Galax, Virginia's "Old Fiddlers' Convention": The Virtues and Flaws of a Giant Fiddle Contest

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The enormous annual fiddle 'convention' arranged by the Moose Lodge in Galax, Virginia, has long been the largest contest in the Southeast, despite serious flaws. Every year, hundreds of musicians hear each other both on stage and in jam sessions here. But these performers and their fans pack the venue to the brusting point. Festival gigantism is the tendency of attractive events to grow and deteriorate, eventually reaching a stable overblown size reflecting an uneasy equilibrium between persisting virtues and cumulative unpleasantness. At Galax, minimal administration exacerbates routine annoyances attendant on gigantism. Avoidable scheduling problems abound. This and numerous other factors have eroded the sort of ideological stake that participants have in smaller local contests, which benefit a county scholarship fund, a volunteer fire department, etc. Why do so many musicians keep coming to Galax year after year? That they choose to negotiate the inevitable inconvenience of this convention is a vivid and annually reinforced testimony to the values associated with old-time music and bluegrass, namely doing something for yourself, communion with family and friends, and faith that a 'better' past can be invoked to shape a healthier present and future. For the musicians who play at Galax, nostalgia is not just a feeling, but an emotional model made concrete on numerous fiddle contest weekends, and served especially well by the block of a full week playing and visiting at Galax. It is not just abstract, vague nostalgia, then, it is a way of life briefly but intensely enacted. Thus, both the usual problems of festival gigantism and the tropes on the drawbacks peculiar to Galax are swept aside by remarkably powerful good feelings.

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World of Music





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