Our History

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Since 1934 the Athens Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion has been held on the Henderson County courthouse lawn in Athens, Texas. One of the oldest, continuously-running fiddler’s contests in the country, the contest is produced by the Athens Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion and is devoted to the preservation of the style of music that once brought courage to starving troops at Valley Forge and continues to entertain millions today. The Athens Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion provides opportunities for fiddling friends to catch up with one another at the reunion, while the contest provides them with a chance to showcase their talents.

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The Athens Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion originally began in 1932 as an offset to a farmer’s study course. A fiddle is an early version of the violin, a medieval instrument with a long neck, rounded shape, and three to five strings with tuning pegs to loosen or tighten the strings.
This first fiddler’s contest was held in Bethel, Texas, with fourteen different string bands, and the event attracted an estimated 900 people. After the success of the contest in Bethel, civic leaders of Athens conspired together to lure the festival away from Bethel with promises of larger crowds and prizes.
In 1933 the fiddlers contest was staged at Athens High School. Beginning in 1934 and continuing to present, the contest has been held on the Henderson County courthouse square. In 1941 attendance had grown exponentially and was a favorite among fiddle music lovers.

The fiddler’s contest is the main attraction of the event, with music consisting of bluegrass, polka, and country. Held the last Friday of May each year, the competition is broken down into seven divisions: Small Fry (ages 9 years and under), Jr Jr ( ages 10 to 12), Junior (ages 13 to ), Adult (ages 18 to 59), Senior ( ages 60 & up), Open Division and Accompanist Division, with five prizes awarded to each division except the Open Division that offers seven awards.

Competitors are judged based on their bowing techniques, tune, tempo, and most importantly, how closely their sound approximates old-time fiddle music. A playoff occurs at the end of the day between the first place winners of each division. The winner of the playoff is crowned the grand champion. Additionally, in 2012 the event also introduced an accompanist contest.

Those not participating in the contest set up blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy listening to the music and reminiscing with old acquaintances. Concession and novelty stands line the sidewalks, and a carnival is set up behind the historic Texan Theater. Both Friday and Saturday evenings a professional country western band plays for a street dance.

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