National contestants claim Weiser as favorite

The 2024 National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest top five Grand National winners are, from left, Katie Glassman, Venice, Calif., fourth, Jesse Quintana, Lakewood, Colo., second, Ridge Roberts, Granbury, Texas, first, Celeste Johnson, Denver, Colo., third, and Monte Gaylord, Nowata, Okla., fifth. Sixteen first-rate fiddlers competed in the Grand National Contest this year, narrowing down to five fiddlers after three rounds of competition. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff

A retired RN, member of the Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers Association, and long-time contestant at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest, Judy McGarvey, 89, of Medford, Ore., was the 2024 Oldest Fiddler. Pictured accompanying McGarvey is Rod Anderson, a longtime and consistent accompanist at the contest. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff

Five year-old Hadley Walrath, Nampa, was the 2024 youngest fiddler at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest. A member of the Junior Jammers, Hadley played a number for Tuesday night’s audience before receiving her award. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff

Darin Meeks celebrates his first-place accompanist title at the end of the 2024 National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest. Behind him are Hyatt Hopkins, Rod Anderson, and Ben LiaBraaten. Not pictured is Makaela Ruggs. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff

2024 National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest winners
Nancy Grindstaff
 If June isn’t officially “Weiser Music Month,” it ought to be. From this early summer’s performance of the Treasure Valley Heritage Symphony to the annual Idaho Bluegrass and Banjo Camp held within the first two weeks of the month right into the full 10 or more days surrounding the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival, music and the musicians who bring it to us give added dimension to our local culture.
 For the musicians coming to compete, entertain at the Festival in the City Park, or just spend 24/7 jamming with old and new friends in the campgrounds, this is a time they immerse themselves into their common passion for music and, it’s often expressed that most consider the annual excursion a “homecoming.”
 “I’ve been to this contest for five years,” newly crowned Junior Junior Champion McKenna Petersen, Fulshear, Texas, told the Signal American. “My first year I got fourth place in Small Fry, and over the next few years I got a lot better. I think I’ve been in the top five every single year. Weiser is like the best contest and everyone should go.”
 It’s a testament to the generational fiddling influences that Petersen says she was first inspired to play fiddle after hearing former youth division competitor and now the 2024 Grand National Champion Ridge Roberts play. Since then, both she and her mother, Aimee, have taken lessons from Sherry McKenzie, an Idaho native who grew up competing and earning her own fair share of wins at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest.
 Leading up to this year’s paramount finish, the contest stage at Weiser High School saw a continual rotation of fiddlers and accompanists, with 12 contest divisions played out Monday through Friday, plus three evenings that held certified contests, and, finally, the troops of accompanists who spend more time on stage than the contestants. The top five accompanists, Darin Meeks, Hyatt Hopkins, Ben LiaBraaten, Makaela Ruggs, and Rod Anderson  were on stage over 240 times between them. 
 Putting the country’s pandemic-era in the rearview mirror, all of the competitions were played in-person right here in Weiser this year. There’s no better way to experience this event than to just be there and see it for yourself..
Monday, June 17
Small Fry
 Starting with 18 contestants in the Small Fry division, 7-year-old Isley Dietrich, Casa Grande, Ariz., won the championship title, moving up from second place in 2023 and fourth place in 2022. Isley has been coming to the NOTFC for seven years, so mathematically, has been competing here almost half her life. Along with fiddling, she loves barrel racing with her “really good horse,” Black Beauty, and said her favorite song to play is Walk Along John.
