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History

History

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The success of both the Pleasant Point and the West Limestone fiddler contests led us to the conclusion that there was extensive latent interest in old time music represented by an amazing cross section of people in widely divergent social strata. Further, we decided there was a need to dispel the false image of old time fiddling almost always graphically portrayed as an “overalled-goateed” farmer in a tattered straw hat sitting on a bale of hay holding his fiddle. While we knew a lot of farmers who were fiddlers, and good ones too, we also found that traditional old time music held the interest of a wide variety of the population - professionals as well as blue-collar workers, shopkeepers and business executives, and even holders of high public office. Burl Ives, the late folk singer, once observed that the most lucrative place to collect folk songs is the city. He said that most of us have a rural background and when removed from that scene remember the old sounds more vividly and nostalgically. Thomas Jefferson was a fiddler as well as an accomplished classical violinist. When he ran across old fiddle tunes he liked he wrote them down in his notebooks. It has been reported that the old fiddle tune "Grey Eagle", still heard frequently at fiddler’s conventions, was one of his favorites. Fiddling' Bob Taylor who was governor of Tennessee from 1886 to 1890 and again from 1896 to 1898 was a cultured, educated man and a dedicated old time fiddler. He made national headlines by entering fiddle contests while he was holding the governor's chair. Out of office he wrote an eloquent and moving tribute entitled "To the Fiddler" datelined En Route April 24, 1899.

After several discussions, we concluded that an organization was needed to activate the interest in old time music and to provide the opportunity for old time musicians to be heard and appreciated by large audiences. This organization would also provide an information network to keep musicians and fans involved. In the summer of 1967 the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Association (TVOTFA) was formed. The two main objectives of the TVOTFA were to sponsor an annual fiddlers convention and contests and to publish a newsletter on a regular basis. The overwhelming success of the West Limestone contest proved we needed more space and additional facilities to meet the potential of an annual event.

Bob Holland and Bill Harrison approached the officials of Athens College, then a private institution, and proposed that the college host the annual TVOTFA convention with the net proceeds going to the college scholarship fund. An agreement was reached and planning began.

The anvil shoot kicked off the first annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention on Saturday, November 4, 1967 in the big Athens College Gym. The weekend saw torrential rain and when Saturday night arrived the temperature had plummeted to 24 degrees. While the bad weather had an adverse effect on attendance, the event was a modest success and netted $52. Contestants and spectators came from four states. Bill Mitchell, then sheriff of Lee County Mississippi (Tupelo), was crowned the first Tennessee Valley Fiddle King and E.A. Cope of Birmingham was the runner-up. Media coverage was encouraging. Radio station WVNA, a CBS affiliate from Tuscumbia, Alabama was on the scene and Jack Voorhies, program director of the station, recorded a portion of the convention, which included an introduction, music and interviews with contestants. Voorhies sent the tape to the CBS network headquarters in New York and the network aired it on their "Weekend Dimension" show and the following week it was broadcast again on the "Mike Wallace At Large" show. The annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention was off and running.

One of the items discussed in our post convention critique meeting was the need to establish a permanent date of the event. It was felt that early November was too risky from a bad weather standpoint, which was experienced at our first event. We decided that an earlier date was desirable and that a look into the weather records would be made to try to settle on a warmer and drier date. The weather records indicated that the first weekend in October was the most favorable and that date was selected as the permanent date. With few exceptions, good weather has been the rule with remarkable consistency for the past twenty-nine years. Year by year, the convention steadily grew and national publicity, beginning with the CBS radio exposure, continued. The TVOTFA newsletter with regional circulation was expanded into a full-fledged journal/magazines for traditional fiddle players and named The Devil's Box. Nationally known writers on the subject began to contribute to the magazine. Significant contributions to the TVOTFA, its convention, and The Devil's Box were made by Dr. Stephen F. Davis and Dr. Charles K. Wolfe. Steve Davis, psychology professor at Emporia State University and noted collector and published writer on old time music, became the editor of The Devil's Box in the early 1970's and was the convention judging chairman until 1982. (He continues as editor ofThe Devil's Box, which is still being published under the aegis of the Tennessee Folklore Society.) Charles Wolfe, professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University is one of the world's most respected and prolific writers on American traditional and popular music. He is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. Over the years he has generously contributed more than fifty articles to The Devil's Box. The Vanderbilt University Press will publish his latest book, The Devil’s Box: Masters of Southern Fiddling, in a few months. With invaluable support such as that given by Charles Wolfe Steve Davis The Devil's Box quickly attained national and even international circulation and it consistently promoted the convention. We began to see participants and spectators from a wide area of the U.S. and even foreign visitors.

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The Delmore Brothers

Past Champs

2013 Events
Articles

Below are a series of articles that were recently published by the Athens News Courier. They are part of a series of articles remembering five old-time fiddlers important to Limestone County’s fiddling tradition by Jim Holland, guest writer.

August 25, 2011
A History of Fiddling: Discovery, Archaeology and Fiddling

Fiddlers History

August 25, 2011
Discovery, Archaeology and Fiddling: The Chambers Brothers and 'The Lost Connection'— Part 2

Fiddlers History

August 25, 2011
Discovery, Archaeology and Fiddling: Sam McCracken — Gentleman with the stately fiddling — Part 3

Fiddlers History

August 25, 2011
Discovery, Archaeology and Fiddling: Paisley Hagood – When To Start and When To Quit

Fiddlers History

 
 

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