Join our Old-Time Contest

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Contest Categories

  • Old-time Fiddling
    LEVELS: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced
  • Old-time Fiddling Youth- Ages 4-12
    LEVELS: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced
  • Traditional Banjo, any pre- bluegrass style
    LEVELS: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced
  • Old-time Guitar (Flat-pick or fingerpicking)
  • Mandolin
  • Traditional Singing
  • Youth (4-12) Singing
  • Other Folk Instrument (dulcimer, autoharp, jaw harp, etc.)
  • Traditional Band Performance (playing in traditional styles)
    LEVELS: Beginner/Intermediate, and Advanced
  • Best Backup Instrument


  • You can register in advance or on the day of the festival.
  • Note that ADVANCED performers must pre register online and will be given a time slot on the Performance Stage on the Stow House Main Lawn.


  • Registration is available online (through October 12) or in person until 1:00 pm on October 14 for the Contest Stage.
  • Advanced competitors who wish to compete on the Performance Stage MUST pre-register online.
  • All contestants are encouraged to preregister.
  • The contest is limited to 100 competitors, maximum.
  • On the day of the Convention, please register at the Registration Table any time before 1:15pm.


  • The contest will be held on the ‘Mel Durham Contest Stage’, except that the first 20 pre-registered contestants in the Advanced Fiddle, Advanced Youth Fiddle, Advanced Banjo, and Advanced Band Performance categories who will compete on the Performance Stage beginning at 1:15pm.
  • Beginner/Intermediate level categories:
    The contest for beginner/Intermediate levels, Mandolin, Singing, ‘Other’ Folk Instrument, and Best Backup instrument will be held on the ‘Mel Durham Contest Stage’ in the Ranch yard beginning at 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (then at 2:30 p.m. to completion pending participation)


  • First, Second, and Third Place prizes may be awarded by category.
  • One additional prize will be awarded for Best Backup Instrument, and one prize for the Frank Javorsek Award for Outstanding Young Musician.
  • The judges reserve the right to move a contestant to a higher level, if warranted, with no penalty to the contestant.


  • CHECK-IN... Those wishing to compete are urged to register upon arrival. Pre-registered contestants must check in 30 minutes prior to assigned time slot. Advanced level pre-registered contestants MUST CHECK-IN by 1:00pm.  Advanced performers on the main stage must arrive at stage by 1:05 pm.
  • If you miss your performance time slot, you will be moved to the end of the contest pending space availability.
  • WHAT MUSIC TO PLAY... The music you play must be within the old-time tradition and must be traceable to 1934 or earlier. If your piece is not well known, help the judges by providing some evidence to support its provenance; for instance, tell the judges how you learned it, or when it was first recorded or documented. (You will earn points for this!) You are strongly encouraged to read the section below on “What We Mean by Old-time Music.”
  • POINTS are given for authenticity of music and style, musicianship, and stage presence. All judging decisions are final.
  • TIMING... Performances are limited to four minutes or less. Time it at home so you won’t run over. Overtime will result in point deductions. Retuning your instrument during your performance will not be counted against the four- minute performance limit.
  • BACKUP MUSICIANS... You may have no more than two backup musicians. The judges must be able to hear and see the contestant clearly, so one backup instrument is usually preferred. The contestant should not be hidden from the judges by the backup musicians. There is no limit to the number of times a backup musician can be on stage.
  • MAXIMUM ENTRIES... A single contestant may not enter the contest in more than two categories, not including Band Performance.
  • If a contestant is an immediate family member of a judge for their category, that judge will not participate in scoring the contestant.
  • Judges' decision are final on all who enter and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • Goleta Valley Historical Society reserves the right, in its sole discretion to modify, cancel, or suspend all elements of the Contest.

What we mean by "OLD-TIME" music

Old-time music is not just “old.” It is a uniquely American music derived mostly from the traditional music of Europe and Africa and the interesting ways in which they combined and developed. While it is now played everywhere in the United States, it originated primarily in rural southeastern America at a time when the only way to hear or learn music was from a musician within hearing distance.

Styles such as bluegrass and country music developed from these roots only after the rise of the recording and broadcast industries. At the Old-time Fiddlers’ Convention we try to avoid these derivative styles by insisting that all contestants play or sing music that dates from 1934 or earlier, in a style and with instrumentation appropriate for that time. Other types of old music such as Native American, Irish, Cajun, New England, Canadian or Mexican, and jazz, to name only a few, are certainly equally compelling but are not what we mean by “oldtime music.”

Tunes and songs squarely within the tradition will be given the most weight in the “Authenticity of Style” judging category. Tunes that do not meet our definition and that have made it to the Competition Stage in prior years – for example, Orange Blossom Special (written in 1938) or Ashoken Farewell (written in 1982) – will no longer be considered eligible.