Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pickin' in the Rain

It had rained this morining and was overcast all day. In the late afternoon, it became more threatening, but we ventured out for an evening of individual clawhammer banjo (122 registered competitors), autoharp (53), and guitar (295)--and rain. On our way to the 73rd Annual Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, VA, it began to pour.

"Why are we doing this?" asked one in our party.

"It'll be an adventure," answered the other.

The skies opened up and visibility was so limited that I pulled into a church's parking lot to wait for the storm to let up. At that time, the radio program we were listening to was interrupted with an emergency weather warning for towns just to the south of Galax: "severe thunderstorms . . . winds could possibly reach 70 mph , , , advise people in the designated area to take cover in a secure building."

"Why are we doing this again?" asked one.

"People here need the rain. This will soon pass," answered the second.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, the rain had virtually stopped.

At 6:00 the person giving the invocation referred to the much-needed rain as a welcome blessing.

Competition then began and continued until the final string was picked. With playing time for each entrant limited to 2 minutes, 30 seconds--you do the math--we knew we were in for a long evening.

It is difficult to write about an auditory experience through a visual medium, so we have included two photographs to show some out-of-the-ordinary occurrences at the night's competition. In the first photo, the woman playing the washtub was accompanying the person in the clawhammer banjo competition. The inverted washtub has a cord attached to a broom handle driven into the tub. It is played by slapping the cord to produce a note. The effect is to simulate the sound of a string bass. This was the only one we had seen thus far in the competition.

This photo shows Wayne Henderson (right), champion guitarist and renown maker of guitars, playing back-up for a person competing in the autoharp category. Even the top people simply enjoy playing in any capacity.

As it turned out, about half of the clawhammer banjo competitors did not appear, so this category was completed in two hours. (Cancellations were the order of the day in the autoharp and guitar competition, also.) By the time the emcee walks to the microphone and introduces the next contestant (name, number, hometown, and musical selection), the previous contestant has walked off stage and the next contestant has arrived. No sound check, no set-up, and only a stage hand to adjust the microphone in that short time.

This photo shows the backstage area. The line forms on the left under the sign reading "No tuning or playing in the tent." Each person enters the stage on the left and exits through a door to the right (not shown). Very orderly, very efficient.

We took a walk around the concession area to capture these next photographs. We had been talking about how reasonable the prices of food have been in the restaurants in which we've eaten. In contrast, the menu for Outback Kate's shows prices that seemed a bit high--note the Gator Nuggets ($10), Gator Burrito ($13) and even the chicken burrito ($10).

The last photo shows people at the Convention. In a conversation with a fellow from Blacksburg, I learned that in the past when alcohol was served there were often fights and, in general, a less safe environment. Now, with a no alcohol policy, a very casual air is present.

At 12:03 am the emcee announced: "Good evening everybody."

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