 Completing the very competitive division were: Abby Buckley, 8, Missoula, Mont., second; Hartford Coyle, 8, Ennis, Mont., third; Lincoln Landon, 7, Hamer, Idaho, fourth; and Kasen Milburn, 8, Caldwell, Idaho, fifth.
Tuesday, June 18
Junior-Junior and U17 Swing
 Now in her fifth year of competing at the NOTFC, 2024 Junior Junior Champion McKenna Petersen started playing classical violin at 3½ years old, adding fiddle to her resume at the age of 5. Besides her age divisions, over the past five years she has competed in the Twin Fiddling division with her mom, as well as Trick and Fancy Fiddling competitions.
 There was a tie for fifth place after the second round in this year’s Junior-Junior competition, sending six fiddlers into the final round, with the other five finalists placing as follows: Kambri Jensen, 12, Meridian, Idaho, second; Chloe Nicolayeff, 11, Meridian, Idaho, third; Sawyer Dietrich, 9, Casa Grande, Ariz., fourth; Sorella High, 12, Blackfoot, Idaho, fifth; and Logan Venner, 12, Nampa, Idaho, sixth.
 The 2024 Swing divisions played out over two nights, with the 17 and under division finals on Tuesday night. When the rosin dust settled, 12-year-old Max Francis, Victoria, BC, Canada earned the win. Finishing third in the division in 2023, Francis also won the Junior Junior title in his first year attending Weiser, and moved up to the Junior division this year, winning second place on Thursday night.
 Rounding out the top five 2024 placings are: Jesse Quintana, 16, Lakewood, Colo., second; Adrienne Jensen, 13, Meridian, Idaho, third; Rachel Beck, 16, Melba, Idaho, fourth; and McKinley Rudkin, 13, Fruitland, Idaho, fifth.
Wednesday, June 19
Senior, Senior-Senior, and 
18 and over Swing
 A multiple NOTFC title-holder over the past 55 years, John Francis, 69, of Salt Lake City, fiddled his way to one more title in the 2024 Senior Division.
 Running into him and this year’s Senior-Senior Champion, Starr McMullen, Francis told the Signal American, “Clearly, because this is my last year in the Seniors, I feel incredibly old and decrepit, and I can hardly wait to move into the upper division. Thank goodness, I won this one,” as he hurried off to the practice room to accompany fiddlers in the next divisions.
 McMullen added, “For the last two years I’ve really enjoyed being in a different division than John, because I came in second to him every time I played against him.”
 Earning second was another Weiser perennial, competing in the division for her first time, JayDean Ludiker, 60, Otis Orchards, Wash.; Joe Sites, 69, Rigby, Idaho, third; Scott Sumner, 63, Milton Freewater, Ore., fourth; and Janet Shelby, 67, Otis Orchards, Wash., fifth. Everyone of them with decades of ties to the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest.
 Winning her second Senior-Senior title in as many years, McMullen discovered a love for fiddling in 1987, growing out of years spent playing violin with the Oregon State University symphony. Her day job was that of an economics professor at OSU, where she continues as an Emeritus faculty member. Attending Weiser for the past 37 years, she won the Senior title in 2014, and has regularly placed in the top five of her divisions. In addition to playing and judging contests, she is the founder and chair of the Willamette Valley Fiddle Contest.
 The top five are all familiar names around the contest: Eileen Walter, 72, Portland, Ore., second; Mabel Vogt, 81, Potlatch, Idaho, third; Beth Weber, 75, Ajo, Ariz., fourth; and Duane Stephens, 82, Grangeville, Idaho, fifth.
 Not unlike the U17 Swing division, the Swing 18 and over class of fiddlers displayed a full gamut of technique and approach in their presentations. In the end,  James Mason, 65, Battle Ground, Wash. won the title; Katie Glassman, 43, Venice, Calif., second;  Monte Gaylord, 61, Nowata, Okla., third; Celeste Johnson, 25, Denver, Colo., fourth; Vi Wickam, 48, Loveland, Colo.fifth.
