Now in its 40th year, the annual Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddler’s Convention will draw visitors and competitors from around the world to the town’s Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday, June 3, and Friday, June 4. Special guests Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver mark the convention’s anniversary with a performance Thursday night.
Attendees are known to start arriving more than a week early to jam with each other in campsites and parking areas. “It’s a place for old friends to gather each year,” says Gary Willard, event manager. “And a lot of new people come hoping to play with some of the more seasoned musicians.”
Attendance in 2010 was the highest in the history of the convention, and Willard anticipates as many as 3,000 people will return this year. “I think it’s the economy,” he says. “More people are staying closer to home and the area in general rather than traveling.” Nevertheless, the gathering draws visitors from eight or nine foreign countries, including Italy, Japan, Ireland, Germany and Russia. “They come over here to learn the music,” Willard reports, “and some of them even compete.”
Contests are held for best bluegrass band and old-time band, and individuals compete on instruments including fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, dobro, dulcimer, autoharp and in categories including folk song and dance. About 800 people entered competitions last year.
Although the convention began with a 50/50 split between bluegrass and old-time players, 75 percent of the music is now-old time, Willard says. This sustained interest in traditional music, along with improvements to make the park more welcoming, point to another good session of jamming, picking and listening.
“The talent each year seems to get better and better,” Willard says. “We’re getting more of the younger generation involved.” For more information, visit www.mtairyfiddlersconvention.com.