will be heard at the 50th Annual Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention.
To celebrate this milestone, a special concert is scheduled for Thursday night to help kick off the convention which will feature the competition on Friday and next Saturday when it wraps up.
And free early music and bluegrass workshops are offered Tuesday through Friday, designed to keep the region’s musical heritage alive for another 50 years or more by passing it on to younger generations.
The Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention is held on the grounds of Veterans Memorial Park at 691 W. Lebanon St.
Created in 1972, it is dedicated to both musical genres, as well as dance, and is traditionally held the first weekend in June – although the coronavirus forced its cancellation in 2020.
Back to normal
The event resumed in 2021 and is gradually regaining its pre-pandemic stature based on audience attendance and participation of musicians vying for cash prizes, trophies and ribbons in various competition categories.
“We’re about halfway there, I guess, three-quarters, something like that,” Veterans Memorial Park president Doug Joyner said this week of the convention’s resumption after COVID, at judging by last year’s event and the interest in the upcoming one.
Based on everything that’s happened, this year’s golden anniversary has a special meaning, Joyner added.
“It’s been going on for half a century,” he said of the convention, “and we’re glad the park can hold it every year (now).”
Joyner hopes fans will come out and help celebrate the occasion.
The convention officially begins Friday at 7 p.m. and will resume next Saturday at 9:30 a.m. for a slate day.
However, there are always early arrivals settling into the park’s camping areas and playing music throughout the week.
The competition categories at the convention are open to youth and adults, including early and bluegrass bands, bluegrass and early fiddle, bluegrass and early banjo (clawhammer), guitar, mandolin, bass, dobro, dulcimer, autoharp, folk song and dance.
In addition to performances during the convention, plenty of impromptu jam sessions can usually be found while circulating on the lot — and you never know who might be involved.
Band members Donna the Buffalo have been spotted over the years along with other notable musicians such as Dom Flemmons of The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
The special Thursday night concert to celebrate the convention’s 50th anniversary will feature The Junior Sisk Band on the park’s main stage.
It’s scheduled for 7 p.m., with $20 wristband tickets to the show being sold at the door.
The cost of park admission to attend the Friday and Saturday sessions is a $10 wristband per day.
Joyner says interest is high among musicians, including many returning performers.
“These people, they like to pick up and smile,” he said.
“They keep sending emails about it,” Joyner said. “I got a phone call the other night from a guy in England.”
This person wanted to attend the convention in June 2021, but was prevented from doing so by COVID travel restrictions.
Joyner said he has also been contacted by a group in Russia who may show up at the event.
While convention organizers don’t like to capitalize on the misfortune of others, the Mount Airy gathering should also benefit from the apparent demise of an early spring event in Dobson, the Surry Old-Time Fiddlers Convention. It has been canceled for the past three years due to the coronavirus and other factors.
“I think that will help us,” Joyner said of this development, especially among musicians in the old days, the Dobsonian convention was for those who wanted a performance outlet to fill the void.
Another highlight of convention week will be free workshops in old-time and bluegrass styles.
Sessions are scheduled Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Grandstand at Veterans Memorial Park.
Workshops are to feature fiddle, banjo, vocals, guitar, jams, dance and more, according to organizers.
Participating instructors and bands will include Emily Spencer, Martha Spencer, Kirk Sutphin, Kevin Fore, Chester McMillian, Wes Clifton, Trish Fore, The Mustard Cutters Band, The Pilot Mountain Bobcats, Nancy and Bill Sluys, Darrius Flowers and others.
A number of award-winning performers from the Galax Fiddler Convention and others are among their ranks.
The special week-long workshops are made possible by grants from the North Carolina Arts Council’s Grassroots Program, with additional funding provided by the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources in honor of the convention’s 50th anniversary. .
A full program of workshops, jams and dances will be available at the entrance to the park, organizers said.
More information about the convention can be found at https://www.surryarts.org/mafiddlersconvention/index.html More information about the workshops can be found on page B12 of today’s journal.