Fiddlers Fire Up For State Championship

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American fiddle music, an art form that nearly echoed into obscurity here 30 years ago, has struck a chord with a new generation.

That lively musical style was revived locally nearly three decades ago by a small group of enthusiasts that started Payson's Old-Time Fiddlers' Contest.

This weekend, fiddlers from around the Southwest will converge on Payson for the 29th Annual Arizona State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers' Contest. Gates open at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Payson Rodeo Grounds.

Fiddle music was born out of Irish, English and Scottish folk tunes, contest director Vertielee Floyd said. It traveled across America on wagon trains and was savored around campfires. It's the kind of music that brings people together, she said.

As the music passed from one musician to another, it picked up Cajun and Smoky Mountain influences and developed its own style. That musical migration produced tunes with a distinctly American sound like Soppin' the Gravy, Virginia Moonlight, and the perennial favorite, Orange Blossom Special.

This weekend's fiddle fest features competitions for all ages, starting with the Small Fry division for players 3 to 9 years of age, and ending with the Senior division for fiddlers 65 and over.

Entertainment between competitions is provided by the McNasty Brothers Saturday, and the Joe Baer Trio Sunday.

The contest, which will be judged by nationally certified judges Darwin Long of Tucson, Dorothy Campo of Yakima, Wash. and Charlie Kennedy of McNeal, Ariz., will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $4 for general admission, and $2 for children 6 to 12 years old. In addition to the old-time music, there will be plenty of food booths and artists and crafters on hand, plus fiddle-making demonstrations and storytelling.

For more information, call the Payson Parks and Recreation Department at 474-5242, ext. 7.

Where are they now?
A number of the state's Old-Time Fiddlers' Contest champions have parlayed their passions for fiddle music into show business careers. Others still play, but only for fun. The following is a list of the contest's past champions and a brief look at what they're doing now.

  • 1974, '75: Sol Rudnick, Appleton, Wisc. -- Retired and enjoys playing the fiddle.
  • 1976, '77, '78: Russell Burris (unknown)
  • 1979, '80, '81: Hyram Posey, Tucumcari, N.M. -- Railroad engineer. Still plays the fiddle.
  • 1982, '83, '84: Danny Smith, Chandler, Ariz. -- Business owner, fiddler at the Rockin' R Ranch in Mesa.
  • 1985, '95: David Shoup, Mesa -- Osteopathic physician, assistant clinical professor at the Midwestern University in Glendale.
  • 1986, '89: Julianna Waller, Nashville -- Fiddler on the road with Brenda Lee and Matt King. Works as a substitute for the Nashville Symphony.
  • 1987, '88, '93: Brian Wurst, Tonopah, Ariz. -- Chiropractor with First Chiropractic in Phoenix.
  • 1990: Mike Cirillo, Tempe, Ariz. -- Arizona State University junior, fiddler with the Pat James Band at Buffalo Chip in Cave Creek, and performer at the Red River Opry.
  • 1991, '92: J.C. Cortese, Gilbert, Ariz. -- Fiddler on the road with the Kenny Chesney Band in Nashville.
  • 1994: Cheryl Brasher, Mesa -- Front office manager in Scottsdale Pediatric Office and a fiddler with Reign & Country.
  • 1996: Peter Rolland, Mesa -- Band leader, instrument rental business, fiddler with Tom Hiatt and the Sundown Riders at Rawhide.
  • 1997: Tamara Whetten, Mesa -- ASU junior, fiddler at Barlene Family Dinner Theater in Apache Junction and a music teacher.
  • 1998: Jess Barry, Tucson -- Eastern Arizona College sophomore in Thatcher. He also works as a cowboy in the summer on the Babbitt Ranch in Flagstaff.

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