The halls of Yadkinville Elementary School were filled with the sounds of bluegrass and old-time music on Saturday for the 33rd annual Yadkin Valley Bluegrass Convention. Musicians of all ages competed in a variety of categories, as well as singing and dancing.
Event founder Robert Steelman said the event has come a long way in its 33 years.
“It’s a wonderful event,” said Jim Lewis, one of the organizers.
“We’ve got a lot of history,” said Yadkin Arts Council President John Willingham. The arts council has taken part in hosting the event now for several years.
“What were finding is that the festival is growing every year,” Willingham said. “Our youth program is getting bigger. We just feel like it’s become an important part of what the arts council does. We see it as going on forever.”
Steelman said in years past most of the competitors were middle age and older and sadly they have seen some of that generation pass away. The tradition of Bluegrass and Old Time music, however, is being passed on to the younger generation.
“There’s no question about it, there’s a youth movement in this kind of music,” said Willingham.
“Several years ago we started trying to emphasize the youth,” Steelman said.
At this year’s event there was a jam room especially for the young people to play music and connect with one another.
Hoke Matthews, another of the event’s organizers, said he was thrilled to hear music being played by young people.
Karlie Keepfer was just one of the young people participating in Saturday’s event. She said she just likes the sound of the music. It was her first time competing in Yadkinville, though she has participated in many other regional events.
In addition to the awards in categories of instruments, vocal and dance, a new award was introduced this year in recognition of Steelman, who created the event.
“Robert Steelman is really the inspiration behind it,” Willingham added.
A new award was introduced at this year’s convention to memorialize the late R.L. Steelman, Robert Steelman’s father. He volunteered at the festival as long as his health allowed and was an avid fan of the bluegrass music, explained Steven Corn. He played guitar and fiddle himself and was known for hosting a weekly jam session at his home as well. R.L. Steelman was also known for his woodworking and he crafted several musical instruments. He also restored and repaired damaged instruments, and was an expert in hairing fiddle bows.
The award is called the Rising Little Star and will be presented annually to one of the youth competitors.The first Rising Little Star award was presented this year to Anneli Burnett.
A special throw was also made with an image of R.L. Steelman to present to his son, Robert.
In the bluegrass band competition, Destination Bluegrass took first place, followed by Travis Frye & Blue Mountain, The Trailblazers and Shacktown Grass Hoppers. In the old-time band category, Slate Mountain Ramblers won first place followed by The Tater Hill Mashers, Karlie Keepfer & Smokey Holler and the Del-Ray Brothers.
John Hofmann, Randy Willard and Blaine Wagoner won first, second and third respectively in the senior bluegrass fiddle category. Wesley Coatney won first place in junior bluegrass fiddle category, followed by Sophia Lenay Pyles and Belle Lippard. In senior old-time fiddle, John Hofmann also won first place with Richard Bowman coming in second and Chris Testerman in third. Asa Nelson won first place in junior old-time fiddle with Anneli Burnett in second and Wesley Coatney in third. Alex Edwards won first in senior bluegrass banjo followed by Jimmie Paschal and Robbie Williams. Ethan Pardue won first place in junior bluegrass banjo.
Marsha Todd won first in senior old-time banjo followed by Charlie Keepfer and Chris Testerman. Asa Nelson won first in junior old-time banjo. Randy Willard won first in senior mandolin with Jonah Horton and Daniel Thrailkill coming in second and third. First place in junior mandolin went to Elijah Moore, with Maddie-Rose Lippard coming in second. In senior guitar, John Horton took first with Daniel Thrailkill coming in second and Danny Castevens in third. Wesley Coatney won first in junior guitar followed by Asa Nelson and Ethan Wagoner. Will Thrailkill won first in senior acoustic bass with Alex Edwards and Barbara Bowman coming in second and third. Lincoln Moore won first in junior acoustic bass. Danny Castevens won first in senior dobro with Ezra Williams in second place. Ethan Wagoner won first place in junior dobro.
Steve Kilby won first place in senior dulcimer followed by Danny Castevens. In senior autoharp, Lois R. Shumaker won first followed by Richard Bowman in second. Emilee Lippard won first in junior autoharp.
First place in senior vocal went to John Hofmann followed by Daniel Thrailkill in second and Coleman Emerson in third. Karlie Keepfer won first prize in junior vocal followed by Anneli Burnett in second and Emilee, Maddie-Rose and Belle Lippard in third place.
Marsha Todd won first in senior dance followed by Marty Todd and Barbara Bowman. Karlie Keepfer took first prize in junior dance with Asa Nelson in second and Anneli Burnett in third.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagam @RippleReporterK.