Tradition connects musicians at 40th East Benton Fiddlers Convention

Posted July 30, 2012, at 3:16 p.m.
Last modified July 31, 2012, at 10:11 a.m.

BENTON, Maine — Orange wooden markers, shaped like fiddles, tacked to trees and telephone poles marked the trail from Fairfield to the 40th annual East Benton Fiddlers Convention Sunday on the Littlefield family farm.

Some folks camped in the old pasture the night before, others trickled through the morning. About an hour past noon, the festivities kicked off on the wooden stage at the bottom of the hill while listeners settled into their lawn chairs and picnics.

This same scene has played out on the farm since July 1972, back when Red and Shirley Littlefield presided over the shindig. It started when Shirley befriended a bunch of students, interested in traditional music, at nearby Colby College. She was their house mother and she worked in the cafeteria. She would invite them out to join her family for Sunday dinners.

The first Fiddlers Convention was held right in front of the blacksmith shop, by the pigpen. Some of the same students, now pushing into their 60s, were on hand this year as well. Greg Boardman was one of them. He also won the first four competitions. This year, he was a judge.

I was a judge as well. I don’t play the fiddle, but I love listening to others play. I’m not an expert. I’m an aficionado. I’ve been attending the convention for more than a decade. I guess it was my turn. I was honored to be asked by Red and Shirley’s daughter Rose McManus. Rose’s son, Cody, played his fiddle in the competition, too, reaching the finals.

Carter Newell, of The Old Gray Goose band and a longtime competitor, had won the top prize at the convention numerous times. This year, he passed the torch, finishing third behind 15-year-old Max Silverstein and his own daughter, Maisie Newell.

That’s really what traditional songs, tunes and stories are all about. They are a connection through time. They’re generous gifts to the future, from those who came before us, like the East Benton Fiddlers Convention itself.

Will Max, Maisie and Cody be on hand in East Benton to pass it on again in 40 years? Only time can answer the question.

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