DOBSON — With “location, location, location” considered the three most important words in real estate, that also seems true of the Surry Old-Time Fiddlers Convention’s return this weekend to its former longtime venue: the local community college.
“To me, it’s a perfect fit,” convention spokesman Travis Frye said Tuesday of the event again being held at Surry Community College on Friday and Saturday after a four-year absence from that location.
The fiddlers convention marked its 10th anniversary at the college in 2019, only to be cancelled in both 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus.
It resumed last year, but at a different place and time of year from its usual date around Easter: in September at the Surry County Service Center on East Atkins Street across town.
Frye and others are celebrating the fact that the convention is now back in its familiar digs at the college, where activities will be centered in the gymnatorium.
It kicks off with a popular Friday night square dance, for which doors will open at 6 p.m., featuring the Twin Creeks Stringband.
Competition in various youth and adult categories will occur Saturday.
Registration begins that day at 10 a.m., with youth competitions to run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and adult contests scheduled afterward, leading up to the coveted band competition beginning at 7 p.m.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Frye said of the shift back to SCC.
“It highlights both our musical heritage in Surry County and also promotes something that is unique to Surry County: Surry Community College,” added the event spokesman.
Frye is tourism coordinator for the Surry County Tourism Development Authority and the Dobson Tourism Development Authority and also is on the Executive Board for the fiddlers convention, for which he will serve as emcee both Friday and Saturday.
“Surry Community College has been there since Day One,” he said of the event’s origins.
While the 2022 venue at the Surry County Service Center was hailed as a suitable alternative, Frye explained that the more-spacious SCC allows folks to spread out, with groups of musicians typically gathering around its grounds to practice or jam.
The college also provides room for the fiddlers convention to grow in the future, he said.
While some fiddlers conventions feature both bluegrass and old-time music, such as the one held in Mount Airy on June 2-3, the gathering in Dobson caters solely to the old-time genre — a rarity for such events.
That is a fitting location, since Surry County has long been the epicenter of old-time music — a style known for its emphasis on string instruments and a driving rhythm ideal for dancing.
This year’s square dance group, the Twin Creeks Stringband from Southwest Virginia, certainly exemplifies old-time music with a steady rhythm supported by strong vocals and skilled instrumentation. Those in the band grew up in the old-time musical tradition and have followed in the footsteps of generations of performers before them.
One of its members, Jared Boyd, won best all-around performer honors during last year’s fiddlers convention in Dobson.
Saturday’s focus on musicianship competitions for youth and adults will include more than $5,000 in prizes being awarded in categories including fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin and more.
The admission cost for the Surry Old-Time Fiddlers Convention is $5 per day. All contestants and children 12 and younger will be admitted free.
For those who can’t come out to Surry Community College, Frye mentioned that radio station WPAQ in Mount Airy, which specializes in traditional mountain music, will broadcast portions of the convention, including Saturday night’s band contest.
In explaining the timing of the 2023 convention in Dobson — just two weeks after the Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention — Frye said several factors were involved, including a busy slate of activities at this time of year.
“Calendars are full.”
All things considered, Frye said convention planners were “happy” to be offered this weekend’s date by Surry Community College.
While the Mount Airy event is usually the first to kick off the summer convention season, additional ones are held across the region and the Surry Old-Time Fiddlers Convention won’t butt heads with any other during its Friday and Saturday schedule.
In being comfortable with the timing of this year’s event, Frye does hope the convention eventually can return to its previous date around Easter in the late March-early April period.
Other key organizers are just glad to have the Surry Old-Time Fiddlers Convention back on track.
“Last year I was really worried how things would go after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic,” said one, Buck Buckner.
“But we were very pleased with the turnout, and those who attended were glad we cranked up again,” he advised. “I’m expecting the same this year.”
Buckner also is encouraged by the multi-generational aspect of the convention.
“One of the most pleasing things to me is the youth turnout at our event,” he said. “We have a lot of young musicians who participate.”
Buckner recalled that a youth jam was going on at one point last year which involved everyone sitting on the floor and played together.
“They are enthusiastic, and that adds to the enthusiasm for everyone.”