by Steve Hall
Board Member, Official Kentucky State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest
In baseball, when a player is called up to pinch hit, he’s generally a big hitter and everybody expects him to deliver better than the feller he’s hittin’ for. When I thought about that for a moment, my excitement about stepping in for Terry quickly faded, because this feels more like bringing in the pitcher in place of your power hitter. I’ll take a swing at it, but chances of a hit were far better with the other feller. I look forward to Terry’s posts, and he does a great job every time out. I reckon if you’re reading this, he either didn’t have time to write anything himself, or he decided this was good enough to sit amongst his work. I’m gonna assume the latter and feel good about that.
By way of introduction, my father, Jodie Hall, was the founder of the Official Kentucky State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest, held at Rough River for 4 decades. Terry asked if I could share with his readers a bit about how the contest came into being. Well, when Terry Strange asks for a favor, you’ve gotta step up to the plate. So here goes. The first contest was actually held at the Grayson County fairgrounds in Leitchfield on July 4, 1974. But its roots go back way yonder past that, plumb back to the 1930’s and 40’s.
Dad was born in 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression. His family lived in western Hardin County, at the Breckinridge County line, near the head of Rough Creek. Times were hard, more than most of us can comprehend today, and music was hard to come by. Today, we have instant music, anytime, anywhere. Back then, you had to seek it out or play it yourself. This often involved walking several miles on a weekend to a house where they were having a dance. I don’t know how everybody found out about a dance back then, but they did. And boy did they ever turn out for it! In rain, snow, and bitter cold, pert near everybody in the community would show up at the house, and they’d move all the furniture out of the sitting room and dance til mornin’.
Dad’s Uncle Joe played the fiddle, and Dad grew up listening to him play and call square dances. Dad learned to play the guitar, mandolin, and several other instruments, his brother Staley played the bass, and when their little brother Reedy was finally big enough to play, Dad taught him how to chord the old piano in the front room of their home. Reedy and his band, The Kentucky Ramblers, would go on to start the Lincoln Jamboree in Hodgenville, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Friends and neighbors would visit and often stay a few days, and most every night concluded with a jam session. Dad could play most anything, but his true love was the fiddle. He never was a great fiddler himself, but he surrounded himself with great fiddlers and loved playing with them more than anything in the world. His best friend Leonard “Ragweed” Best in E’town, Lonnie Peerce in Louisville, Bud Meredith, Herman Alvey, and his buddy Randall Meredith in Leitchfield, all were great friends he picked with every chance he got.
So when Dad attended the Tennessee Valley Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in the early 70’s, he found his calling. He decided if they could do it in Athens, Alabama, then they could do it in Leitchfield, Kentucky, and he set out to figure out how a feller would do such a thing. Dad knew he was gonna need a lot of help, both promoting and emceeing the event, so that was his first task.
Leo Mudd was a brassy young KSP trooper making a name for himself in those days, and he was perfect for the job. Only problem was, Leo was promoting and DJ’ing Leitchfield’s big-time disco dances – hey, if you were there, you know they were actually pretty darned great for little ol’ Leitchfield - so a fiddlin’ contest wasn’t exactly gonna turn his head.
What Leo did care about was people, especially youth and folks with special needs. He was heavily involved in the March of Dimes and T.A.P., the Teen Action Program, which was a group of teens who volunteered to serve others in their community. Dad got with Leo and told him his idea, and they decided the fiddlin’ contest would serve to raise money for the March of Dimes, and the M.O.D. and T.A.P. volunteers could be the event staff. That turned out to be a beautiful marriage, and the partnership lasted for many years, with many of the same folks working the contest for years to come.
After Leo came on board, and a host of volunteers with him, they were ready to go. They held the first contest at the fairgrounds just down from our house in Leitchfield, and from all accounts, it was a pretty good start. The following year, they decided to move to Rough River and take advantage of the natural amphitheater by the tailwaters below the dam. The 4th was a pretty big weekend for the park already, so they suggested the 3rd weekend in July when they didn’t have anything else going on.
Dad and Leo went to Frankfort and had the contest named the Official Kentucky State Championship, and in July of 1975, they held the 1st official state championship. It was modeled after the contest in Athens, Alabama, that had provided the inspiration.
Tough times followed and the contest wasn’t always a success. I clearly recall a year where Dad announced it was probably their last, and a feller got up out of the audience and turned his hat over on the stage and put some money in it. Most everybody in the audience followed suit, and bailed them out of a bad year. Through times like that, just like our friend Terry Strange, Dad’s love for music and his desire to share it with others drove him to stay the course. Lifelong friends like Leo Mudd, Brent Miller, who took the reins as coordinator when Dad needed to step down, and all the music friends he made through the years are a testimony to the rewards a life full of music can bring.
If your life isn’t filled with music - real music, played on a real instrument - then maybe it’s time to give my buddy Terry a holler. You never know where it might lead. Uncle Joe made a choice to play the fiddle, and the impacts of that choice are so far reaching they are simply immeasurable.
Thank you Steve for sharing with us the history of the Official Kentucky State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest. Please visit the official website of the championship for news and information http://kyfiddler.weebly.com/.
