Upper East Tennessee has long been a land of deep musical traditions. Englishman Cecil Sharp knew this in 1916 when he selected Rocky Fork in Unicoi County as his first stop to collect ballads. And in 1925 the famous Mountain City Fiddler’s Convention attracted a who’s who of southern Appalachian fiddling, and reminds us just how varied and unique this regions music is.
The gateway mountain counties of Unicoi, Carter, and Johnson give way to the great Tennessee Valley to the north and west, and to the upper reaches of the western North Carolina mountains to the south and east. The story of the music here is one about the movement of people, both in and out of these highlands, and a story about people playing music, from generation to generation, in their chosen community.
The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention takes place April 27-28 and celebrates not only the early influential musicians who made recordings (JD Harris, Osey Helton, John Dykes, George and Lloyd Payne, Dud Vance, GB Grayson, Charlie Bowman, and many others), but also the those who played informally, for the love of music and fellowship with one another.
The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention is a collaboration between Rocky Fork State Park and ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission.
What to Expect
The Fiddler’s Convention attracts all ages, from all over the United States. The two days of old time music include an old-fashioned Square Dance on Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m., complete with a caller and cloggers.
Saturday brings the main event with a contest from 1 to 6 p.m., followed by a meal and contest finals at 8 p.m. Awards are reminiscent of original music contests with honors given to the Fiddlingest Fiddler, Top Banjo Picker, Dancingest Dancer, Hottest String Band and Best Dressed to name a few. Award categories aren’t the only thing that keeps folks coming back and talking about this unique event year round, perhaps it’s the actual awards themselves. Winners are not only given cash, but a barlow knife, streaked meat, honey, lemons, Epsom salt, legendary mountain ramps and even a broom.
The Convention takes place in Unicoi County by the grounds of Flag Pond Elementary School.
4399 Old Asheville Hwy, Flag Pond, TN 37657
While You’re There
Rocky Fork State Park:
Rocky Fork State Park is 2,037 acres of scenic wilderness in Unicoi County, in the southern Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. The park is approximately 30 minutes from both Johnson City and Asheville, N.C., and 10 miles from Erwin, the county seat. Rocky Fork was designated Tennessee’s 55th Tennessee State Park in October 2012.
Unicoi County Area
As its mountains tower over the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Unicoi County combines wonders of natural beauty with intriguing stories of history and culture. Here, elegant small towns bustle with sidewalk shops and eateries, locals recount fascinating stories of the past and future, and visitors stand in astonishment of nature’s true marvels. We invite you to enjoy our picturesque scenery, embrace our local culture, and experience the spirit-lifting wonder that only exists in “The Valley Beautiful.”
USA Raft / Mountain River Guides
Looking to create unforgettable memories while in the mountains? That is why they are here! Mountain River Guides offers caving, guided fishing, rafting, SUP and tubing from an outfitter you know and trust. Experience outdoor adventure at its finest with whitewater rafting on the French Broad, Nolichucky and Watuaga Rivers. Also offering guided wild caving adventures in Worley’s Cave. Guests can also add on an overnight stay in the Crockett Cabin and Bunkhouse on the banks of the Nolichucky River after an adventure trip.
Tim Pharis, Rocky Fork State Park
Roy Andrade, ETSU Department of Appalachian Studies