The 40th anniversary of the Payson fiddle festival is not just a celebration of 40 years of fiddle music under the Rim. The event is a way to honor our history.
The pioneers who came West with a fiddle were prized in their communities. Their music afforded a bright spot in the backbreaking work of eking out an existence in a wild country. When one or two came together, folks would travel from miles around — sometimes for a full day — to dance the night away in a schoolhouse, see family, visit with neighbors, and maybe embark on a courtship.
Much of the music itself is also a connection to our history. Some selections reach all the way back to the Irish, Scots, Welsh and other immigrants who made their way across the Atlantic to settle in America. Other pieces represent the evolution of songs from the 19th and 18th centuries.
Regardless of the origins, the weekend is really all about the music. To emphasize that fact, two special programs are being added to the festivities.
The 2010 version of the Payson Fiddle Contest and Arizona State Fiddle Championship has a new element — a special concert to open the event.
A weekend of fiddle music at the Payson Event Center Saturday, Sept. 25 and Sunday, Sept. 26 will be preceded by a bluegrass and western music concert at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 24 at the Payson High School Auditorium.
The concert will feature the band Providence with Michael Rolland, Thomas Porter, John Burton and Billy Parker and The Desert Sons with Skelly Boyd, John Ryberg, Slim Tighe and Benny Young.
• Michael Rolland — fiddle and vocals
A winner of multiple fiddle championships, Rolland has played with bluegrass, country, cowboy and jazz bands for eight years. Now, having assembled the dream band of Providence, Rolland gets to showcase his songwriting with the best players in Arizona.
• Thomas Porter — guitar and lead vocals
Porter has played in several bluegrass groups, most recently as the lead singer of the Copper River Band. His new self-titled CD release features many of today’s hottest bluegrass pickers including Ron Block, Sierra Hull and Cody Kilby, and has received airplay by numerous bluegrass radio stations. Along with his hot guitar playing and beautiful songwriting, his powerful voice will remind you why you love bluegrass music.
• John Burton — banjo and vocal
Burton is widely known for his stellar guitar work with Fire Ridge, but his banjo playing with Providence makes you think that he was born with a 5-string in his hand.
• Billy Parker — mandolin and vocals
Parker is one of the most sought-after bluegrass musicians for recordings, concert and festival work in Arizona. If you’ve ever seen a bluegrass concert, then chances are you’ve seen Parker.
About The Desert Sons
The group originated in 1989 as a trio with Darrel Yarbrough on bass, John Ryberg, rhythm guitar and Benny Young, fiddle. Family and friends encouraged them to perform in public, which they did. They called themselves “Darrel’s Friends.”
While playing at an open session at the Western Music Association Festival in Tucson, they attracted the attention of Dick Goodman of The Reinsmen. Goodman gave the boys some advice about how to improve their sound, and it wasn’t long until they’d developed their own unique blend and harmony style. They also changed their name to The Desert Sons.
They quickly became popular at cowboy poetry gatherings, traveled to Branson, Mo. and even made a trip to Denmark.
In 1994, they added Skelly Boyd, from Safford, Ariz., as lead guitarist.
In 1995, Darrel Yarbrough left the group. Working cowboy Lance Grey filled in for a few months, until Bisbee’s own, Slim Tighe, joined the band.
In 2002, Skelly and Slim wandered off to pursue other interests, but the band was blessed with the rapid addition of Bill Ronstadt (vocals and acoustic bass) and Bill Ganz (vocals and lead guitar). The foursome continued to entertain western music fans, and produced a fine CD titled “Ride, Cowboy, Ride.”
Another change occurred in 2008, when Bill Ronstadt and Bill Ganz departed, and Skelly Boyd and Slim Tighe returned. Enthusiastic audiences continued to clamor for more recordings, and in early 2009, the group released its fifth CD, “Songs Along The Trail.”
With a sound as honest as a good horse and as bold as an Arizona sunset, The Desert Sons continue to exemplify the great western music tradition.
Admission to the concert is $5.
Following the competition on Saturday, Sept. 25, there will be a jam concert at the Payson Event Center. Admission for this event is also just $5.
In the past there have been impromptu jam sessions among the musicians — and there probably will still be some over the course of the weekend — but this is the first “formal” jam to be presented at the festival.
The championships will be Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25 and 26 at the Payson Event Center with contests starting at 10 a.m. Saturday and running through 3:30 p.m., with a jam session starting at 6 p.m.
Sunday, the championship division first round begins at 11 a.m. Awards will be presented at 2 p.m. Gates open at 8:30 a.m. both days and admission is $5 per person, with children 10 and under admitted free.
8:30 a.m. – Gates open
9:30 a.m. – Opening ceremonies
10 a.m. – Small Fry division
10:40 a.m. – Junior Junior division
11:20 a.m. – Entertainment
Noon – Trick fiddling
12:30 p.m. – Junior division
1:10 p.m. – Senior division
1:50 p.m. – Young Adult division
2:20 p.m. – Adult division
3 p.m. – Cross-Tuned division
6 p.m. – Jam Concert, $5 admission
8:30 a.m. – Gates open
9 a.m. – Gospel time
11 a.m. – Championship division, first round
Noon – Fancy Fiddling
12:30 p.m. – Championship division, second round
1:30 p.m. – Twin Fiddling
2 p.m. – Awards ceremony
Keeping the action on track both days will be Bill Breen of Tucson, who is master of ceremonies.
He and his wife Lynn are active in the Desert Bluegrass Association. He is a banjo player and Lynn plays bass. Both have performed in southern Arizona.
Breen has worked the Payson festival several times and is also a fixture at the Wickenburg Bluegrass Festival, serving as its master of ceremonies for 20 of its 31 years. He has also been the frequent emcee at the Tucson Bluegrass Festival.
Breen retired from the Arizona Department of Public Safety as a lieutenant. He served 28 years in law enforcement.
For more information about the event, call (928) 474-5242.