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Fiddlers to convene for strumming, singing


Most parents sit back and bask in their childrens' accomplishments, but Ray Hesson competes against his kids.

Mr. Hesson and his sons, Mike, 21, and Ray Jr., 24, have participated in banjo and guitar competitions for about seven years.

On Sunday, the sounds of folks picking, strumming and singing will fill the air of Carroll County Farm Museum during the 55th Deer Creek Fiddlers' Convention.

That's where you'll find the Hessons -- also known as Pointer Ridge, a bluegrass band playing its version of the family feud.

"What's a little family rivalry? We've had a lot of fun with this," said the elder Hesson, a banjo player for 35 years.

Fiddlers, banjo, mandolin and guitar players and bands playing old-time or bluegrass music can be heard beginning at 11 a.m. The event runs until the last string is plucked during the contest finals from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The competition usually draws about a dozen bands and close to 100 performers, said David Greene, a co-sponsor of the event.

"There are 8- to 12-year olds playing banjos and you'll see older people in their 50s and 60s," said Dottie Freeman, administrator at the museum.

"Folks bring their instruments and start jamming with other people," she said. "It's just a great atmosphere."

The purpose of the convention is to encourage the traditional old-time and bluegrass styles of American folk music.

All day, groups of musicians can be found on the farm museum grounds warming up for their on-stage appearance. Some will be grouped on the front and back porch of the farmhouse, some alongside the Spring House, and some under any large shade tree available, Ms. Freeman said.

"What I like most of all is the clusters of groups rehearsing for their moment on stage," Ms. Freeman said. "You can see visitors seeking out their favorites, maybe someone on the bass fiddle or other instruments. You can pick the groups you want to hear."

More than $3,000 in cash prizes will be given to performers in 13 categories, including old-time and bluegrass competitions for bands, fiddlers, banjos, mandolins, guitars, dobros, basses, special instruments and young performers, under age 14.

The Hesson family garnered several awards last year. Mike beat his father by taking second place in guitar. Mr. Hesson took first in banjo and third in guitar. Ray Jr. placed first in vocals.

As Pointer Ridge, they took second in the band category. The band, scheduled to play about 6 p.m., took its name from the subdivision where the family lives in Bowie.

Besides the competitions, other types of entertainment will be available during the day. At 10:45 a.m., the Sacred Harp Singers will perform. The Cub Hill Cloggers will put on two shows at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Sponsoring the event are Megan Shook and her husband, Walter, her brother Mr. Greene and his wife, Anne, all of Baltimore. Ms. Shook works in medical administration and billing at Union Memorial Hospital and her brother teaches physics at Towson State University.

"Neither one of us is a performer," Ms. Shook said. "My brother is a musician, not really a performer."

Their love of bluegrass and old-time music came from watching Canadian television broadcasts of "Prairie Schooner" as children upstate New York. As adults that affection prompted them to attend fiddlers' conventions throughout the Carolinas.

"My brother is very entrepreneurial," said Ms. Shook of their decision to bring conventions northward. "He just goes ahead and does things."

Doing things, turned out to be the first fiddlers' convention at Deer Creek in northern Harford County 23 years ago. For the first two years, conventions were two-day affairs planned around the full moon -- so when participants set up camp, the land would be lighted by the moon.

After four years, the convention was moved to Norrisville Flats, also in Harford County. One year it was held in Baltimore, then two more were at Oregon Ridge in Baltimore County, two at Towson State University and finally in 1981, the Deer Creek Fiddlers Convention found a home at Carroll County Farm Museum.

The only cancellation was in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes hit and washed away the 20- by 40-foot stage.

"We really look forward to it each year," said Mr. Greene, whhas made the convention part of his life's routine.

"We had no idea it would last this long. We plan on putting o many, many more. We don't get as tense these days though. It's not a hard thing to do anymore," he said.

Ms. Freeman said she enjoys the competition's mixing of music with the old-time atmosphere of the farm museum grounds.

The Farm Museum's General Store will be open selling nickel candy, souvenirs, memorabilia and handmade crafts.

A second fiddlers' convention this year is scheduled for July 30.

People attending are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for sitting. Pets and alcohol are prohibited. Parking is free. Carroll County Farm Museum is at 500 S. Center St., Westminster.

Tickets are $7 per person at the gate. Advance tickets are $5 and nonrefundable.

Tickets are available at Baltimore Bluegrass in Baltimore; Boe's Strings, Frederick; Power Pets and Music, Chesapeake City; and Carroll County Farm Museum.

Information: 848-7775, 876-2667 or 1-800-654-4645.

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