By Roberta Johnson
Daily Union Correspondent
If you want to fiddle around...literally...attend the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers Association” music show every third Sunday of the month from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (with the exception of October) at the Lion’s Club Building at Forest Park in Shelbyville. Musicians come from near and far to play old fiddle tunes that have been played for centuries, keeping the music alive for the next generations to learn. Anyone can attend and try their hand at playing fiddle tunes as long as they bring their own fiddle or other musical instrument, and you can be any age...even 93. Over 20 musicians of all ages entertained at their music show in August...playing fiddle, piano, dulcimer, guitar, upright bass, banjo, etc. with even a one of a kind string instrument, that most have never seen before, being played.
Shelbvyille is lucky enough to be the “headquarters in the state of Illinois” to promote fiddle music. The late Ernest Ringo, at his Shelbyville home in 1966, started the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers Association” with eight other people to preserve the art of playing fiddle and keeping fiddle tunes from being forgotten since most are past down from one generation to another through musicians’ memories. Fiddling techniques are also shared.
A state charter was issued in 1966 through the Illinois Secretary of State’s office and is renewed each year and registered at the Shelbvyille Court House that gives Shelbyville the distinction of being “The Fiddle Capital of Illinois”. The “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers” host and totally finance the annual Illinois State Fiddle Contest by “fiddle playing” members performing at festivals and events throughout the year to help raise money for their group, donations from their music shows, and from sponsors, when sponsors can be found. Many members also have performed at nursing homes for free in the past.
The Illinois State Fiddle Contest is held annually every third Sunday in the month of October giving out first, second, and third place fiddling trophies in four categores: “Over 70”, “Junior” (ages 11 to 19), “Beginner” (agest 10 and under), and “State Winner” (of any age). In recent years, another trophy has been added that is given out each year to the person who has done the most to keep traditional fiddle music alive called the “Perpetuation Award”.
The state fiddle contests were held at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Shelbyville from 1966 to 1997 where huge crowds from all over Illinois and other states came to listen and support their favorite fiddle player. Due to the lack of sponsorship from Shelbyville and surrounding communities and their own low funds, to survive the Illinois State Fiddle Contest was moved to Rockome Gardens near Arcola in 1998 leaving the stage of the Chautauqua empty. Rockome Gardens furnished free television ads for the “Illinois State Fiddle Contest” in their TV advertising, and banks from other communities helped to pay for the trophies. The contest continued there for several years until Rockome Gardens sold out and began changing hands. The state fiddle contest is now held where a venue can be found with the last contest being held at the Hilton Garden Inn near the Keller Convention Center in Effingham in 2010.
So if you want to hear some fiddle music accompanied by guitar, piano, etc. and even would like to dance to a fiddle tune, show up at the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers” “get together” on a third Sunday monthly (except October) at the Lion’s Building in Forest Park at Shelbyville. It’s only a monetary donation to get in. Or, show up at the “47th Illinois Old Time Fiddlers” State Fiddle Contest on October 16, which will be at the Keller Convention Center in Effingham this year. Cost to see the Illinois State Fiddle Contest will be $5 per person, with children eight or younger being admitted free. Contact Ann White at 217-273-2482 for tickets as only 450 tickest will be sold this year.
The “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers” have raised $2,000 for this year’s event but need another $1,000 to finance the contest totally since there has not been hardly any sponsors for the contest in the last few years. They will be selling “name recognition” in this year’s program booklets for those who want to donate $10 to help support the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers Association’s” state fiddle contest. “Name recognition” will also be given for higher donations, plus free tickets to the contest as follow: $20 - 1 ticket, $30 - 2 tickets, $40 - 3 tickets, and $50 - 4 tickets. Anyone who wish to donate can send their donations to the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers Association”, P.O. Box 212, Effingham, IL 62401 by September 25, 2011 or go online to their website, illinoisoldtimefiddlers.org.
Let’s hope that maybe some day the Illinois state fiddle championships will be brought back home permanently to the Shelbyville Chautauqua Auditorium stage where it all started for all to see the talents of fiddle players from across the state of Illinois. If local sponsors could help out like they did in the early years, maybe the big crowds would return to Shelbyville and help boost the local economy as well as help the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers Association” to continue forever. Besides, the Chautauqua was said to seat up to 5,000 people, so there would be room for everyone who wanted to attend this state-wide event. Shelbyvile would truly then be “The Fiddle Capital of Illinois”.
Did you know that Alison Krauss (formerly from Champaign, IL was a winner at the Illinois State Fiddle Contest at Shelbyville in 1984 (at the age of 13), in 1985, and in 1986 before she became the famous country star and winner of many Grammy awards? Steve Auburn, who in the past played with the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers” too, went on to play in the touring bands for country music artists, Mark Wills and (currently) Neal McCoy. Plan to attend the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers” monthly music shows. Who knows...you may see the next big entertainer and you can say you saw them at the “Illinois Old Time Fiddlers” back when they were just fiddling around.