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Berlin presents Fiddler's Convention this weekend

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.