Oct. 06--ATHENS -- While old-time bluegrass bands took the main stage in front of Founders Hall on Saturday, the real virtue of the 47th annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention was evident across campus.
In the courtyard behind Founders Hall at Athens State, bows and scrolls peek out above troves of finger-picking guitarists, bass pluckers and banjo players, each gathered beneath a pocket of shade, leaning in for harmonies and tuning their fiddles to the same key.
More than 200 musicians compete in 18 categories, including fiddle, guitar and mandolin.
For many, however, the festival is as much about friends and mutual admiration as music.
"I met the love of my life at this festival two years ago," said banjo-player Chris Cabarro, 26, explaining how his journey from Tennessee to Florence started at the convention two years ago.
"There are what you could call people who play for fun, but then there are tons of unsung heroes of this music that are legends among us," he said.
Cabarro, with a fire-red beard, contends the beauty of the event isn't only in the players.
"There are an awful lot of spectators. They are just local people who want to hear good music," he said.
Across the courtyard, Dennis Rhodes clicked his heels along to a tune -- flat-footing to add a percussive beat to the old-time bluegrass band. Rhodes, dressed in a gray shirt, denim overalls and a straw hat, loves many parts of the annual event.
"The people, the music, the dancing," said Rhodes, who traveled to Athens from Hancock, Ky. "It's kind of like a homecoming."
Athens State graduate Weston Stewart, 23, of Anderson, returned this year with his banjo and dobro, after winning events in 2010 and 2011.
"Athens is kind of my hometown festival," he said. "I get to see my friends from this area that I know because I live here, and I get to see my friends from all over the county that come to this festival."
Ron Tubbs, 74, of Hazel Green, brings his guitar each year because of the camaraderie.
"We just like to sit around and play songs and sing some," he said.
Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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