ARCHBOLD, Ohio -- An older, hunched-over woman hobbled onto a stage with her 22-year-old, guitar-carrying companion Saturday. A classically trained violinist, this was her first time competitively fiddling at Sauder Village in three years.
Meg Litteral plodded to center stage and held onto guitarist Gideon Eddy for support. Then, she abruptly shed pillows hiding under her shirt, threw off her hat, and caught the audience off guard.
PHOTO GALLERY: Sauder Village fiddle contest
She may have been a senior competitor, but Ms. Litteral doesn’t appear to have been slowed by age. At 55, she stomped her foot as she played an uplifting hoedown and swayed to a subdued waltz. She was loose, energetic, and won the senior division, which had three competitors. But most of all, the fiddler-teacher said she was having fun.
Ms. Litteral of central Ohio’s Fredericktown was one of 14 fiddlers fiddling for fun at Saturday’s 33rd Sauder Village Fiddle Contest.
For nearly two hours, students, seniors, and an open class of fiddlers played five-minute sets of hoedowns and waltzes before an exhibit hall audience of about 500.
Judges with more than 30 years combined fiddling and bluegrass experience rated the contestants across five categories: for their technique, rhythm and timing, difficulty of selection, tone quality, and showmanship and crowd appeal.
It’s all about having fun, said two-time returning student champion Grant Flick, 14, of Bowling Green.
Grant, who has been playing the fiddle since his dad introduced him to bluegrass when he was 10, did not decide which songs he would play until just before he performed and took second in the open division. He said he practices 90 minutes daily, often improvising with his dad on acoustic guitar.
Contestants arrived as early as 10 a.m. to practice and play for visitors in the village before they made their way to the 1 p.m. competition at Founder’s Hall.
Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan’s Fossil Creek Bluegrass warmed up the contestants. Band member Dave Moore, who has been involved with the contest for nearly 30 years, was also a judge.
Mr. Moore’s family has played the fiddle in Ohio for generations. He said the judges structured the rules to keep the competition old-fashioned and the old music alive.
“They’re all about the same age, so it’s very competitive. I even had to rewrite the rules: ‘Try to have fun,’ ” he said.
In addition to the contest’s 10 basic rules, Rule 11 says, “Have fun with your fellow fiddlers and enjoy the day!”
Sarah Roberts, 17, of northeast Ohio’s Wooster played fiddle with her sister Rachel, 19, who played guitar. Sarah, who won fifth in the open division, said she has been playing fiddle since she fell in love with its “old” sound four years ago.
“It’s lively and you can just hear the life in the music. You can feel the moods. There’s waltzes where some are slow and dreamy and there’s the hoedowns that are exciting, you can just feel the beat,” she said.
Contestants’ ages ranged from 9 to 69, including nine who were 18 or under. Mr. Moore said he was pleased to see so many young fiddlers, but he was disappointed in the senior turnout.
“The young don’t have that continuity that I had when I was playing,” he said. “The old people used to take us under their arms and show us stuff. They were real supportive. There’s not as much of that now.”
Brad Mularcik, 14, of northeast Ohio’s Copley, won the student division. At 14, he was the oldest of the division’s four entrants.
The open division winner was Joe Lautzenheiser, 18, of North Lawrence, also in northeast Ohio. It was the biggest division with seven entrants.
Although some walked away with more prize money than others, all won something — be it a trophy, ribbon, or “Sauder Bucks” to spend in the village.
And the audience appeared to love the contest. Diane Ferguson, of Belleville, Mich., said she visited the village with her husband Thursday and returned with their grandson Cooper, 10, to see the fiddlers play. Cooper marveled, “It was really cool to see how fast they move their fingers.”
Contact Danielle Trubow at: email@example.com, 419-724-6129, or on Twitter @danielletrubow.