BENTON — Nearly 50 years after it first began, the annual East Benton Fiddlers Convention and Contest brought together musicians and competitors on Sunday, turning a field in Benton into something out of Appalachia.
The festival, now in its 46th year, is held at the Littlefield Farm on Richards Road. Though not packed with concert goers, the rolling green hill — which serves as a natural amphitheater — looking over the stage did have individuals and families settling in to watch the bands and performances, with some being inspired to dance to the tunes.
Rose McManus, a coordinator for the event and a member of the family responsible for putting on the annual event, said she expected about 500 people to turn out to hear country, Celtic, American roots music and other songs that featured fiddles. She said it was also an opportunity for newcomers to learn to play the fiddle, and estimated 15 or so first-timers were learning on Sunday.
Billing itself as the state’s oldest, longest running bluegrass and folk festival, the fiddlers convention is a relaxed setting, and Saturday’s festivities benefited by missing the past week’s high humidity and pouring rains. McManus said the festivities are family friendly events, even featuring a baby goat for kids to enjoy. She said the festival mostly gains traction by word of mouth, though they do have an active Facebook presence, thanks to her nephew. But she said the people who come out to the festival usually aren’t the curious type: you really have to love the music to find yourself on that hill, she said.
“It is about the music and families getting together,” she said, adding the event isn’t a huge revenue generator.
The estimated 500 attending Sunday’s festival would be on par with past years, McManus said, though at noon it didn’t appear to be nearly that many in the field. But the whole affair was largely informal, with people dancing or laying on blankets, and the field where people parked their cars peppered with tents of people staying over, which is a free amenity. Most people at the convention came with folding chairs and coolers, largely expecting to be there most of the day. The all day event, which was slated to end around 7 p.m., featured performances from the East Benton Jug Band, Country Choir, Old Grey Goose, and The Half Moon Jug Band. McManus said the event would have gone on rain or shine.
“It’s been really good,” she said, sitting in an old bus that sat at the entry way to the fiddling conference.
The fiddlers’ convention was first started by Shirley Littlefield, who worked as a housekeeper at a dormitory at Colby College in Waterville, and who loved to invite students to visit and started the festival from a gathering of musicians they invited to the farm. Shirley and her husband, Red, started the fiddler’s convention together and ran it together until his death in 1989. Shirley Littlefield ran the show until she died in 2004.
Colin Ellis — 861-9253