Celebrating good old time music

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 10, 2010

Historic Jefferson College in Washington is hosting its third annual Great Big Yam Potatoes Gathering Fiddle Contest and Old Time Music Gathering Saturday, May 15. This event features a fiddling contest, as well as a daylong concert of Old Time Music, performed by some of Mississippi’s most noted Old Time Music musicians.

The event begins at 8:45 a.m., with the VFW Honor Guard raising the flag, led by veteran Jack Kerwin. The contest starts at 9 a.m. in the old historic West Wing and continues throughout the day until 4 p.m., with contestants ranging in age from children to adults.

Outside on the grounds, under the old oak trees, an Old Time music concert will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Arthur Davis, from the Old Country Store in Lorman, is selling his famous fried chicken for the event from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Mississippi has a long tradition of fiddle contests that reached its height of popularity in the 19th century and lasted to the 1930s. During that period these contests were greatly anticipated and well attended by the general public. This event is a revival of this spirit and is a chance for the public to relive that historic time.

The fiddle contest begins at 9 a.m. in the West Wing and is divided into three age categories. The first to compete are the peewees, for contestants age 1 to 11 — this group plays one tune of choice in the old-time style. The juniors, ages 12 to 17, are the second to compete at 10:15 a.m. and this group plays two old-time style tunes. At 11:30 there will be a break from the contest, while the Clinton Ramblers perform Old Time dance music in the West Wing.

Awards for the Peewee and Junior division will be given out at 12:45. The final competition is for seniors, for ages 18 and over, and kicks off at 1 p.m. These contestants may play one tune in just one category or a tune in all categories: dance tune and waltz, cross tuning or tune of choice. Their awards will be given out at 2:45 p.m.

Fiddlers pay a $5 fee for each category entered, and only old-time style playing is permitted for judging. This excludes Texas, bluegrass and classical styles. Fiddlers who wish to play but not be judged can pay a $10 fee.

The outside performances begin at 9 a.m. with R. W. Gray on solo guitar, playing a mix of Old Time and Irish music with a little Woody Guthrie thrown in. At 10 a.m. John Hurt will perform music that explores his life and the geography of the blues. He will be joined by Reeves Jones, who plays his own original music with a vintage Martin D-28 guitar. Johnny and Beth Rawls will perform Old Timey claw banjo and guitar music at 11 a.m. Connie and Hal Jeanes Old Timey gospel with harmony singing are slated to begin at noon.

At 12:30 p.m., Children’s Storyteller Ms. Lizzie Turner will tell stories outside the fiddle contest (West Wing) building. At 1 p.m., The Dead Fiddlers Collective performs a repertoire of Old Time, Gospel, Klezmer and Irish music, with the support of a jug rhythm section. They are followed at 2 p.m. by the Canegrinders, who not only perform Old Time Music, but who are also scholars on that type of music genre.

At 3 p.m., Pat and Cindi’s Cajun Retinue perform, with Shea O’Mire on the drums, Cajun, Old Time and cross-tuning fiddle with Waltzes and Mazurkas.

The outside concert concludes at 4 p.m. with a performance by Old Time band, Bridging the Gap.

Robert W. Gray, the organizer and a performer for this event, will have on display in the Prospere Hall visitors’ center his photographic exhibit Exposure Zone. It will be displayed from May 1-May 31. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., May 14 Gray will be having a special showing and reception of his exhibit at the museum for the public.

This event is sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Mississippi Old Time Music Society, The Mississippi Fiddlers Association and the Natchez Moose Lodge. It is free admission to all events.

Seating is limited and visitors should bring their own blanket or chair for sitting. Anyone interested in Old Time Music should not miss this event!

For more information contact Historic Jefferson College at hjc@mdah.state.ms.us or call 601-442-2901.

This event will go on regardless of the weather.

H. Clark Burkett is a historian at Historic Jefferson College.