Author: Karsemeyer, John

Punishment At A Fiddle Contest

The Cloverdale (California) “Old Time Fiddle Festival” is mostly a fiddle contest. This festival has been held every year for the past thirty-five years, the last one being on January 23rd and 24th of 2010.

The goals of this festival are to help perpetuate the fiddling culture, preserve the old time tunes, develop audience appreciation for fiddling, and to acknowledge the present day fiddlers who continue this tradition.

The fiddle contest portion of this festival is like many official fiddle contests all over the country, in that there are rules and regulations that both the fiddle contestants, and the audience, must follow.

The fiddle contestants must play three tunes: a hoedown; a waltz; and a tune of choice. These are “tunes,” which in this case means instrumentals, no singing allowed. Music only, making its way from wood, wire, and the human touch. In the preliminary round, the judges choose the top five contestants from the total number of entries in each division, and then those top five must compete again, playing three different tunes that they did not play in the preliminary round.

To make the contest as fair as possible, there are different age divisions for the contestants. For example, the youngest contestants are in the “Pee Wee” division. As the age of the contestants go up they are placed in the Junior, Adult, or Senior Divisions. Some contests even divide these divisions into sub-divisions.

Now there are also rules for the audience. These rules are not complicated, in fact very simple, but for some people very difficult to follow. The rules all deal with the human response that we have all engaged in, hundreds, even thousands of times in our lives.

Applause. That’s the culprit. For many folks that’s the thing that is just not possible to self-control. At least not at a fiddle contest. Timing. You either have it, or you don’t.

Okay, the Master/Mistress of Ceremonies (MC) at a fiddle contest will announce something like, “You may applaud for the individual fiddle contestant when his or name is announced and they come on stage to perform, and you may applaud when the contestant has finished his or her third/last tune. But please do not applaud between each of the three tunes that are played. If you do, it distracts the fiddle players and the judges who are rating them.”

These rules are easy to understand, no rocket science here. But can 100% of the audience adhere to the rules? No, they cannot.

Intermittently, the MC has to remind the audience to follow the rules and applaud only before and after the fiddle contestant has played. Why? Because some people become so exuberant, excited, and volatile that they just HAVE TO APPLAUD after a great player has finished the first or second tune.

That’s understandable, at some level, to those of us who love the music so much that it can’t be expressed in mere words alone. But rules are rules, for a reason.

Alright, so everyone makes mistakes, once in awhile. It’s understandable at the beginning of the fiddle contest. The fiddle music is fresh, vibrant, and alive, stimulating the auditory cortex of our brains like nothing else can.

So when this happens the MC will politely remind the audience of the applause rule, and things are okay. For awhile that is, until after about three or four more fiddlers have played. But then let’s say that the reigning Grand National Champion plays, and guess what? You’ve got it, you know, don’t you? Right, at least a dozen people applaud.

And so this goes on, to a greater or lesser degree, throughout the fiddle contest. Throughout most fiddle contests. That’s just the way it is. At least that’s what I thought while at this year’s contest in Cloverdale.

This was the thirty-fifth year for the Cloverdale Fiddle Contest. I figured it wouldn’t be much different than in recent years past. Boy, was I wrong.

The way I see it, the people who run the Cloverdale thing were just sick and tired of having significant segments of the audience applaud when they were not supposed to. After thirty-five years they just couldn’t stand it anymore. They had their fill, reached their limit, were maxed-out.

This year they were ready, just in case there were offenders. “Offenders,” I found out, are defined as deviant applauders who commit the crime exactly forty-five minutes after the contest officially starts. The audience had their chance, their warnings, free-ride, whatever, for forty-five minutes, and then that was it!

I began to notice after 45 minutes from the official start of the contest, that when an offender did what he or she did best, a tall, well dressed, dignified, authoritarian figure in cowboy boots, custom fitted suit, cowboy hat, and badge, approached the person and politely said, “Please come with me.”

At first it started with one person. Then two or three, and sometimes six at a time. No matter that the audience was observing the consequence for these marauders of silence, some still could not contain themselves. At the end of the day about fifty audience members were no longer “chair-born.”

It wasn’t so much the presence of this authoritarian person alone, but the sight of his huge, sterling silver badge is what made an audience member comply. Maybe the butt end of a holstered “peacemaker” six-shooter peeking out of his suit coat had something to do with it too.

As for me, I thought the offenders were just being escorted from the building, and asked not to return. Way over in the section to my right, I couldn’t help but notice a friend of mine, Carl Clapper, who was caught up in applause addiction, and also suffered the consequences. I figured I’d see him later, maybe the next day, and he could let me know how he felt about his embarrassing moment, and if he thought it was the right thing to have happened to him.

But at the end of the day, after the last fiddler had played, and the awards were given, I walked from the main room, where the contest was held, into the lobby, and there was Carl. “Carl,” I questioned with a puzzled look, “what’s going on? I thought that official type person escorted you from the building.”

“I wasn’t escorted from the building. The guy took me to another room, where all the other applauding offenders were, and we were punished,” Carl explained. “Punished,” I exclaimed. “What was done to you?”

“Oh, they fed us hot dogs and gave us beer to drink,” Carl answered, wearing a slight grin. I stammered, “You call that punishment?” “Oh no, that wasn’t the punishment,” Carl replied. With a very puzzled look, I responded, “Well then, what was it?”

“Ah,” Carl explained, “we had to listen to non-stop music by Metallica, Def Lepard, Kiss, and Britney Spears for the rest of the day, and then we were released!”

Posted:  4/13/2010

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