January 5, 2013

Fiddler’s Grove festival called off

The annual Fiddler’s Grove festival, which drew thousands of musicians each Memorial Day to a campground in rural Iredell County, is ending after four decades.

The annual Fiddler’s Grove festival, which drew thousands of musicians each Memorial Day to a campground in rural Iredell County, is ending after four decades.

Hank Van Hoy, whose father Harper started the festival in 1970, said Saturday that the decision to end the event was painful.

But he said it was sparked by multiple factors, including the difficulty of organizing the festival while working full time and the cost of putting on the event. He said efforts to bring more innovations to the festival, including a competition for younger musicians, didn’t increase crowds enough. The 2012 festival held in May was the last.

“If we can’t do a festival with high quality and a family atmosphere, we just felt it best to (not) go on,” said Van Hoy, a lawyer who lives in Mocksville and who had served as master of ceremonies for a number of years.

The festival, officially called the Ole Time Fiddler’s and Bluegrass Festival, was held on Fiddler’s Grove campground on N.C. 901 in Union Grove. That’s about an hour’s drive north of Charlotte.

The Van Hoy family has long had ties to the music scene in that area. H.P. Van Hoy – Hank Van Hoy’s grandfather – held the Union Grove Fiddlers Convention from 1924 to 1969 to raise money for a local school. But the event ended after it was forced to move.

H.P.’s sons, Harper and Pierce, disagreed over how to continue the event. That led to two competing festivals for several years.

Musicians loved festival

The Fiddler’s Grove festival featured not only musical competitions but also workshops for players.

Tom Hanchett, a fiddler and historian at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, said he particularly enjoyed jam sessions where musicians could walk around the campground and play with anyone who was there. “Everyone was welcome, and that was the cool thing,” Hanchett said.

In the early years, the festival drew more than 10,000 people but became a smaller, invitation-only event for some time. Toward the end, it averaged 2,000 to 3,000, Hank Van Hoy said.

Hanchett, who said he attended the festival every year since moving to North Carolina in the 1980s, called Fiddler’s Grove a touchstone for many musicians.

The festival also was notable because of its emphasis on both old-time and bluegrass music, which were both part of the cultural heritage in that part of North Carolina, said Alan Jabbour, a folklorist who lives in Washington, D.C.

Jabbour said he learned of the Union Grove Fiddler Convention while he was a graduate student at Duke University. He said the Fiddler’s Grove event helped to keep the “family feeling” of the older festival, while also sharing the older, rural music with new generations.

“It was a musically creative event,” said Jabbour, a past director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Said Van Hoy: “It’s just not a band competition and it’s just not blue grass and it’s not just a concert. It’s much more than that.”

Looking ahead

Van Hoy said he hopes to be able to hold informal workshops or other events for musicians at Fiddler’s Grove in the future. In the meantime, two of his cousins – Pierce Van Hoy’s sons – held a fiddling festival last Easter.

In an email on Friday announcing the end of the festival, Hank Van Hoy said his family wanted to thank all of those who had supported the festival over the years.

“We appreciate more than we can say the bonds of friendship that have developed between and among us over the past 42 years,” he wrote. “Your extraordinary talents have created wonderful memories for us.”

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