Fiddle Time In The Pines Returns To Rim Country

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It's fiddle time in the pines. The 35th Annual Old-Time Fiddlers Championship is this weekend.

Once again, the music festival will be held at Rumsey Park.

"This year the town is helping us with a tent for the audience," said Elaine Drorbaugh, who has been a part of the event's board of directors for 18 years.

"People need to bring their own chairs," she said. "Last year we rented chairs, but only one person used one. Everyone else brought their own chairs or blankets to spread out on the grass."

The estimated 50 contestants will treat audiences to a competitive repertoire in 11 categories.

Bill Breen will be master of ceremonies, said Drorbaugh.

Categories of competition include:

  • Small fry, contestants under 10
  • Junior-Junior, ages 10 to 12
  • Junior, ages 13-17
  • Young adult, ages 18 to 39
  • Adult, ages 40 to 64
  • Senior, 60 and older
  • Trick fiddling
  • Fancy fiddling
  • Best accompanist

"We expect to have a lot of young adult contestants this year," Drorbaugh said. "Sandra Schup, who has helped the board for several years, traveled around the state to music festivals to tell people about us and invited them to participate."

In addition to the competitive music, the Arizona Old-Time Fiddlers will provide a gospel music program at 10 a.m. Sunday. The event will also feature food vendors and arts and crafts booths.

For many years Vertilee Floyd chaired the Rim Country's celebration of old-time fiddling, but she was not its founder. Floyd shared the history of the contest in an article in 1996.

"The fiddle contest was a dream of local fiddlers: D.C. Ashby, Don Stephenson and fiddling brothers, Githon and Clinton Reid," Floyd said in her article. "Mr. Ashby, age 80 plus, and Don attended a C of C board meeting at the old Open Range Cafe at the south end of town. After hearing Mr. Ashby explain how a fiddle contest would be a good addition to the annual Fall Festival, the board approved his plan and gave him $80 for expenses and prize money."

The first fiddlers contest in 1970 was an old-fashioned community event. Local clubs and organizations had booths and sold specialty items. Each high school class set up a carnival-type activity and the 4-H and Scout groups also participated. Homemakers from around town provided the food -- sandwiches, cookies and cakes.

That first event was held at what was called the "park" at the corner of Main Street and Beeline Highway, where the chamber and county buildings now stand. The chamber building was a tiny building with electricity, but no plumbing, Floyd said in the article. So, Roy Creach, who owned the Richfield Station across the street, made his facilities available.

She said among the competitors in that first contest were the Reid brothers and Stephenson. Jody Sixkiller, her husband, Dudley Whitlock and legendary Arizona fiddler Lyman Keeling of Mesa, also participated. Dr. James Griffith, director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, brought his banjo, Payson resident Mac Bevell brought his guitar, Pat Watson played a little portable piano in the back of a 3/4 ton truck and her son, Tim, played the spoons.

Floyd said in 1974 the contest would become an official U.S. Bicentennial event and the official Arizona State Championship contest.

Floyd turned the reins of the contest over to Roy Sandoval in late 2001, shortly before her death in the spring of 2002. Sandoval coordinated the festival until last year, then turned it over to his father, Ben, and the board of directors this year.

The festival has had a number of artists participate, who now record in Nashville.

The winner will represent the state at the National Old-Time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, Idaho.

Gates open at 9 a.m., Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 24 and 25. Admission is $7 per day for adults and $3 for children.

Rumsey Park is on McLane Road, north of Payson High School.

For more information, call (928) 925-5404 or the Payson Parks and Recreation Department, (928) 474-5242, extension 7.

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