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Berlin presents Fiddler's Convention this weekend

9/19/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

BERLIN—Fiddlers of various stripes are preparing to take the stage as Berlin’s 21st annual Fiddler’s Convention begins on Sept. 20. The sponsor list for the two-day bluegrass music fest reads like a who’s-who of Main Street’s top businesses, leading with Bergey & Company, PNC Bank, SiCuli and Tex-Mex & Beyond.

Frank Nana, originally from Kingwood, W. Va., and a longtime Berlin resident, is a performer and manager of note in the genre himself. He has coordinated the program side of the event. He said during a Sept. 12 interview that he has been showcasing the uniquely American musical art form for the past 40 years.

As many as 50 musicians are anticipated to perform or compete in the contest, which will award prizes in two divisions in five categories. Adults will compete for prizes of $200, $150 and $100. The youth category will allow performers 16-years old or younger to compete for prizes of $125, $75 and $50. Youth performers will have the option of competing in the adult category, Nana said, but not in both categories.

The categories will be fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bluegrass band. The winners will be announced after the last band has performed, Nana said.

He said the performers will play public domain tunes, most of which date back to old Irish and English folk songs that were introduced to musicians in the Appalachian hills. According to Nana, the American version of the folk songs developed from Irish (fiddle), Italian (mandolin), and African-American (banjos), influences.

English musicologist Cecil Sharp, who was fictionalized as Cyrus Whittle in the 2000 movie “Songcatcher” is credited with capturing the genre on wax cylinders during his project to research English folk music.

Nana said he started playing banjo at Frontier Town, worked in Nashville, and has played with different groups and on the road at such places as Busch Gardens and other theme parks. He now also includes big band tunes from artists such as Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller and is a frequent performer at the Blue Dog Cafe in Snow Hill. He said he also reenacts USO shows from World War II for veterans groups and events sponsored by friends, children and relatives seeking to celebrate The Greatest Generation.

Nana said he organizes eight event s per year in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, often in coordination with the local chambers of commerce.

To get the first events off the ground he said he had to enlist the help of mostly relatives from West Virginia to perform in Berlin. In West Virginia “you can kick a tree and 10 fiddle players will fall out,” he joked.

On Friday from 7-7:45 p.m., the 2012 winning bluegrass performers, Saltwater String Band, will be the opening act, followed by a shout out to honor the town’s summertime champions, the Berlin Little League team.

Then, from 8-10 p.m., headliners Reno & Harrell will get the town’s collective toes tapping. The band was named after Don Wesley Reno, one of the country’s top banjo players, and Bill Harrell, a major guitarist and vocalist. Band members are the late great stars’ sons, Dale Reno, a top mandolin player himself, his brother Don Wayne Reno on banjo, and Mitch Harrell, who, like his famous father, specializes on guitar and vocals. They will debut their first collaborative album, Reno & Harrell Sons of Legend compact discs during the event.

On Saturday, from 10-10:45 a.m. The Saltwater String Band will again lead off the day’s activities, according to Nana. From 11 a.m. until noon, Reno & Harrell will be the star attractions for the second day of the event.

The contest will begin at noon and continue to 5 p.m.

The event was started by the late Berlin Jim Barrett, who was first exposed to the songs during a trip to pick his son up from college in West Virginia one year.

Among the events’ alumni are the Simpson Family, of Fairfax Station, Va., who have since gone on to perform with artists like Yanni and Paul McCartney, Nana said.

Along with the musical performances, the Worcester County Arts Council will host artists throughout the town and surrounding area for Berlin’s fourth Paint Berlin plein air event.

The Berlin Main Street Design Committee will be selling both Main Street logo tote bags and keepsake ornaments, during the convention. Proceeds will help pay for various Christmas Decorations in the town’s business district.

Sales will take place on Friday on North Main St. near Pitt Street and on Saturday, the items will be on sale further south on Main Street towards the stage area. The bags will sell for $10 each and the decorations are available for a donation of $15, the committee said.

For those unable to purchase items at these dates, several downtown stores carry them also, or interested shoppers may contact Helen Wiley at 443-513-6655 for additional information.  

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