It's difficult to imagine this weekend's 32nd edition of Payson's Old Time Fiddlers Contest without Vertielee Floyd the longtime organizer of the event who died last March, two days before her 73rd birthday.
"I can't emphasize enough that Vertielee was the real heart and soul of this festival," Roy Sandoval said, after inheriting Floyd's job. "At one time back in the late 1980s, the festival was lost. It was dead. But Vertielee, just by an act of sheer will, resurrected it with just a couple of hundred people in what used to be the Yellow Front building" on Highway 260.
Last December, Sandoval said, Floyd came to his office and said, "I'm getting older, I'm going to have some heart surgery later on, and I'm not sure how long I can do this."
"I told her, 'I'm not looking for extra things to do, because I'm really busy,'" Sandoval, the principal of Payson Elementary School, said. "But she said, 'No, you're the person I want to take it over. You're the person who will maintain the integrity of the show and keep it a family-oriented event.' Just to placate her, I said I'd help, fully thinking that she would have it a long, long time."
And then Vertielee passed away.
"Now I have the show, the committee's intact, and I have lots of help in all the details," he said. "Sandra Shoup is taking care of many of them; that means a lot to me because her husband, Bill Shoup, was one of the state's outstanding accompanists, and he just passed away last summer."
But it is under Floyd's shadow that all future fiddle fests will unfold, Sandoval said.
"If it were not for Vertielee, we would not have this festival today," Sandoval said. "But we do and, essentially, it will be very much the same as when she left. My thought is that you don't need to change something that's already successful. So there really are no major changes."
Festival No. 32
Attendees may notice a few minor changes, however, at the Payson Event Center this Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m to "whenever everyone has had a chance to play and we've awarded all of the prizes," Sandoval said.
Among the additions:
"Crucial County," which Sandoval describes as "the up-and-coming bluegrass band in Arizona right now," will take the stage on and off throughout the festival, and will perform bluegrass-gospel music Sunday morning.
The Sandoval family band, "Mazatzal Blue" featuring Roy on guitar, wife Sylvia on upright base, son Ben on the fiddle, and daughters Jennifer and Rebecca on mandolin and fiddle will play both Saturday and Sunday.
Payson constable Eddie Armer, among other cowboy poets, will perform "just to kind of break things up."
And there will likely be guest speakers, archeological exhibits, booths manned by the Northern Gila County Historical Society, and a "Nickel-in-the-Haystack" attraction, where children scramble for coins in a pile of hay.
Undergoing a slight change, too, will be one of the fiddle-contest divisions.
Last year's "Small Fry" division has been revamped into "Junior-Junior" for youngsters aged 3 to 12. Beyond that, all other divisions will remain untouched: Junior (ages 13 to 17), Young Adult (18 to 39), Adult (40 to 64) and Senior (65 up).
Fiddlers in all age divisions compete in such categories as Twin Fiddle, Trick Fiddle, Fancy Fiddling, Cross-Tuned Fiddle and the Arizona State Championship Division.
The field is whittled down Saturday, with the finalists going at it for the championship Sunday. The winner will be eligible to compete against 49 other fiddlers in the national championship to be held later this year in Weiser, Idaho.
Entry fees are $5 for Junior-Juniors and $10 for all others except accompanists, who may compete for free. There will be 25 cash prizes awarded, ranging from $15 to $100.
A familiar ring
As is tradition, there will be a Saturday night community show wherein all the pickin' and grinnin' will benefit scholarships for Payson's music students.
Despite Sandoval's efforts to turn down Floyd's offer, he is finding great enjoyment in assembling the Old Time Fiddlers Contest.
"Fortunately, I realize that everything is most difficult the first time through," he said. "I mean, there are so many details you just don't think about, like what are the square dancers going to dance on? Where will we get it? The answer, I've found, is to delegate. I delegate a lot."
For more information about the 32nd Annual Old Time Fiddlers Contest, call the Payson Parks and Recreation Department at 474-5242, ext. 7.
Schedule of Events
Saturday, Sept. 28
9:00 a.m. Gates open
9:30 a.m. Contest begins
Junior-Junior Division (3-12)
Senior Division (65-up)
Junior Division (13-18)
Young Adult Division (19-39)
Adult Division (40-64)
Cross-Tuned Fiddle Division
Trick Fiddling Division
Awarding of Prizes
Sunday, Sept. 29
9:00 a.m. Gates open
9:30 a.m. Gospel program, opening ceremonies
11 a.m. Contest begins
Championship Division, Round 1
Twin Fiddling Division
Championship Division, Round 2
Fancy Fiddling Division
Awarding of Prizes