It was a beautiful Indian-summer’s day in Goleta, California, when men, women, and children alike came together to listen to bluegrass music and enjoy good vibes and picturesque scenery. Upon entering the festival – which took place in an area where Anne of Green Gables would have likely been spotted – guests were immediately greeted with warm smiles, and even the sky’s lone cloud seemed to be resisting the autumnal breeze in hopes of staying a bit longer to listen to the event’s delicious music.
Bluegrass has been around for centuries, sparking numerous careers and bringing joy to people of all ages. Because of the widespread locales of bluegrass fans, the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara Sunrise hosts the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention and Festival every year, consistently paying homage to the vintage music genre in order to invite guests to watch clog dancing, participate in music workshops, and listen to the sweet, melodic sounds of bluegrass music.
The festival was first held on the Lagoon Lawn at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was founded by Peter Feldmann, a graduate of UCSB and bluegrass enthusiast.
“By 1972, I had been performing in Southern California for ten years, and had come to the realization that very few people in the state had a clear idea of what old time fiddling, folk, old time, blues, and bluegrass musics…were all about,” wrote Feldmann on his blog at BluegrassWest.com. “This event seemed to me a way to help educate folks about their own musical heritage, and I began to tailor the Convention to meet this goal.”
Andrew Doerr, the festival’s director for the past five years, agreed with Feldman, explaining that another major goal of the OTFCF, “is to keep the American Old Time music alive and vibrant. It’s for this reason that we host one of the premier Old Time music contests on the West coast, with folks competing on a variety of instruments and songs, and at all ages and skill levels,” said Doerr.
The event has accomplished its goals over the past 42 years, and in doing so, the Rotary Club has been able to host the festival at one of the most beautiful locations possible. This past Sunday, Oct. 13, the festival was held locally at Goleta’s historic Stow House, which was built in 1873 and was the first commercial lemon orchard in California, according to one of the house’s volunteer tour guides. The timeless architecture reflected upon the 19th century era with its kelly-green shutters and wrap-around porch. The steps displayed a “No Jamming” sign, perhaps to discourage musicians from performing on the century-old building.
The inside of the house featured furniture from decades past, including a telephone circa 1918 and an electric washing machine, causing visitors’ jaws to drop in fascination with the foreign-looking contraption. The venue added to the vintage feel and charming ambiance, causing visitors to feel as if they were transported back in time to the bluegrass era of no worries and endless sun.
The festival featured workshops for guests to learn how to play the banjo and fiddle, a craft table where children could make wish jar necklaces, and a main performance stage where four bands, including this year’s headliners, The Brothers Comatose, showcased their music and shared their love of bluegrass with the rest of the Stow House visitors.
“We needed to bring the best traveling and local artists we could throughout the day,” said Doerr.
In the past five years, Doerr has incorporated performers from all over the country into the festival lineup, in addition to improving the competition.
“I feel we finally got it right by bringing the advanced competitors back to the Performance Stage, which both the competitors and the audience loved,” said Doerr.
When the festival first began over 40 years ago, all the proceeds covered the cost of the event itself, but since then, it has progressed to achieve more philanthropic goals. Today, the OTFCF is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara Sunrise – the organization that has produced the event for over a dozen years – and much of the proceeds goes toward funding both local and international service projects, including dental clinics for low-income families as well as improving water and medical facilities in two villages in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Central America.
Overall, the 42nd Annual Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention and Festival was a success. The enjoyable atmosphere – complete with green lawns shaded by trees, catchy tunes, and vendors selling anything from handmade jewelry to fiddles – caused spectators to smile as they sat in their foldable lawn chairs on old picnic blankets, relaxing in the October sunshine and soaking in the soulful culture that bluegrass brings.