Fall in the Rim country has a distinct, age-old sound -- fiddle music.
It was the music of long-ago dances in the little school buildings all through the hills. People would travel a whole day to go to these dances. Stay up all night for the fun of moving with the music, then turn around and travel all day to get home and carry on with their daily lives.
For the past 32 years, that music has been celebrated at Payson's Old-Time Fiddlers Contest, where the Arizona State Champion is selected.
The 33rd Annual Old-Time Fiddlers Contest is this weekend, Sept. 27 and 28 at the Payson Event Center.
According to coordinator Roy Sandoval, hand-picked by the contest's late founder Vertilee Floyd, "About 80 contestants are expected. There will be all ages, from 3 to 85 years old."
The contest is sponsored by the Payson Parks and Recreation Department, but Sandoval adds, "The Arizona Old-Time Fiddlers Association plays a key role in this."
He said the group has been responsible for the resurgence of interest in authentic fiddle music among young people.
"The kids will knock your socks off they're so good," Sandoval said.
He said the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce has also been especially helpful with presenting the program.
Not only is the state's champion fiddler chosen at the contest, but it has bred some well-known performers in the professional music world.
"It's a significant contest," said Sandoval. "Three or four of our winners have gone on to become quite well known. Like Julianna Waller, who is a nationally known Nashville recording artist. Jesse Stockman and Jess Barry have toured nationally. Lucky Lee Blackwell is another noted competitor. Others have been extremely influential in Arizona's music teaching field."
Past champions include Sol Rudnick, Russell Burris, Hyram Posey, Danny Smith, David Shoup, Julianna Waller, Brian Wurst, Mile Cirillo, J.C. Cortese, Cheryl Brasher, Peter Rolland, Tamara Whetten, Jess Barry, Jesse Stockman, and last year's winner, Patrick Clark.
A number of these individuals won the championship title several times. Winning the title three times each were Russell Burris, Hyram Posey, Danny Smith and Brian Wurst.
While all the performers are entertaining, there is also a specialty act lined up, one of the most coveted in bluegrass festival circles around the Southwest, the McNasty Brothers.
"They do comedy and are outstanding entertainers, and when they are doing their music, they are also extremely entertaining," Sandoval said.
The McNasty Brothers will perform on Saturday only.
Another highlight on Saturday will be all the informal jam sessions, Sandoval said.
"Stroll around the camp site from about 7 p.m. on -- it's a real subculture. These people know each other, they travel to the same contests and network," he said.
Sandoval also recommended being on hand for the trick and fancy fiddling competition.
"It's always fun to watch. You'd be amazed at how many ways someone can play a fiddle."
In the trick competition, the fiddlers only do a single song, but in the other categories, everyone must do three pieces: a hoedown, a waltz, and their choice.
A little dance floor will be available and there will be an awning over the seating area, but the audience should bring their own chairs. There is free recreational vehicle camping on the grounds, but pets are not allowed in the event area.
The competitions include: age divisions, from 3 up; twin fiddle division; trick fiddle division; fancy fiddling division; cross-tuned fiddle division; and the Arizona State Championship division.
There will be plenty of food and craft booths, plus a fiddlemaker will be exhibiting.
General admission is $5 and for those 6 to 16, admission is $2.
Sandoval said he could use some additional volunteer help, getting the stage decorated on Friday night and hauling chairs from Star Valley and returning them. Contact him at email@example.com.
"It's important to realize that Payson was once known as the festival center of the West. Now we're down to two, this and the blues festival," Sandoval said.
He said he expects the Old-Time Fiddlers Contest to continue, but it may see some changes in the future.
In the meantime, gather up the lawn chair, sun umbrella, hat and sunscreen and head out to the Payson Event Center and celebrate the sound of fall in the Rim country with championship fiddle music.
Old-Time Fiddlers Contest Schedule of Events
Saturday, Sept. 27
9 a.m. - gates open
9:30 a.m. - opening ceremonies
10 a.m. - contest begins
Order of division play:
Small Fry, ages 3 to 9
Junior-Junior, ages 10 to 12
Senior, ages 65 and up
Junior, ages 13 to 17
Young Adult, ages 18 to 39
Adult, ages 40 to 64
Trick Fiddle Awards
Sunday, Sept. 28
9 a.m. - gates open
10 a.m. - Gospel program and opening ceremonies
11 a.m. - contest begins
Order of division play:
Championship, Round 1
Twin Fiddling Championship, Round 2
Fancy Fiddling Awards