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Annual fiddler’s convention brings bluegrass to east Rowan

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — Bluegrass bands and musicians trekked to east Rowan on Saturday night for the 51st annual Granite Quarry Civilian Fiddlers Convention.

A spinoff of the well-known Union Grove Fiddler’s Convention, the local event started in 1967 when then-principal of Granite Quarry Elementary School James Mathis suggested the idea to the Granite Quarry Civitan Club. Mathis had previously worked as a school principal in Union Grove.

Decades later, the event still draws a crowd of attendees and dozens of participants.

North Carolina Bluegrass Association President Vivian Hopkins said she enjoys the Granite Quarry Fiddler’s Convention because it allows younger generations to learn about the music.

“I enjoy seeing so many local and regional youth coming up in bluegrass and learning the old traditional music and excelling,” Hopkins said. “We’re carrying it on. It’s passing the torch.”

The best of the convention participants received awards and small cash prizes for their talents, but for many the opportunity to play music with friends and acquaintances trumped any awards that came as a result.

In fact, one trio of friends traveled Saturday to East Rowan High School — the site of Saturday’s convention — only to play music with one another.

“We just came to jam,” said Aaron Efird of China Grove.

In a corner of East Rowan High, Efird was joined by Kannapolis residents Brad Martin and Dewey Farmer, who’s attended nearly all of the 51 fiddlers conventions in Granite Quarry.

The trio said they didn’t plan to compete in the convention, but Farmer recalled a time when a group of musicians who started jamming might form a band and win.

“You could come by yourself, and in 20 minutes you might have your bass and your banjo and be ready to go,” Farmer said.

Unlike the trio, members of the band Movin’ on Bluegrass planned to compete in the convention — one of the few contests they’re willing to participate in. Since placing first in the Renofest Bluegrass festival in 2007, the band has opted not to travel for competitions.

Like others, however, members of Movin’ on Bluegrass said they weren’t concerned with whether they received any awards on Saturday.

“When you get on stage, you’re just playing for the people in the audience,” said band member Howard Honeycutt. “That competition is gone and you’re not worried about the competition. You’re having fun.”

Band member Rick Blackwelder said playing music on stage is relaxing.

Jimmy Ball, practicing across the hall from Moving’ on Bluegrass, said playing music is a stress reliever from his work as an animal control officer.

On Saturday, Ball played guitar for his wife Beth — both from Cleveland — as she competed in the vocal category. Later in the night, he played guitar and sang in the vocal category, too.

In order to win, Ball joked that he might intentionally play poorly when his wife sang. If he didn’t play up to his potential on Saturday, he didn’t let on. In fact, his wife finished second runner-up in the vocal category. He didn’t place.

Meanwhile, winners of named awards on Saturday included Lena Preslar of Oakboro, who won the Don and Margaret Livengood Memorial Excellence in Bluegrass Award, and Josh Green of Monroe who won the John Ralph Pennington Memorial Award.

Event organizers also honored Glen Alexander of Charlotte, a fiddler, for his accomplishments in bluegrass and traditional music.

First place awards presented Saturday are as follows:

• Youth fiddle: Grace Bemus

• Youth banjo: Ayla Turney

• Youth guitar: Jake Goforth

• Youth mandolin: Sam Davis

• Youth bass: Benjamin Hoffman

• Youth vocals: Lena Preslar

• Adult fiddle: Josh Green

• Adult banjo: Curt Love

• Adult guitar: Gabe Bemus

• Adult mandolin: Donnie Hatley

• Adult bass: Ricky Blackwelder

• Adult Dobro: Sandy Hatley

• Adult vocals: Zoei Starnes

• Adult band: Parlor House Band

Contact Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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