Fall has been welcomed into the Rim Country by the sound of fiddle music for more than 40 years. This year will be no different. The 41st Annual Old Time Fiddle Festival is Saturday, Sept. 24 and Sunday, Sept. 25 at the Payson Event Center.
Before the fiddlin’ fireworks start, a special Old Time Opry concert is planned at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 23 at the Payson High School Auditorium. The concert features The Desert Sons, The HillBenders and Run Boy Run, which is based in Tucson and plays acoustic, folk and roots music.
About The Desert Sons
The Desert Sons organized in 1989 as Darrel’s Friends with Darrel Yarbrough playing bass, John Ryberg on rhythm guitar and Benny Young on fiddle.
While playing at an open session at the Western Music Association Festival in Tucson, they attracted the attention of Dick Goodman of The Reinsmen. He gave them 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 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 they released their 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.
About The HillBenders
The Missouri-based HillBenders is an award-winning bluegrass band that infuses its music with both contemporary influences and traditional inspiration.
Organized in 2008, the band won the championship title at the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition and the 2010 National Single Microphone Championships. It also released its debut album, “Down to My Last Dollar,” in 2010. The 13-track project featured 11 original compositions.
The HillBenders include Mark Cassidy, banjo; Gary Rea, bass; Jim Rea, guitar; Nolan Lawrence, mandolin; and Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves, dobro.
Admission to the Payson Old Time Opry is $5 per person. That same price will be charged as admission each day of the fiddle competition. So fans of good, old-fashioned music can enjoy three days of toe-tapping, foot-stomping fun for only $15 per person.
State championship on the line
The fiddle contest in Payson isn’t just for Rim Country bragging rights, the state’s championship fiddler title is awarded at the event, plus a $500 grand prize and an additional $250 in travel money to compete in the nationals in Weiser, Idaho.
The competition starts at 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 24 with age group contests continuing until completed. The championships are in two rounds on Sunday, Sept. 25, the first is tentatively from 11 a.m. to noon, with the second from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Gates at the Payson Event Center open at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, with opening ceremonies planned for 9:30 a.m. A break for special entertainment and lunch is set from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., with the trick fiddling contest from 12:15 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the age group contests resuming at 12:30 p.m.
The age group competition will be as follows: Small Fry, ages 3 to 9; Junior-Junior, ages 10 to 12; Junior, ages 13 to 17; Senior, 65 and older; Young Adult, ages 18 to 39; and Adult, ages 40 to 64.
Contestants will all first play a hoedown, then a waltz and finally a tune of their choice, but it must be something other than a hoedown or waltz.
They may play with accompaniment or without, but if accompanied, there can only be two other musicians on stage with a contestant.
If a large number of entries are signed up for any one age division, that group may be asked to play only a hoedown and waltz.
Judges Marti White, Joshua Galyon and Mickey Long will score the contestants on old-time fiddling ability, difficulty of tune, rhythm (timing), tone quality and “dance ability” of tunes played.
Trick fiddling is where a contestant holds their fiddle or bow in an unusual position to play and/or performs a special trick while playing.
Once the age division competition is completed on Saturday, the cross-tuned contest will be held.
Contestants, their families and festival volunteers will have a barbecue at the Payson Event Center from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
A jam concert is planned for 6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Payson Event Center.
The PEC gates open at 8:30 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 25 with a gospel program planned from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., with many of the contestants participating.
The championships will be at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., with two separate contests planned as well — fancy fiddling and twin fiddling.
The fancy fiddling will be at noon — this is for contestants who want to play their tune in a “fancy” or “hot” style.
Twin fiddling will be at 1:30 p.m. and features two fiddlers playing both a slow tune and a fast tune.
Awards will be presented at approximately 2 p.m. In addition to awarding the championship title and prize money, there will be cash awards in all the contests, plus to accompanists.
The awards range from $10 for fifth place in the small fry and junior-junior divisions to $350 for second place in the championship division.