MARLINTON (WVDN) – As a part of the 2022 Pioneer Days festival in Marlinton, the Hammons Family hosted a fiddle and banjo contest with a $500 first prize and $300 second prize that drew 19 claw hammer banjo contestants, 21 fiddle contestants, and 11 bluegrass banjo players.
Without a doubt the future of Bluegrass is in the youth, young at heart or young by age. Nine-year-old fiddler Virginia Vale Cyfers from Huntington took the ribbon in the youth category. She was a perfect stage performer with her teacher by her side, accompanying her with guitar for her two pieces.
Her teacher, Tessa Dillon, who works with youth at Allegheny Echoes is a teacher of old-time fiddle. She also was a student there in her youth and was mentored by teacher and professional fiddle player Jake Krack.
This year Dillon beat Krack in the fiddle contest in their age group.
“Yes,” said Krack later, “Taking second place to your student, there is no better win.” Krack said he knew Dillon had special talents the first year she attended Allegheny Echoes as a 10-year-old.
Today her band, The State Birds, hails from Kanawha County and opened the Vandalia gathering there this past Memorial Day weekend and will open for Rhonda Vincent in Charleston at the Red Grass Mountain Music Jam on September 3.
Dillon is already giving back to the bluegrass community by teaching at Allegheny Echoes and working at the Homegrown Bluegrass Festival and asevents coordinator for the Augusta Heritage program in Elkins.
“Most people know me as a member of Big Possum String Band,” she says. “I work in music full time now, and I teach through WVU. This contest at the Hammonds Family Fiddle and Banjo Contest brought things full circle for me as my student and mentor were also on the stage.”
Krack plays with Bing Brothers Band and has won more blue ribbons for fiddle at the famous Galax festival than any other player.
When asked why he didn’t judge at this competition he said, “I was asked to judge and decided I wanted to enjoy the critique process of being a competitor.”
Some say the torch was passed at this competition, but there was more than one torch.
If Krack passed the torch to his former student Dillon, then she partly passed a torch to her student Cyfers.
How beautiful is that?
“I have been told people recognize my style when Tessa performs.” Krack said, explaining the style of bowing and rhythm for a fiddler is actually honed in the hollers where a fiddler is raised.
“I tell them she has had more teachers than just me; her style is her own.”
His father wanted to learn the fiddle, living in Calhoun County, but decided later to become a fiddle maker and Krack plays one of his father’s creations today.
The community is small: Bobby Taylor, an accomplished old-time fiddle player who hails from St. Albans, is recognized as a class act and was a teacher of both Krack and Dillon. Taylor was the master of ceremonies at the contest this past weekend.
The bluegrass family sometimes is a real-life family, and sometimes it is a family of like-mindedness.
And then there is the namesake Hammons Family itself – the Hammons family of musicians and patriarch Lee Hammons were famous before there was radio or TV. They learned their style of music and instrument work near Marlinton. A visiting music heritage student said the style of the tunes and instrument handling had visible connections to parts of Ireland. It well could be, since this area was settled by a large number of Irish immigrants and secluded in the hills and hollers the ways of the old timers were preserved.
“I know of musicians whose fiddle playing fathers said, ‘don’t ever become a fiddle player,’” said Krack. He hints that a statement like that could challenge a young musician and drive them exactly up that route.
“My daughter was inspired at the contest by the 9-year-old Virginia and said to me afterward that she wants to get her fiddle and start working with it again,” he said.
Krack said he is not going to try to steer his daughter in any direction, “I am just going to open up all the doors. She can make her own decisions.”
“We are bringing the Bluegrass back to Pioneer Days. I am seeing people from well-known festivals in other states here this weekend. This program and the bluegrass following here is a culmination of the other bluegrass programs in the area. What an incubator this area is,” said Krack.
Joanna Burt-Kinderman, Hammonds Bluegrass Contest organizer and music coordinator, said she is “so grateful to the large number of talented and well-known bluegrass musicians” who joined her in the hosting and operation of every part of the celebration within the Pioneer Days weekend.
The area jams were enhanced by these awesome professional musicians and included performances by them as well,” she said.
One thing that sets bluegrass gatherings apart from other types of music is the jam scene. These unpredictable pop-up groups playing together a classic mountain melody yet a singularly original rendition of it that cannot or perhaps should not, ever be repeated.
The Bing Brothers Band members, Mike and Mary Sue Burns of Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters, Richard Hefner and the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, and other bluegrass family stars were all enjoying being part of the inaugural year. Likely there were some budding musicians that had an opportunity to play music along with their music idols in jams throughout town.
Under a pop-up tent in the parking lot, down an alley inside an open garage space, or inside the empty historic hardware store- It happened as it should have this year and the Annual Pioneer Days became once more the blooming flower of Bluegrass in the heart of Appalachia.
Winners of The Hammons Family Fiddle and Banjo Contest
Clawhammer Banjo: 1st-Steven Casto, 2nd-Hunter Walker, 3rd- Seth Swingle, 4th- Dennis Ott, 5th-Jarrod Saul.
Fiddle: 1st-Tessa Dillon, 2nd- Jake Krack, 3rd – Henry Barnes, 4th- Andy Fitzgibbons, 5th-Jim McLaughlin, Youth Fiddle: 1st- Virginia Vale Cyfers
Bluegrass Banjo: 1st-Lee Dunbar, 2nd- Jake Stover, 3rd – Jake B. Eddy, 4th- Robert Russell, 5th- Gregg Stump
|Youth Fiddle winner Virginia Vale Cyfers from Huntington|
|Jake Krack takes 2nd place to his former student Tessa Dillon in the Fiddle Competition. Krack is a member of the Bing Brothers Band and Dillon has her own band The State Birds.|