Sounds Of Old-Time Fiddle Fill Weekend


Children to seniors, competitors from across the state will be in Payson this Saturday and Sunday for the Vertilee Floyd Memorial 36th Annual Old Time Fiddler's Contest and Arizona State Championship.

The state contest actually started in 1910, according to Irene Neal, one of the volunteer organizers of the 2006 event.


Gates open at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday for the Vertilee Floyd Memorial 36th Annual Old Time Fiddler's Contest and Arizona State Championship. The show begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children.

The contest was re-named this year by the Payson Fiddler's Committee in honor of Floyd, who did not start the contest, but for many years was its chairperson.

The public has always been welcome at the event and this year is no exception.

There will be food vendors and local entertainment, a gospel program on Sunday in addition to some fine fiddle players.

A youth group from the Valley, The Shadow Mountain Bluegrass Band, and the Sandoval family from Payson will play in between divisions.

The music the audience hears and sees at a fiddle competition is just the tip of the bow compared to the thousands of tunes written for the fiddle.

"Imagine, a person goes up on stage and plays for four minutes," said fiddle player, Valley instructor and sometime judge, Peter Rolland.

"You have to think that in order to play that music, that person practiced that piece hundreds of times. They have also practiced for countless hours, other songs they chose not to play."

Standards include "Billy in the Low Ground," "Leather Britches," "The Beaumont Rag" and the three Sallys -- "Sally Johnson," "Sally Goodin" and "Sally Ann."

"Sally Goodin" was the first commercial country music recording ever made back in the early 1920s when record companies discovered there was a market for Southern fiddling.

Traditionally, fiddling has been done for all kinds of social events from kitchen parties to community dances to weddings.

Fiddle music is a type of folk music with roots in tradition that is constantly being renewed because people make up songs all the time.

"The oldest recorded fiddle contest goes back to the late 1700s," Rolland said.

In each round, fiddlers in modern contests must play a "breakdown," a fast piece, a waltz and a tune of choice, which cannot be either a breakdown or a waltz and is usually a rag or a polka, but can be a jig or shadish.

Very few bluegrass tunes get played as competitive pieces with the exception of crossover tunes like "Jerusalem Ridge" and "Footprints in the Snow," both by Bill Monroe, Rolland said.

"Red-haired Boy" is a tune that stems from an ancient Celtic tune about the joys of begging called "The Little Beggarman."

"It was embraced by bluegrass players, but now the melody has been embraced by fiddle players," Rolland said.

A tune Rolland said he would like to hear played as a competition piece in the waltz category, for example, is the melody of "Streets of Laredo," which stems from an old Scottish Aire called "The Bard of Armach" or "My Bonny Lies over the Ocean" and "Home on the Range."

"These are all great waltzes that are recognizable to the public and exist in and of themselves outside the mainstream," Roland said. "They fit in with the fiddle contest, but haven't really been embraced by the competitors."

As with any type of cultural expression, a style of music specific to contests has evolved over the years, said Rolland, who has been attending the state competition in Payson since the 1970s.

"One of the biggest things that I've noticed is that the elderly group of fiddle players has passed on, so we all miss their contributions and repertoire," Rolland said.

The gates will open each day at 9 a.m. The show begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Sunday, the show starts with a gospel program at 10 a.m. and opening ceremonies at 11 a.m.

Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children.

All proceeds will be applied toward next year's production and scholarships for Rim Country youth.

The event is at the Houston Mesa Horse Camp.

Directions: On the north end of Payson just past the roundabout on Highway 87 turn right on Houston Mesa Road. About 50 yards in, there will is sign, "Houston Mesa Horse Park." Turn right and follow the signs.

Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets to sit under the tent and enjoy the show.

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