Pickle McBride, Kevin Martin, Van Burchfield. Photo by Jim Pankey
Plenty of pickin’ and grinnin’ at the Lindsay Street Hall
"And some things that should not have been forgotten, were lost.” — J.R.R. Tolkien.
Although Tolkien was referring to the story of the One Ring—and in a larger way the danger of forgetting the lessons of the past—the same sentiment is all too readily applied to matters of culture and art. In the rush of progress, artistic traditions can become collateral damage, sometimes lost forever, sometimes waiting to be rediscovered.
One sterling example of such historical revival is due largely to the efforts of Matt Downer who, in 2010, resurrected an event that had made Chattanooga famous until the advent of the Second World War
The All Southern Championship started as a reply to a perceived slight, or, more likely, a friendly rivalry-cum-promotion. In the mid-twenties, automaker Henry Ford, a fan of the “old time” musical style, hosted a series of fiddlers and square dancers in his Michigan home.
Ford’s jamborees drew performers from across the country, including Mellie Dunham of Maine, who was soon being hailed as the “champion fiddler” of the United States. It was a bold claim to make without having first faced the formidable talents of the southeastern United States; so thought Chattanooga J.H. Gaston, anyway.
Gaston soon organized a local competition to find, “the best southern fiddler,” who would then go toe to toe with Ford’s man. In two years’ time the competition went from the modest confines of the local courthouse to the 5000+ audiences of the newly finished Memorial Auditorium. For over a decade the All Southern Championship was the premier fiddle competition in the country until war rationing put an end to it, and events like it, across the country.
And so some things that should not have been forgotten, were lost, at least until Matt Downer revived the competition in 2010 as the Old Time Southern Fiddlers Convention.
The event was enthusiastically received by the local community, performers and spectators alike. This year marks the seventh competition of the new era and while it may not yet be packing them in at Memorial Auditorium, the exponential growth in awareness and popularity is certainly packing them in at Lindsay Street Hall.
This year’s competition is Saturday, starting at noon at Lindsay Street Hall. As always, it is traditional performances only. There will be no microphones or amplifiers, and prizes will be awarded in the categories of fiddle, banjo, dance, song and stringband. Contestants will draw for order of performance on the day of the competition with no further entries allowed once the numbers are drawn.
Admission is $10, children six and under will be admitted free. For further information and to review the rules for competitors, please visit oldchattanooga.com.