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Fiddlers Convention to return in 2014

Adam Orr/AMT
Jane Lonon addresses the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 16 at the Ashe County Courthouse. The iconic Ashe County Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention will return in 2014 following a unanimous vote by county commissioners Monday afternoon.

Originally published: Dec. 17
Last modified: Dec. 17

Adam Orr

The iconic Ashe County Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention will return in 2014 following a unanimous vote by county commissioners Monday afternoon.

Despite ending in uncertainty this summer, the fiddlers convention will celebrate its 45th year in August, and its first under the leadership of the Ashe County Arts Council.

“We wanted this signature event for Ashe County to continue, and we felt like we had the leadership and the organizational capacity to do it well,” Executive Director of the Ashe County Arts Council Jane Lonon told the Ashe County Board of Commissioners Dec. 16.
The event will be held at Ashe County Park Aug. 1-2, 2014.

Lonon said the arts council has researched the feasibility of sponsoring the old time music jam since August after meeting with the Rotary Club of the Jeffersons, the event’s previous sponsor.

After more than four decades of mountain music, the club announced June 27, that the 2013 Ashe County Fiddlers Convention would be the last under its leadership.

“When the time came to look at our priorities for supporting these scholarships and our area youth, the club felt that more attention should be paid to other ventures that could potentially increase the amount we contribute,”  Rotary Club of the Jeffersons President Cameron Keziah said in June.

Ashe County Parks and Recreation Director Scott Turnmyre was also approached about the possibility of continuing the event at Ashe County Park which Lonon said was essential for the convention’s success.

“We felt strongly that the event should continue at the park,” Lonon said. “It’s an ideal location for such an event, and we felt that if it wasn’t to continue there it wouldn’t be the right fit for us.”

Local and regional musicians were also given a chance to offer their take on the plan, Lonon said.

Lonon cited the importance of traditional music to Ashe County, and the fiddler’s conventions significant impact to the economy as two primary factors in the arts council’s desire to sponsor the event, in addition to using convention revenues to fund its Junior Appalachian Musicians Program.

The program offers free instruction in banjo, fiddle and guitar to fourth, fifth and sixth grade student, and supplemental JAM programs are offered at Ashe County Middle School, the Summer Parks Program and the JAM Club for alumni students.

“(These students) hold the traditional love of music in their heart,” Lonon said. “We want to be able to grow and expand that.”

Lonon requested that the event be sanctioned by the board of commissioners “as a signature event held on county property,” and asked for permission to work with Turnmyre and his staff.

The arts council will also charge admission to the event, Lonon said, to offer cash awards to competitors and as a way to fund the JAM program.

“We’ve done preliminary work on what our budget will look like, and it’s not an inexpensive event to produce,” Lonon said. “We’re taking a look at what those (gate fees) have been...and we will keep them pretty much in line with the past.”

As in past years, Lonon said entry to the park would be granted for those wishing to use the facilities independent of the fiddlers convention.

“Flexibility has been an option in the past,” Lonon said. “I think our volunteers will be trained enough to be flexible to know that if somebody is not there for the fiddler’s convention they can let them in.”

Lonon also requested that commissioners waive the $500 daily fee to use Ashe County Park, and were asked for their “seal of approval” to move forward with the event.

The board was initially split on the fee waiver, as Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe said, “I think we should charge them; we charge individuals. I think you’re setting a precedent if you close the park down for one group. I’m for (the arts council) having it there under the same rules rotary had, but not waive the fee.”

Poe was reminded by Lonon that Rotary had never paid a fee to use the park for the event, and Poe said, “Yes, rotary didn’t pay, but it’s changed from 25 years ago with extra staff, restroom, water and septic.”

Turnmyre told commissioners that the rotary club was never charged out of “respect for what rotary did to make Ashe Park possible,” and because the event never shut the park down for the entire day.

Like past events, Turnmyre said the Arts Council’s proposed convention would prevent him from taking shelter reservation on Friday and Saturday, and said the park would close down three disc golf baskets.

“Which is minimal,” Turnmyre said. “Three ball fields would also remain available.”

Commissioners William Sands, Gerald Price, Larry Rhodes and Gary Roark supported the fee waiver, and Roark said, “If the park is still open to the public, the (arts council) really shouldn’t be charged.”

Commissioners ultimately unanimously supported each of Lonon’s requests.

Pre-publicity efforts will begin in January, Lonon said, as the arts council outlines organizational and promotional details.

The arts council will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, January 13 at the Ashe Arts Center to gather community input on the convention plan.

“Communication with musicians is especially important in how we construct the events to be competitive with similar competitions and to be a satisfying event for our local musicians,” Lonon said.

An advisory committee will be created to supplement the work of the Arts Council’s Fiddler’s Convention Committee, Lonon said, and the convention date will also be posted on Calendar of Event listings and on appropriate websites.

For more information, visit ashecountyarts.org, or call (336) 846-2787.
For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.