By 1 p.m., Lyons Park was jammed and jamming for the 29th Annual Lyons Fiddle Festival.
When East Side Dave Kline got on stage, he looked out at the fields of people and said, “I don’t know if anybody said it official yet, but if you look around, there sure are a lot of you out there. Give yourselves a round of applause because I think you made history today in a record crowd here at the Lyons Fiddle Festival.”
A record breaking 5,786 fiddle enthusiasts attended the festival on Sept. 16.
The honor of emcee for the day was shared between radio show celebrity Uncle Jeffrey Tappler and Keith Brintzenhoff, Kutztown musician and educator.
Opening ceremonies included the National Anthem sung by Hannah Violet Miller, winner of the Youngest Fiddler Award at the age of seven. Hoping to claim that title was 6-year old Parker Keddington, Macungie; he is a third generation of violinists. Although Keddington is learning classical violin, he loves to fiddle, too. He chose to play “Camptown Races” and “Boil Them Cabbage Down” for his first competition.
When asked why those two tunes, Keddington said, “Those are the only ones I know.”
A violin instructor for a couple of the competitors selected the music for her students.
“I tried thinking of what appealed to each student based on their personality and, of course, I tried to consider their level of playing skill, too. I wanted to pick songs they had fun with,” said Mary Ann Saylor.
Even the audience played an influential part in the competition.
“For the audience, the People’s Choice Award goes to whoever the audience thinks is the best fiddle presenter. And how do we determine that? By your applause. We have learned we can’t judge our own ears and hearing so we have an applause meter. So if you think somebody deserves to get the People’s Choice because he’s the most entertaining, clap like crazy,” said Brintzenhoff.
Once people staked out a spot to set their chairs, they formed long lines at the food stands, one of the biggest draws for the festival. Ralph and Florence Schappell, Leesport, came for the food and to listen to the music.
“I’m a guitar player myself. If I hear the melody, I can play it,” said Ralph Schappell.
Schappell said the best time to start is when you are a kid. He thought the kids competing were good for 10 year olds; that was when he started to play.
Beyond the masses of people seated around the stage was yet another layer to the festival; here is where people get together and jam just as the old-time players did.
A retired woman with auburn hair and not a single gray to whisper her age, sat under a tree with a banjo across her lap. Victoria Brien said she was one of nine children and had picked up playing the banjo from her older brothers. By the age of eight, she could play Cripple Creek.
Near the stage, a woman wearing a pink hat sat in a chair and hummed to a tune being played by a contestant.
“It’s Power in the Blood,” said Peggy Lieb, Shoemakersville. “I’m sure it’s a Christian type song; an older song from years back and there should be more of them. I miss them.”
Lieb had never been to the festival before and came just to see Dave Kline perform mountain music.
“Mountain folk music comes from way back down in the Tennessee Hills and in Kentucky and in that area,” said Lieb.
East Side Dave Kline took the audience back to a time many attendees like Lieb loved. He even got them involved by inviting them on stage to yodel with him.
“Yodeling is a tradition that goes back a long, long time in this country and of course way back in time over in the old world as well,” said Kline.
One of the styles of yodeling Kline demonstrated went back to the king and the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. Kline played a short little rendition of an old tune that helped Monroe to get popular in the bluegrass scene down in the Old Opry. Although Kline played the song “A Little Bit of the Mule Skinner Blues” on a guitar, it is typically played on the fiddle.
“A lot of tunes were brought over from England, Scotland, and Ireland and carried down into the Southern Appalachian. They played what we call old-time music or old-time string band music. Of course, the obvious example is Bill Monroe,” said Brintzenhoff.
According to Britnzenhoff, the style of playing banjo had been perfected by Earl Scruggs, who was asked by Monroe to join his bluegrass band. The term bluegrass originated from Monroe’s home on the bluegrass of Kentucky. Because he played with Monroe, it became known as the three-finger or bluegrass style. The main difference between old-time music and bluegrass music is the way the banjo is played. Bluegrass is done with a three-finger picking style instead of the old-time up-picking or down-picking style. He also said that in the old style, everybody played at the same time; the fiddle player, the banjo player, the mandolin player, whatever, and they go crazy. In bluegrass music, they take turns; first the fiddle player would play and then the banjo player and then the mandolin player.
Many of the people who came to the festival with their mandolins, banjos, guitars, fiddles, etc., played at the same time much as the old-time players did as Brintzenhoff had described.
The Lyons Fiddle Festival was started back in 1983 by Arlan and Donna Schwoyer, former Lyons residents, and run by the Schwoyers for 23 years. The event continued yearly until 2006 after the Schwoyers resigned, not able to produce the annual event. No festival was held that year. But in 2007, borough council person Suzie Reed, (who has since passed away) with the help of others, revived the festival.
Revenues generated from the festival have enabled the Lyons Park and Recreation Department to reconstruct the Veteran’s Memorial, finance the addition of permanent rest room facilities, maintain and improve the playground area, update and improve the pavilion, dredge the stream and pond, build a memorial to the town’s tornado victims and are currently being proposed to help finance a memorial walking path. Parking fees go to the Lyons Fire Company Truck Crew and Kutztown Hobos.