Saturday, September 3, 2011

Old Fiddler's Convention -- Galax, Virginia

Every year, in Galax, hundreds -- thousands -- come to celebrate Old Time and Bluegrass music at the Galax Old Time Fiddler's Convention. Naturally, we had to go and cover it, so Bob Grebe and I found ourselves there before dawn this August.

A group of musicians -- not a formal group, I think, but just a pick-up collection of friends from past conventions -- gathered on the main stage at the fairgrounds for us in the early morning darkness so that we would have some music to hear and some people to talk to about the event and why they come.

This, for example, is Roger Sprung. He is a professional musician who recorded with big bands (like Guy Lombardo big bands). His experiences alone would fill an entire newscast, let alone a two-mintute morning show insert.

We did a separate piece on the guy on the right, Fred Swedberg, a Baptist minister from Pennsylvania who also grows heirloom tomatoes. He was a delight to talk to -- Bob called him "Tomato Fred" in the later piece, done for our gardening segment on the following Wednesday. I had a hard time breaking away, not because he held me up, but because I wanted to settle in and chat all day.

Richard is a visitor from New York. He comes to the convention every year, and hopes to retire to Southwest Virginia. He loves the friendly, helpful Southern approach to life.

At one point, as they played, he did a short bass solo. I struggled to include it in our stories, but just couldn't find the place. Heartbreaking.

This amused me. All the more because it was right where we parked the satellite truck. To explain: The convention is organized and sponsored by the local Moose lodge.

Here Roger plays next to Fred's kitchen setup in the campground. The banjo he holds is from the 1920s, and includes and elaborate device that allows him to retune on the fly while playing. He's playing "Auld Lang Syne," sliding from the last note in each bar to the first note in the next by twisting little knobs and thumb flippers at the end of the neck there.

After the performance, Fred told me it was intriguing to watch Roger during jam sessions. When a good banjo player was there, Fred said Roger would really begin to show his talent and perform. When a great banjo player began to play, Roger would simply stop and listen.

The scene in the campground behind Fred's kitchen tent...

After playing for me, Roger returned to his business of the day: laying out the banjos he had brought to sell. They were works of art, artifacts from practically every era of American music.

Covering Galax's Old Fiddler's Convention never fails to make me crazy. There's a thousand stories there, and a million pictures, if you only had the time to do them...

Most of these are shot on an M3 with a 28mm f/2.8, except for the one of Richard, shot on another M3 with a 50mm. I brought the second body, knowing I was running low on film on the first (with the 50) but also knowing that I'd want to shoot a lot if I got the chance. All of the pictures are on Kodak's BW400CN film.

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