The Fiddlers Convention dates back to the 1920’s when some locals got together to play. “It really started out in the West Limestone Area,” Athens State spokesman Rick Mould told us. “It got its roots from there and began to blossom and took off from there.” It died down but saw a rebirth in the 50’s and 60’s. It moved to Athens State in 1967.
“It's really been a revival of it over the last 50 years,” Mould said. That revival attracts 15,000 people each October to the campus for music, crafts, food and competition. More than 200 musicians who’ll be there are keeping the music alive for the next generation. “It's exposing them to that tradition,” Mould told us. “You've got older people that are playing and passing it down. There's a lot of excitement about that.”
That’s one reason the competition has grown to include everything from fiddling, banjo and harmonica to mandolin, guitar and buck dancing. “If this tradition is going to continue another 50 years, you've got to get them engaged in it,” Mould added.
It may have never happened had it not been for folks like Alton and Rabon Delmore of Elkmont. “They started out in 1926 by winning a fiddlers contest,” Debby Delmore told us. She’s Alton’s youngest daughter. The Delmore Brothers won another contest that led to an audition for Columbia Records.
That audition put them on a path for recording their first record. “Alabama Lullaby and I've Got the Kansas City Blues,” were the first two songs they recorded Debby told us. She bought a copy online that is now displayed in the Delmore Brothers Museum in McCandless Hall at Athens State.
The Delmore Brothers are gone but their music lives on. And Debby is proud of how her father and uncle are being remembered. “Proud is not really the word,” she said. “I am just over the moon.” The brothers joined the Grand Ole Opry in the 30’s. “They got paid five dollars a week,” Debby recalls. “Two fifty for Rabon, two fifty for my dad.”
But they didn’t do it for the money. “Big money was unheard of. Awards were unheard of,” Debby said. “They did it for the love of the music.” That music continues to live on and grow even more every year in Limestone County.
On Saturday officials crowned Maddie Denton the "Alabama State Fiddle Champion” for the second year in a row and took home the convention's top prize of $1,200. Denton is from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, won the title by winning the “fiddle off,” which pits the top fiddlers from the junior, intermediate, and senior divisions. Sharon Bounds of Northport, Alabama finished runner-up.