You can hear from back stage that the place is a sold-out crowd. Ten minutes before show time and your stomach feels like you just swallowed the back tire off a school bus. You anticipate it will be a great show if you can just get through it in one piece. You've practiced for hours, getting every note smooth and your music set is in order. You know you can do this and the time has come to face the crowd and that microphone. The M.C. announces the show is ready to begin and calls for the curtain to open. And just like that you're ready to present yourself on stage for the first time in front of hundreds of people. You have entered a new world and a new direction in your life, a world only a few select ever get to experience but ALL want. You have just become a Professional Musician. This week we look at how to cross the line from amateur to pro and be prepared when that great moment arrives.
For most of my twenties and into my thirties I went from one lifelong dream to another. During that time, I was playing in a really good band that was receiving a lot of exposure in the music world. Working a full-time job and being booked to play almost every weekend was a dream come true for me. You see, I started playing music at the age of five. Even at that young age I loved the excitement and thrill of the performance. At the age of six I was taking my guitar to school on a regular basis to perform for my classmates. From that moment of my first school debut I longed to get better at my craft and desired to someday play as a professional musician. So, not knowing that later in life my dream would become reality, I worked very hard and long hours to improve my music.
What does it take for you to become a professional musician? What steps must you take to work towards that goal? Well we will explore what I think just may help you succeed.
First, if you want to be a pro in your field, you're going to have to break the terrible amateur habit of looking at what other musicians have without paying attention to what they did to get it. Chasing the results without understanding the process or labor they went through will lead to a short-lived career and failure. A really good friend of mine and a very well-known professional musician once advised me early in my career “Don’t do what I do. Think like I think if you want to make it in the music world.” That proved to be some very good advice. Here are other things I have discovered over the years that just may help.
Amateurs have to be wait for clarity. Professionals take actions.
What do I mean by that? In my case, I spent way too long waiting for someone to call me a musician before I was willing to act like one. In time, I learned that clarity came with action and action produced clarity. We MUST perform our way into professionalism. One thing I have to renew in my life daily but learned years ago is we must first call ourselves what we want to become then get to work on the mastery of the craft. Not only must you constantly improve our skills on our instrument of choice but we have to look and act the part of a professional.
Amateurs want to just arrive. Professionals want to always get better.
“We are all apprentices in a craft no one ever masters” goes the saying. Some just get better at it faster. For the longest time I just wanted to be recognized as a musician. It wasn’t until I started teaching and performing around true masters that I realized just how little I knew and how much I still had to grow as a musician. Your goal should always be to grow from a good musician into a masterful and creative one. Make your own path and style and become different at what you do. If you don’t do this, you delude yourself into thinking you’re better than you really are which is the fastest route to failure.
Amateurs just practice as much as they have to. Professionals never stop even to the point of it becoming painful. It’s just not enough to show up every day. You have to keep challenging yourself, keep pushing beyond your limits. This is the true key to growth in music. I remember over hearing a conversion between my Dad and a blind student I once had. The student asked my Dad if I was always able to play so precisely. His answer was immediate, NO. He explained “Yyou don’t know the nights his mother and I laid in the room next to his and prayed to God that he would learn that lick or song he had repeated over and over thousands of times or he would just give up.” What am I trying to say? You have to practice, practice, and practice more. Eat, sleep and live with our instrument as if it has become attached to you. Always remember this important fact. Practice doesn’t make perfect--perfect practice make perfect.
Amateurs jump at their dreams. Professionals build bridges.
It’s not about the giant leaps of faith or getting your big break like most people think. If you’re waiting on that to happen you might want to pack a lunch. Once again, it’s all about the daily practice to improve yourself better than anyone else and develop a style of your own. Look at it as if it was more of a marathon than a sprint. Commit to your practice time and make every minute count for something. You have to make goals for yourself and see them through.
Amateurs fear failure. Professionals crave it.
You will have to have many failures on your way to success. I can promise you that. I have failed and disappointed myself time and time again over the years. Remember that it’s a natural thing to fail. The important thing is that we as musicians learn how to grow from it and move on. What a professional knows that others don’t is the failure can teach you more than success ever will. Truly successful musicians use failure to move forward in their careers and don’t look back.
Amateurs just want to be noticed. Professionals just want to be remembered.
You have to care more about the legacy than the ego. Most of us and yes, I include myself in this, sometimes are too focused on the big break instead of delaying immediate gratification in exchange for long-term success. Immediate gratification is what most musicians seek, hearing the response of the crowd and seeing a good reaction to a show well played. Yes, that is very important to every musician out there but don’t let the moment overcome you. Don’t let the success of the moment make you overbearing to the people or musicians around you. Keep in mind that you're in this for the long haul. Don’t become so wrapped up in your success that you forget to recognize and thank the fans and the people who put you there. Always take time after your performance for the fans and maybe they will always remember your kindness and most important remember YOU!
I hope this was some use for you and you understand that being in the spot light sometimes isn’t what it seems. Being a professional never is an easy road to travel and it takes a ton of work to keep it productive and exciting. Hard work and smart decisions will help make your dreams come true.
Taking Local Music To The World.