Carroll County Times

Fiddler's convention celebrates 40 years

It was more than 40 years ago when Megan Shook took David Greene to North Carolina for the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers' Convention.

Started in 1924, the event was known for being a hub for bluegrass and old-time musicians.

"They had such tremendous music but they had lousy places for them to play," Greene said. "But I thought, 'gee, we can do an awful lot better than that.' So that's what we did."

In 1972, Greene and Shook founded the Deer Creek Fiddler's Convention, a Maryland-based event for old-time, bluegrass and Celtic musicians.

The 40th anniversary of the Deer Creek Fiddler's Convention was held Saturday at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster.

"This kind of convention really brings musicians together," Shook said.

The convention was first held in Harford County but has called the farm museum home for more than 20 years.

The event is put on by Common Ground on the Hill, a traditional, roots-based music and arts organization, whose mission is to provide the opportunity to teach and study various musical instruments and art forms representing various ethnic and cultural traditions.

More than 1,000 people filled the museum grounds to hear the variety of bluegrass, old-time and Celtic music from more than 50 musicians.

Prize money was awarded to the top three performances in 14 categories including bluegrass and old-time banjo, mandolin and vocalist.

While the musicians competed on the main stage, music was playing all day long around the grounds.

"It's a competition but that's not at the heart of the thing, the competition sort of serves to bring people together to do this. There's as much good music out under the trees as there is on stage," said Walt Michael, founder of Common Ground on the Hill.

Called shade-tree picking, the convention is known for the jam sessions on-going throughout the day, Michael said.

"It's a chance for musicians in the area to meet each other," Michael said. "I've seen bands form as a result of people seeing each other. It's a pretty cool thing."

It's not uncommon to see different musicians jumping in and out of different groups forming under trees or near benches.

"The thing about old-time [music] is that it's actually a fairly small group overall so you tend to meet up in places all over the place, and you run across the same people and you know a lot of the same tunes. A lot of the bands are sort of intermixed with members from other bands," said Freya Qually, who plays in an old-time band.

Barb Schmid, who played two songs with the Bullfrog Valley Old-Time String Band, said the off-stage music is what brings her to the convention.

"This is why we come," Schmid said. "We compete just because it's entertaining for people, but this is why we come. To get together with people and play the tunes together and learn new tunes; it's just a community that's built up that way."