- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

FORT PAYNE, Ala. (AP) - More than two decades ago, Russell Gulley revived an old tradition for fiddle enthusiasts in Fort Payne. The man was determined to keep what he felt was an important part of this region’s heritage alive.

His mission was successful, and June 4-5 upwards of 500 musicians and fiddle fanatics will line the Rotary Pavilion downtown for the annual DeKalb County Fiddlers Convention. Admission to the event is $10 and children ages 10 and under can get in for free.

The convention’s history extends more than a century - the origin of the first fiddlers’ convention dates back to 1908.

“It ran up until just before the second World War,” Gulley said. “A lot of the young guys that played were actually drafted, and they joined the service, so it was discontinued.”

Gulley, who serves as the director of the Big Wills Art Council in addition to having an illustrious folk music career of his own, said the council decided to revamp and reintroduce the contest to a new generation of music fans.

The current incarnation of the DeKalb County Fiddlers Convention features participants of all ages. They will compete in 12 different categories for cash prizes.

“The registration starts at 11 a.m., and then the first category starts at noon,” Gulley said. “They range from the Pee Wee fiddler to the senior fiddlers.

“We’ll end the day with two different band categories - one is the Ol’ Time String Band category, and then the bluegrass category. We’ll have anywhere from 50 to 75 musicians competing that day, and we usually run it to about 6 or 7 o’clock. If it’s very well attended, then we’ll run even longer.”

John Dersham, president and CEO of DeKalb Tourism, said the convention was moved up this year from its typical August date. He’s said there’s a specific crowd that follows these competitions.

“It’s not a lot of tourists, but it does bring a lot of artists from out of town, and it brings in people that are following bluegrass,” Dersham said. “It does create an environment of tourism that is unique.”

Gulley agreed.

“We’ve had as few as 300 and as much as 500-600,” he said. “It’s not an event that’s going to draw thousands of people, but it will be a pretty good crowd. We’ll have (the pavilion) filled.”

Gulley said the event has grown since being relocated to the pavilion. He said there would be food, drinks and even vendors selling instruments on site in addition to the performances.

The convention has becoming a breeding ground for local talent, as well. Gulley said he enjoys roaming the lot, watching as seasoned veterans share with young participants.

“You’ll see (musicians) clustered in various places throughout the park,” He said. “We draw folks from Mississippi, north Georgia, up to Tennessee and as far south as Louisiana. We focus primarily on the music and contest, but it’s a comfortable atmosphere.”

Gulley said the convention’s roots run deep - from country music hall of famers Alabama to the Louvin Brothers - and he said it’s a tradition worthy of recognizing. “It’s just a way of keeping an old tradition alive,” Gulley said. “I think it’s important as an arts council to keep our cultural heritage alive. A lot of contemporary groups wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for the musical traditions around in the early 1900s, and I think it’s a very important thing to preserve our heritage, and that’s why we are doing this.”

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Information from: Fort Payne Times-Journal, https://www.times-journal.com


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