Past Times

Past Times: NC fiddlers were the genuine 'stuph'

Courtesy of Martha Andrews Wing

This week’s “World of Bluegrass” festival is not Raleigh’s first experience hosting the cream of the musical crop. Here in the quaint language of the turn of the (last) century is an account of the first state fiddlers’ convention held in 1905.

It was “Fiddlers’ Day” in Raleigh. High above the shouts of the applauding multitude the catgut and the horse hair in conjunction rolled out sounds of melody while the heel and toe beat sympathetic time.

It was the time of the contest in the North Carolina Fiddlers’ Convention, an organization which had its birth in the fertile brain of Mr. “Buck” Andrews, the jolly president of the city railway, and which, at its first meeting, has fiddled to a glorious success. It was not a violinists’ recital, mind you, but it was an “Old Rosin the Bow” that was so good and so natural that “Buck” Andrews is hereby christened the “Patron Saint of Fiddlers.”

It was intended to have the contest at Pullen Park, but the rain interfered and it was transferred to Pullen Hall at the A. and M. College. Here after half-past 1 o’clock there was a crowd variously estimated at from 800 to 1,000 people, all intent on the fiddling to come and beaming with smiles anticipatory of the real music without frills they were going to hear. While waiting three fiddlers on the rostrum gave some preliminary touches which tuned up the crowd for more and just then it was that “Buck” Andrews, followed by nine other fiddlers, came marching down the center aisle. There was a storm of approving applause; that made “Buck” look as happy as a big sunflower.

The judges were there ready to judge, these being Dr. B. F. Dixon, State Auditor; Hon. John Nichols and Mr. Junius D. Turner, the latter acting in place of State Treasurer Lacy, who was sick at home. An agreement was made to give each fiddler five minutes time, let him play what he wanted to play and how he wanted to play it. In starting the ball to rolling and the fiddlers to fiddle Mr. Andrews asked the crowd to keep quiet and let the fiddlers tune up, as the air was damp.

The fiddlers were the genuine “stuph.” They wore no frills or swallowtail dress coats. There was not a white tie in the bunch, nor were there collars enough to go round. Some had on slick-looking “store clothes,” but the majority were right off the farm with mud on their shoes and their regular every-day clothes. It was fiddling, not clothes, that was in demand, and the plainest of the fiddling bunch wore the greatest applause.

Then the first man was announced, and he pulled his chair up close in front of the committee, all being on the rostrum and the fun began. Fiddler after fiddler fiddled, foot after foot patted time, fiddles were thrust against chests and shoulders and necks and under chins, the fiddle necks were elevated and lowered, the bows swept over the catgut, the crowd yelled and applauded and shouted in its joy and at last the contest was over and the judges went to decide, though the crowd had already made up its mind. It had decided that No. 12, who proved to be Mr. R. C. Page, of Raleigh ... was the winner, and to him it had given a regular ovation of the William Jennings Byan kind as he played, demanding an encore.

But the judges thought different, and when they returned announced that the “Champion Fiddler” was No. 8, Mr. C. E. McCullers, of Raleigh, with a contest for second place between No. 12, Mr. R. C. Page, and No. 9, Mr. J. W. Sauls, of Garner, who must play off the tie. At it they went, Mr. Page playing “Leather Britches” with all his might, while Mr. Sauls tried the “Chapel Hill Serenade.” Still they were tied and Mr. Page was called on to play “the same piece.” He did so, the crowd was aroused and was storm-swept with applause. Up jumped Dr. Dixon, who pulled Mr. Page to his feet and cried out, “Notwithstanding the decision, here stands the best fiddler in North Carolina.” Then the happy crowd shouted some more, for Page was the favorite of the day, though McCullers got the diploma as the “Champion Fiddler,” worth $7.05 in cash, and Page the second “Champion Fiddler” diploma worth $2.05 of wealth, the titles to be defended next year on Labor Day....

So ended the contest, but while the committee was out “making up their minds” the fiddlers by twos gave a concert that won with the sweetness of the real melody given. Applause flowed from the bung hole, there being no spigot in this event.

Then came the committee, and Dr. Dixon delivered the first diploma and the second, saying that a year hence the Fiddlers who held the title of champions first and second would have to defend these against all comers a year hence on Labor Day. The N&O 9/5/1905