By Lora Scripps
Tucked away in a cozy campground near Founders Hall Thursday, three shade tree musicians picked, bowed and laughed the morning away with family and friends.
The trio, all from different backgrounds, came together to share stories and a tune or two at the 47th annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention.
Earl Rice, who said he is 18 backwards, of Double Springs, has been a fiddling fixture at the event for more than 31 years. The fiddle and guitar player pulled his camper in last Friday. “I retired from General Motors in Indiana, moved down here and I’ve been coming ever since,” he said.
Fuz Buhrmester, 65, who claims both Jonesboro, Ark., — where he lives — and Mountain View, Ark. — where he plays music six months out of a year, has been in the area since Wednesday. “We were just going to stay one night,” he said, but he has already booked a hotel room for at least another night. He said this is his first time back to the Fiddlers Convention in about 15 years. “We came here back when my son was still in high school,” Buhrmester said.
A fiddler and guitar player, Buhrmester said he learned both instruments because one of his sons plays the guitar and the other plays the fiddle. He has been playing for more than 30 years. “I like to just have fun. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been playing that long and I’m no better than what I am,” he said with a grin.
“You’re a lot a better than I am,” Rice said.
“Well, hang on,” Buhrmester chimes in. “I’ve done heard you play.”
Carol Bishop, 63, of Knoxville, Tenn., is a frequent visitor to the festival. She has played the guitar for 30 years, and will vouch for both men.
“Both of these guys have taught me,” she said. “I’m a new fiddle player. I heard Fuz and latched on and I heard Earl and latched on. I’ve been right with these men everywhere I can find them.”
Rice and Buhrmester have a certain style Bishop likes. “They have extremely different styles than others do,” she said.
Bishop calls the style “wonderful.” “They’re both wonderful,” she said.
“I call it really old time fiddling,” Buhrmester said.
“I can’t hear out of this ear here,” Rice said pointing to his right ear. “And this one buzzes. And I can’t read no music and I can’t sing. I have to watch people to play with them.”
Buhrmester said he learned to play off a record player and watching others. “Watching other people is the best teaching system there is,” he said.
The group said fiddling was scarce at one time, but it came back.
Some of that comeback can be credited to bluegrass festivals. That’s where the three friends met. Buhrmester met Rice at this year’s Fiddlers Convention. Bishop met Rice two years ago at the convention and she met Buhrmester in southern Texas at a festival.
They found each other this week will a little help from technology and a whole lot of hunting.
“We found Earl last night,” Bishop said. ”Fuz found us last night. We just find a place and get to happening.”
“If you want to play music, you find it,” Rice said.
None of the group competes. They play shade tree music.
“That’s the fun part,” Buhrmester said. “No pressure.”
Bishop has competed before, but believes it takes up too much time. “It’s fun, but it’s too time consuming,” she said, admitting she likes the social aspect. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like listening to the competitions though. “They always have good entertainment, good food and plenty of shade and then, our friends.”
When asked what brings her back year after year, Bishop said, “friends.”
Rice agreed. “It’s because we love it,” he said.
“It’s about making new friends and hearing different music,” Buhrmester said.
It’s only fitting the friends — more like family — ended a reporter’s visit with a rendition of old time favorite “Gold Slippers.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” Rice said. “I’ve seen some play until there is no grass growing under their feet … that’s what it’s all about.”
The Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention starts today at Athens State. Gates open at 8 a.m.
Admission is $8 Friday, $10 Saturday, $15 for both days. Children ages 12 and under are admitted free with a parent.
To find out more, visit http://www.athens.edu/fiddlers.