Open-fiddle contest returns to Lebanon

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Toes tapped against floors and fingers danced across strings during the 56th annual Oregon State Open Fiddle Contest, held March 19 at the Lebanon Mennonite Church.
It was a long-overdue return. The Oregon Old-Time Fiddlers Association last selected the city for the competition 27 years ago, converging at the high school in 1995. Usually, it takes place in Salem.
Lebanon residents and OOTFA members Jerry and Linda Parks located the Mennonite church when COVID-19 mandates were lifted and the organization found itself scrambling for a venue. Last year’s contest, like many events, was held online, but Jerry wasn’t impressed.
“With a virtual contest you lose the fellowship and fun of being with other musicians,” he said. “Many times we only get to see each other at the contest, and after several years it becomes like an annual family reunion.”
Face-to-face once again, Jerry competed in the senior-senior division, while Linda – who herself plays guitar and upright bass – tabulated the judges’ scores throughout the day. Jerry also accompanied many of his fellow contestants, including his young friends, the Ropps: 18-year-old Saxon and 14-year-old Gretchen, also of Lebanon. The Parks met the siblings four years ago after hearing they were looking for other players. They’ve been rubbing bows and strumming strings together on a weekly basis ever since.

GRETCHEN ROPP tries her fiddlin’ hand in the junior division during the Oregon State Open Fiddle Contest on March 19.

The competition lasted more than 12 hours with nearly 60 fiddlers in 10 divisions – most based on age – for a chance to win cash prizes. Each contestant played a waltz, hoedown and tune-of-choice. Saxon won $75 with a fourth-place finish in the young adult division.
Saxon started on the violin when he was 8 or 9, showing his sister what he was learning. Together, they decided to learn fiddling techniques.
“Fiddle is more enjoyable for me,” Saxon said.
The only difference between violins and fiddles is that violinists play classical styles while fiddlers play bluegrass, country and folk.
“It’s more lively than classical,” Gretchen said. “I think it’s more fun.”
Jerry also noted that fiddlers typically learn by ear, and sheet music is not allowed on the stage. Otherwise, he joked, they may as well be violinists.
“If you want to violin, you go somewhere else,” he said. “We’re fiddlers.”
The Parks and Ropps will play from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, June 2, at the Lebanon Farmers Market, then from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, at the Sweet Home Farmers Market. The Parks will also assist at the July 18-21 OOTFA West Cascades Fiddle Camp in Pleasant Hill.
For more information, contact Jerry Parks at (541) 905-2312, email him at [email protected], or visit Fiddlecamp.net and ootfa.org.