Old-Time Contest

2023 Contest Categories

  • Old-Time Fiddle
  • Old-Time Banjo (Clawhammer, 2-finger, 3-finger)
  • Traditional Old-Time Singing (with or without accompaniment)
  • Youth Fiddle (4-15)
  • Youth Banjo (4-15)
  • Old-Time Band
  • Old-Time Guitar
  • Old-Time Mandolin
  • Misc. Instruments (dulcimer, harmonica, bones, etc.)

2023 Awards

  • First, Second, and Third Place prizes will be awarded by category.

2023 RULES

WHAT MUSIC TO PLAY... The music you play must be within the old-time tradition. 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, and musicianship. All judging decisions are final.
  • TIMING... Performances are limited to four minutes or less. Overtime will result in point deductions.
  • 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.
  • If a contestant is an immediate family member of a judge for their category, that judge will not participate in scoring the contestant.
  • Judges' decisions 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 musical melodies and rhythms of Europe, Africa & Native cultures 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. It quickly spread beyond the southeast, giving us the wide variety of old-time music traditions that we have throughout the country.

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’ Festival we try to avoid these derivative styles by insisting that all contestants play or sing music in a style and with instrumentation appropriate for the tradition. Other types of music such as “Progressive” Avant-garde acoustic music, Irish, Modern Contra, Mariachi, and Jazz, to name only a few, are certainly equally compelling but are not what we mean by “American old-time 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 Ashokan Farewell (written in 1982) – will no longer be considered eligible.

A few examples of old-time source musicians are: Joe & Odell Thompson, Manco Sneed, Edden Hammons, Tommy Jarrell, Elizabeth Cotten, Texas Gladden, Andrew & James Baxter, Melvin Wine, Bob Walters, Benny Thomasson, Earl Collins, Jim Bowles, Ed Haley, Eck Robertson, Dink Roberts, Carter Family, Will Adams, Hobart Smith, Gid Tanner, Narmour & Smith, Dwight Lamb, Dock Boggs, Pete Steele, Lyman Enloe, John Sharp, Gaither Carlton, Frazier & Patterson, Uncle Bunt Stephens, Buddy Thomas, John Salyer, Jim Booker, Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, Clyde Davenport, Charlie Acuff and so many more!

Alonzo Janes Festival Stage


Known in his family as "Uncle Jimmy," Alonzo Janes was born in Paris, Tennessee. His father's name was Peter, though sadly his mother's name is lost to history. They lived in a small brick farmhouse that his parents helped build, along with the extended families of the farm, both black and white. Family myth holds that Alonzo often travelled alongside his enslaver, sometimes on riverboats down the Mississippi. In New Orleans, where he was sometimes left alone, he considered running away, but was told by an elder not to worry, that soon they would all be free. He had thought it was a psychic prediction, but more likely, his advisor was simply reading the newspaper and knew of the coming war that would indeed liberate his people from bondage. After slavery, he moved with his wife, Mary Magdalene Wright, and their children to Moscow, Kentucky, and finally to southern Illinois. They initially resided in the small town of Onarga and then the slightly larger Pontiac. There he met the musical Durham family while working as a cooper. During this period he shared his fiddle tunes with the Durhams. Two of these tunes, “Over the Mountain” and “Alonzo Janes,” were passed down to fiddler Mel Durham (1914-2008) who relocated to Southern California just after World War II. Mel shared Alonzo’s tunes with several generations of fiddlers in California. When our festival director David Bragger first learned these tunes from Mel, he became obsessed with playing them and learning more about their origin. For the last 15 years David has been teaching Alonzo’s tunes around the world at festivals and workshops without much historical information about their source. However, a few years ago with the help of fiddler/genealogist Cynthia Richardson, David was miraculously connected with Alonzo Janes’ descendants. The family was able to hear their patriarch’s music for the very first time – they also provided photographs! It is with great pleasure that we are honoring fiddler Alonzo Janes as well as the folk process through which his tunes came to us (Janes to Durham to Bragger) by renaming our main stage “The Alonzo Janes Performance Stage.”