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More Than Just Fiddling: Young And Old Players In A New Contest At 508 Park 11

Wes Westmoreland tuning up. Photos: Courtesy of Alan Govenar

To borrow a line from one of Bob Wills’ tunes: This’ll make him ‘stay a little longer.’  There’s a new fiddle contest in town, and it’ll take place where Wills and his Texas Playboys made their legendary first recordings 80 years ago.

508 Park is the historic former Warner Brothers recording studio where, in the ’30s, Wills, bluesman Robert Johnson, the Light Crust Doughboys and other musicians lay down some of their most famous numbers. The building is now being renovated by Encore Park into a community center that includes The Museum of Street Culture, an Amphitheater and a community garden.

508 Park’s first annual Fiddle and Western Swing competition will kick off the Museum of Street Culture’s music series, which currently has events running through April. The free and public concerts, organizer Alan Govenar says, will focus on musical traditions born on “the back roads and sidewalks of America — in small towns, sprawling suburbs and inner city neighborhoods.”

Competitors in the Fiddle and Western Swing contest will fall into six different age divisions ranging from under 8 to 65 and older and include several stylistic categories.

Govenar says there will be special emphasis on younger players with three age divisions for kids 17 and younger. The Texas Old Time Fiddlers Association, a partnering organization with the Museum of Street Culture, believes encouraging children to perform enhances development and fosters the next generation of Texas musicians, Govenar says.

“Music is a proven pathway to success and those people who play music tend to do well in education and life,” he says.

Jim Chancellor - one of the judges for the 508 Park Fiddle Contest presented by The Museum of Street Culture. Courtesy: Alan Govenar

Jim Chancellor – a judge for the 508 Park Fiddle Contest.

There will also be a category for the musicians who accompany the fiddlers on six- and four-string guitars, typical back-up instruments for Texas fiddling, Govenar says. And there’ll be another contest, open to individual or small groups of fiddlers, called “The Roots of Western Swing” that will pay homage to the style of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

“The Roots of Western Swing category will provide them a way to play some of the more ‘fun’ songs they might play in a jam session or band setting, songs that were so influential to the development of Texas fiddling,” Govenar says.

There will be on-site registration for all categories in the competition, and sign-ups will be open until numbers are drawn to determine the order of performance, Govenar says.

The contest will take place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, November 7, at the 508 Park Amphitheater. Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor, Wes Westmoreland and Valerie Ryals — all “legends in Texas fiddling” — will judge the contest and will give special performances during the festivities as well.

Alan Govenar is a music historian — author of ‘Texas Blues’ — a playwright, a documentary filmmaker and a force behind Encore Park Dallas, the outreach project of The Stewpot and the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas.