The annual Old-Time Fiddlers' State Championship is returning to Rumsey Park -- its home for many of its 34 years.
Chairman Roy Sandoval points out this is no ordinary festival. Many of its champions have gone on to become noted musicians, like Julianna Walker, who is a nationally known Nashville recording artist. Jesse Stockman and Jess Barry also have toured nationally.
Sandoval said this is also the last remaining event -- outside of the rodeos -- that once made Payson the Festival Capital of Arizona.
While the fiddle festival is not unique to Payson, it has a special history. It was founded and guided for more than 30 years by Vertilee Floyd. She even was a guiding force after her death in the spring of 2002.
Sandoval said, "Floyd came to my office in December (2001) and told me she was going to have heart surgery, but did not expect to make it. She said, ‘I want you to take the Fiddlers' Festival.' And I said, ‘Get real.' She said no, she was going to set things up and wanted me to take it."
Floyd was right about the outcome of her surgery; she died shortly after the procedure. Sandoval took over the 2002 Old-Time Fiddlers' Festival.
But Floyd had prepared the way for him. "The volunteers Floyd has had working with her all these years are excellent. She left a very significant group of individuals who are highly competent," Sandoval said.
Sandoval has continued the tradition, but said he would like to see someone or a group step up and take the reins for the future. But he wants someone who is willing to stick with it --e doesn't want to see the Old-Time Fiddlers' State Championship in Payson come to an end.
"We're expecting 75 to 80 competitors," Sandoval said.
He said last year's champion -- the youngest ever -- will be back to defend her title. Emily Nebel, a resident of Mesa, was only 12 when she took top honors.
Competition will be in six different age divisions: Small Fry, 3 to 9; Junior-Junior, 10-12; Junior, 13-17; Young Adult, 18-39; Adult, 40-64; and Senior, 65-up; plus Trick Fiddling; Fancy Fiddling; Cross-Tuned Fiddle; Twin Fiddle; Accompanists; and the Arizona State Championship. Musicians eligible to compete in the state championship are the 15 with the top scores, plus the top three fiddlers from each age division.
The community's continued support is needed to keep this tradition alive. Make plans to show that support and have some fun too.
The fiddling takes place Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25 and 26 on the ball field at Rumsey Park. Gates open at 9 a.m. both days. Admission is $7 for adults, 17 and older and $3 for those 6 to 16.
First-rate fiddle music, fresh air, clear blue skies and the pines of Payson's Rumsey Park will make for a great weekend.