Any competition relies heavily on good organization and a reputation of fun and fairness. This was very important when the new Twin Lakes National Fiddler Championship was developed. With this in mind, the judges selected for the event each year are of critical importance.
Contest Director Ed Carnes grew up in Leitchfield and has been involved in contests for many years as a fiddler and is a Nationally Qualified Fiddle judge.
“If you get fair, respected, and qualified judges, fiddlers will come” said Carnes.
The criteria for judges this year rely heavily on experienced musicians with stature in the fiddling community plus their knowledge and reputation for fairness and expertise. Being a good fiddle judge takes specific experience not available in the general music or violin community.
“We had 77 fiddlers last year and that tells me that we did a great job in selecting judges. I know each of the judges personally, I know they are competent and fair, and each have judged at many prestigious competitions across the U.S.” said Carnes. “We are very lucky to get musicians and judges of their caliber to help us this year and we expect as many or even more fiddlers this year.”
Let’s meet the judges:
Kelly has won many prestigious fiddle contests; was Roy Acuff’s last “Smoky Mountain Boy” fiddle player on the Grand Ole Opry; and has developed a successful career as a sideman, touring with Country stars Pam Tillis, Steve Wariner, Faith Hill, Lonestar, SheDaisy, Alan Jackson, and currently with Clint Black. He has performed on the stages of the Kennedy Center; the Grammy, CMA and ACM Awards shows; the Tonight Show; the David Letterman Show; Good Morning America; and Carnegie Hall.
A native Pennsylvanian, Kelly began playing fiddle at age eight, and by the age of twelve he had won the Canadian National Open Fiddle Championship. During his contest career, he went on to win the state championships of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, as well as the Mid-America Championship twice. In 1983, at the age of seventeen, Kelly won the most famous fiddle title in the nation, the Grand Master Fiddler Championship.
Kelly’s favorite career highlight, aside from winning the Grand Master Fiddler Championship and being a member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys, was playing Carnegie Hall with Alan Jackson. When he is not touring with Clint Black, he divides his musical time between performing with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band; doing session work around Nashville; maintaining a private teaching schedule; and teaching a violin class at a local private school.
Branum is a freelance fiddle, mandolin, and guitar player in Nashville, TN. Starting on fiddle at age 12, Justin began playing contest fiddling and soon branched out into the styles of western swing, jazz, country, and bluegrass.
In 2008, Branum won his age division at the National Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest and in 2010 he won the Tennessee State Fiddle Contest, the Gone to Texas Fiddle Contest in Hallettsville, Texas and the Grand Master Fiddler Championship in Nashville.
Branum holds a Masters in Jazz Performance from Webster University in St. Louis and has been on adjunct faculty as the fiddle and mandolin professor for both Webster and Washington Universities in St. Louis, MO. He performs across the U.S. and teaches fiddle, guitar, and mandolin lessons in the Nashville area and nationwide on the internet.
Matt Wyatt is the current Missouri State Fiddle Champion and has competed and judged at hundreds of contests across the country. He grew up listening to the fiddle and developed a love and respect for music at a young age. Matt Wyatt learned directly from some of Missouri’s best fiddlers, including his Grandpa “Bud” Wyatt, his great Grandpa Charlie Wyatt, and many others.
Growing up, his father Allen took him to nearly every contest in Missouri and all over the country. Matt Wyatt graduated from Belmont, in Nashville, with a degree in Commercial Music. During his time in Nashville, he played on the Grand Old Opry and at the Ryman while touring with Jerry (”Jug”) and Tammy Sullivan. He played with many other artists as well and now plays with the Saint Louis based band Swing Deville www.SwingDeville.com.
Through his experiences, Matt Wyatt has developed his skills and his knowledge of the traditions of old-time fiddling makes him a direct link to that driving sound. He owns the Wyatt Violin Shop along with his Father, in Kansas City, Missouri. He spends a lot of time on the bench doing repair work; tonal adjustments are one of his specialties. He travels the country buying and selling instruments and hand picks every instrument and bow for the shop. He is an experienced player and his passion for music is equaled in his interest in old instruments and bows. Matt Wyatt has spent a considerable amount of time studying the market of antique instruments and bows by attending major auctions regularly, continually building a network of other dealers and experts to consult, and handling many estates or collections. If you are looking for a particular instrument he can find it for you!
The Fiddle contest will be held Saturday, July 19 on the Courthouse Square in Leitchfield, beginning at 9 a.m. CDT.