Old Time Country Music Contests Thrive
“Years ago, before ‘American Idol’ and ‘America’s Got Talent,’ upper Midwest aspiring artists would participate in various local ’contests’ hosted throughout the Midwest.” Bob Everhart is the president of the National Traditional Country Music Association. “If I hadn’t entered some singing contests when I was quite young, I would never have won the recording studio time I did, and I would never have become a recording artist for the Smithsonian Institution.”
Everhart is also the Director of the largest, and longest running, old time music festival in the upper Midwest. “We started this festival of old-time music back in 1976 as a Bicentennial project. After 1976, no one else was interested in doing it again, but I was, mostly because one of the major attractions was an old-time country music contest. We still do this today for a full week, Aug 29-Sept 4, at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds in LeMars, Iowa. And, we still have many of the same contests. There are over 20 of them.
Instruments of old-time string-band nature have priority since it’s an all acoustic music event. Guitar, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, upright bass, Dobro, fiddle, even piano, are all well represented, and fun to watch as these musicians ’strut their stuff’ on their favorite acoustic instrument. There’s also other instruments too, like accordion. This instrument is so popular in the upper Midwest we have to have two contests, one for adults and one for kids. Harmonica is popular too, some of our old-timers still call it the French harp. There are so many harmonica players we even have a ‘harmonica jam’ on Thursday night of the festival. Bring the key of C.”
The festival, known as the 36th National Old Time Country Bluegrass and Folk Music Festival and Contest and Pioneer Exposition of Arts & Craft and Rural Lifestyle” takes place from August 29-Sept 4th, with most of the contests on the last two days to accommodate those that might still be in school or working. According to Everhart, “It only costs $5 to enter any or all you feel qualified for, and first prize in the smaller events is $50, so it’s a good opportunity to make some money, but more importantly to find out how professionals feel about what you’re doing. We also give away recording studio time, musical instruments, even free pizza’s.
We have a ton of singers, so we get the best judges we can that will help vocalists with tips and critiques. There’s an open country singing contest for males and females, any age, there’s a junior performer one (you have to be under 16), there’s an open ‘over-50′ singing contest, there’s even a harmony singing contest. On the unusual side, we have a ‘bones’ playing contest. This one is a lot of fun to not only be in, but to watch as well. If by any chance someone comes by with something we don’t have a particular contest for, they can enter the miscellaneous. I shouldn’t forget the band contests. There are two of them, one is a regular contest for organized bands, the other is a ‘band scramble.’ A scramble is when you put your name in the hat, the organizers draw out five names and those five persons, no matter what they play, become the band. They have the weekend to practice and prepare fifteen minutes of music. And please don’t forget the songwriter contests. There are two of them, one regular and one gospel. The participants draw ‘ideas’ at random, two of them actually, but must write their song from one selected idea, and then present it for judging. We have had some incredibly good results from this procedure.”
Along with contests, according to Everhart, “We also have workshops in just about all the topics one can cover in old time acoustic music, excellent teachers doing everything from guitar to how to write a good song. This along with the excellent jamming and front porch pickin’ is in itself a really good reason to attend this 7-day event. But we also have over 650 performers going from 9am to midnight every day for all seven days on ten stages, plus six old-time dances in the evening. Put this together with celebrities like Jim Ed Brown, Ralph Stanley, Helen Cornelius, Terry Smith, Bonnie Guitar, June Webb, Jeannie Seely, Eddie Pennington, and many many more who will be with us this year, and you have the beginning of one of the most popular old-time music events in the upper Midwest.”
The National Traditional Country Music Association has a website at www.ntcma.net