Thursday, June 20
Adult, Twin fiddling, U17 and 18 and over
 Thursday evening was jam-packed with 12 fiddlers playing a second round in the Adult division, and then finishing up with the top five playing off for the final standings, and another 10 sets of twin fiddle contestants in two age divisions. 
 When it was over, Caldwell, Idaho’s Julie Miller claimed her first title after many years of competing in Weiser. The thing is, during that time Miller has pretty consistently been found among the top five finishers as she’s grown through the age divisions.  
 No contest is complete without a new twist. Winning second place is Tim Hodgson, 58, Idaho Falls, Idaho. At the end of his first tune in the final round, a hand cramp rendered Hodgson unable to go on with his last two songs. After several minutes and discussion among the judges, NOTFC board member Gary Schuh announced the judges would restart Hodgson at close to one and a-half minutes into his five-minute round. The only rules in the contest closely related are time given to restring instruments when a string breaks.
 Third through fifth place went to: Aimee Petersen, 51, Fulshear, Texas, third; Aaron Fewkes, 39, Meridian, Idaho, fourth; and Vi Wickam, 48, Loveland, Colo., fifth.
 In the U17 Twin Fiddle division, the competition was tight, with the duo of Ranelle Dietrich, Casa Grande, Ariz., and Jesse Quintana, Lakewood, Colo., winning first. The next day Dietrich competed in the Junior division, while Quintana, 16, took a stab at the Grand National title. Lorelei Hein, Sherwood, Ore., and Thomas Paskvan, Southlake, Texas, placed second; Tristan Paskvan, Southlake, Texas, and McKenna Petersen, Fulshear, Texas, third; sisters, Eliza Beck and Rachel Beck, Melba, Idaho, fourth; and Jetta Brooks, Middleton, Idaho and Lars Hagbom, Bend, Ore., fifth.
 The 18 and over Twin Fiddling division saw Shelby Murdock, Blackfoot, Idaho, and Tessa Dalton, Idaho Falls, Idaho, claim first place. Filling out the roster, Libby Rogers and Jaidyn Lee, both from Boise, won second; Emilie Miller, Otis Orchards, Wash., and Dani Jo Meeks, Post Falls, Idaho, placed third; Aimee Petersen, Fulshear, Texas, and Cody Stadlemeier, Fort Collins, Colo., fourth; and Monte Gaylord, Nowata, Okla., and Jason Andrew, Whitewright, Texas, fifth.
Friday, June 21
Junior and Young Adults
 Contest goers were treated Friday night to the second round of the Grand National contest, two final rounds of the Junior division, and the Young Adult finals.
 The 2024 Junior division started at 8 a.m. that morning with 35 fiddlers all inside a narrow age window of 13 to 17 years. The first cut took that number to 12, and the final round included the musicians with the five highest cumulative scores.
 When the tallies were added up, 15-year-old Ranelle Dietrich, Casa Grande, Ariz., finished the evening with the 2024 title. 
 A multi-instrumentalist, Dietrich was onstage numerous times accompanying her younger siblings, Sawyer and Isley, in the Junior-Junior and Small Fry divisions, as well as winning the 17 and under Twin Fiddling division with the year’s second-place Grand National winner, Jesse Quintana. Her mother reported that Ranelle is hoping to compete in more contests around the country over the next year.
 The final Junior standings included: Max Francis, 13 (that day), Victoria BC, second; Thomas Paskvan, 16, Southlake, Texas, third; Tristan Paskvan, 13, Southlake, Texas, fourth; and Eliza Beck, 17, Melba, Idaho, fifth.
 Another longtime competitor at the NOTFC, Alex Sharps, 31, from Columbia, Calif., won the 2024 Young Adult championship title. A nationally competitive fiddler, Sharps holds several titles from contests around the country, and not only competes, but judges contests and plays backup accompaniment for other contestants.
 Rounding out the field for 2024 is: Julian Oliver, 19, Fort Collins, Colo, second, Shelby Murdock, 28, Blackfoot, Idaho, third; Tessa Dalton, 19, Idaho Falls, Idaho, fourth; and Danielle Meeks, 22, Post Falls, Idaho, fifth.
 See today’s front page of the Signal American for a story on the 2024 Grand National contest.


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