Bluegrass is music that “touches the soul,” said Linda Cabe.
Cabe was sitting on the picnic table outside of Yadkinville Elementary School on Saturday playing her banjo along with Gary Saunders and Chad Richie. The three had just met and decided on the spot to compete together in the band category at the annual Yadkin Valley Bluegrass and Old-Time Convention. The group had yet to choose a name and were still on the lookout for a fourth member to join their band, a fiddle player.
In addition to touching souls, bluegrass music can undoubtedly melt hearts as well. That became obvious when 3-year-old Whitley McGee took to the stage to play her fiddle in the junior fiddle competition, her face and fingers still covered with cheese doodle dust from the snack she’d finished just moments before. A number of young people competed at the event including Whitley’s siblings, Gus and Millie. The children’s father, Rex McGee, said he used to compete at the festival when he was a youngster and his grandfather was also a past winner at the event.
The Yadkin Valley Bluegrass and Old-Time Convention is a tradition spanning more than 30 years, said Yadkin Arts Council President John Willingham.
“We look at it as a real family event and this year really demonstrates that as we have more kids than I’ve ever seen,” Willingham said.
“Unbelievable,” Willingham said of the many talented young people at the event. “We’re really proud of that fact. The youth component of this event is really growing.”
McGee said it was a great place for new experiences for his youngest child who was getting to play on stage for the first time. It was also a chance to grow and improve for those who have playing for a while. McGee said it was also a great activity for the kids to enjoy that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.
Having come from a family of musicians, he said he felt it was important to continue passing on the tradition of bluegrass and old-time music.
“Since there is so much competition in the modern world for your attention this is probably in danger of fading into a forgotten part of our culture,” McGee said.
Bill Vanhoy said he, too, was proud of the younger generation taking an interest in the music. He said his grandfather, George Ireland, was one of the best known fiddle players around in his day. His granddaughter, Sophia Pyles, has now taken an interest and competed at the event.
Event organizer Robert Steelman said the primary goal of the convention is to keep the old music alive.
While the competition was happening inside the school’s multipurpose room, musicians were outside enjoying the sunshine and practicing for their turn on the stage.
Daniel Thrailkill, part of the band The Trailblazers, said they were looking forward to competing and mostly just having fun playing on stage.
Saunders, Richie and Cabe summed up the event by calling bluegrass music “everlasting,” “timeless” and “fun.”
Winners in the Bluegrass band category were, from first to fifth place, Destination Bluegrass, Valley Ridge Boys, Can You Hear Me Now, The Trailblazers and Gaining Ground. In the Old-Time Band category winners were, from first to fifth place, Slate Mountain Ramblers, Strictly Strings, The Del-Ray Brothers, Tater Hill Mashers and New River Coots.
In the senior bluegrass fiddle category winners were Tori Jones, Anissa Burnett and Henry Mabe in third place. Travis Watts claimed first place in junior bluegrass fiddle, with Eliza Meyers in second and Alec McCallister in third. In senior old-time fiddle Willow Dillon came in first followed by Anissa Burnett and Kathleen Burnett. In junior old-time fiddle, Eliza Moore claimed first with Asa Nelson in second and Anneli Burnett is third. Danny Bowers came in first in senior bluegrass banjo followed by Jimmy Paschal and Tray Wellington.
Liam Purcell came in first in junior bluegrass banjo with Travis Watts in second and Jordan McCallister in third. In senior old-time banjo Marsha Todd came in first with Jared Boyd in second and Willow Dillon in third. Caleb Coatney came in first in junior old-time banjo with Henry Coatney in second and Asa Nelson in third. Jimmy Paschal claimed first place in senior mandolin with Todd Hiatt in second and Eva Casstevens in third. Jonah Horton came in first in junior mandolin, Caleb Coatney in second and Elijah Moore in third.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.