Berea Citizen ~ August 21, 1919
“Old Fiddlers Night”
Under the auspices of [the] Progress Club the people of Berea were given the greatest treat last Friday night that they have had in many moons. It was the Old Fiddlers’ Contest, given for the benefit of the citizens of Berea and the Graded School—the money to go to the school and the fun to the folks.
Fifteen royal fiddlers, the pick of the covey, were in the ring. They were culled from the whole tribe of worshippers of the horse hair, from Pine Mountain and Hell-fer-Sartain to Joe’s Lick and Pilot Knob. Berea turned out en merry masse to hear the fiddling, and they were not disappointed. No one except those whose musical sense has been revolutionized by a course in a conservatory could have failed to see the fun.
Hiram Botner, an artist of the first water from the Sturgeon and Wild Dog country, set all the toes a-wiggle with “Billy in the Low Grounds.” After that for more than two hours scarcely a foot could be kept still. E. L. Cox, who knows more hornpipes than a highland piper, followed with “Jurang’s Hornpipe.” Then came M. A. Moody, our neighbor from Big Hill, the man with the delicate touch and exquisite tone, who did the “Irish Gallop” as few can. Alec Lunsford, from Hog Skin Creek, a prince among the old-timers, who never plays a piece badly, touched a responsive chord in everybody’s heart with that fine old fiddleized Negro Melody, “The Ways of the World.”
By this time feet had begun to slow down a little, but were all set a-wiggle again in high glee by Millard Ramsey with the crack dance tune, “Adeline,” on his famous Black Nancy. When the people of Clay want a fiddler with pep—and some of them are the finest dancers and the merriest ever—Millard is usually their choice—either Millard or Alec Lunsford. Millard is a bit recless with Black Nancy, but the old instrument is a queen among fiddles, and when she speaks, corns cease to ache and a merry thrill creeps into every toe.
Dude Freeman appeared next and gave us “Forked Deer”—did it well, too. Dude wants no “fotch-on” fiddle, thank you, but made his own instrument. And he made a good one. It sounds better in the parlour than in a large hall for the tone lacks carrying power, but only a first class man could master a fiddle as good as that. Chester Thomas, second to “Monkey” John Gadd followed with “Waynesburg.” Then came another neighbour, John Will Johnson, who flung out on “Forked Deer” on Old Bill Cates’ fiddle. The jolly old instrument has caused more people to dance into a merry old age than any other in many miles around.
Bev Baker made all the old folks feel young again with that old favorite of our grandparents, “Nigger Inch Along.” Chester Nolan, second to E. L. Cooper, from Big Splash Dam, on Buck Fork, sent all our thoughts to the barnyard with “Cacklin’ Hen.” James Daugherty made all the corns dream dreams of sweet peace with “Calahan.” This is one of the famous shindig tunes of the countryside. Whenever a band of highland lads and lassies come together at a neighbor’s house to go a-tripping it “Calahan” is most likely to be on the boards.
Doc Roberts, second to S. F. Wright, the man who wins, drove away the rheumatism with “Wagoner.” This is one of the difficult old breakdowns and only trained fingers can execute it well. Big Hiram Begley, noted for his fiddling at house-warmings in the Hell-fer-Sartain country didn’t arrive. His place was taken by C. H. Agee with “Billy in the Low Grounds.” Nor did Anderson Bowling who fiddles for the Teges dance folk appear. John Hicks sat in his chair and played “Nigger Inch Along.”
… “Black Jack Grove,””Shortnin’ Bread,” [and] other choice selections follwed fast. “Waynesburg” rarely sounds so well as it did when Dude Freeman played it. If Dude were to play in some Grove of Daphne he would be certain to start all the satyrs a-dancing with the nymphs and dryads. “Sally Ann” at the touch of Alec Lunsford’s fingers took us all to an old Negro plantation where ebony face, ivory teeth and flying heels drove away cares and brought respite to the sorrows of an overburdened race.
“Liquor All Gone” bespoke the fact that we are living after July 1st, and that not even a drop of mountain dew was in the ring. Green and his superb instrument with “Sourwood Mountain” made all nimble heels fairly shriek for action. I heard a shuffling of leather throughout the audience in which event the preachers’ soles joined.
Then the third round with its succession of thrills. Few of the old-timers ever did or ever will excel Botner in “Calahan,” Ramsey in “Waynesburg,” Roberts in “Turkey in the Straw,” or Green in “Lost Girl.” Every one of these pieces was a hum-dinger. So was Lunsford’s “Hogskin.” The audience never before heard “Turkey in the Straw” as it was done by Doc Roberts.
And that number of Doc’s convinced the judges that he was entitled to the first prize of $50. The second prize was awarded to Dude Freeman and his “own make” and the third to the hornpipe man, E. L. Cox. The decision of the judges came as a surprise to the audience who would doubtless have voted for other favorites. But every player deserved a bouquet and a smile.
The night had approached the witching hour when the audience went away, happier and months younger because of the soulful melodies it had heard.
Thanks to you men whose skill and native musical ability keep the world about you young. You keep alive a class of music that is great and thrilling, and as native to the soil as the dogwood blossom and the wild rose. Your music makes up the foundation on which many of our greatest musical themes have been developed. Your message is a gospel of merriment, and we’d all be poorer in spirit without you.
Everybody is surprised and delighted with the financial success of the Big Fiddlers’ Meeting last Friday night.