BERLIN – Berlin’s Fiddlers Convention, the town’s largest special event, will run a full three days this year, continuing the music from the evening of Friday, Sept. 21, into the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 23.
With a concert on Friday night, an annual staple added several years ago, and the addition of the blue grass and gospel jam on Sunday morning two years ago, the bluegrass event has been well on its way to becoming a true three-day long affair. Now with the 15th Annual Fiddlers Convention stretching to mid-afternoon Sunday, visitors can make an entire weekend of it.
“I try to make it better every year,” said Convention Chair Steve Frene. “Years ago, it used to be Saturday was the whole thing. Musicians would arrive Friday evening and would do a little picking in the street and then wind their way into the Globe. Nobody knew about it.”
The Friday night concert was then born. This year it will feature national recording artists Ronnie Reno and the Reno Tradition.
A few years ago, a blue grass and gospel jam was added on the lawn of the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum on Sunday mornings to round out the weekend.
Then Frene learned that people were coming to town on Sunday afternoon and wondering where the fiddlers were playing.
“I hated for people to come over on Sunday and miss out,” Frene said.
This year for the first time the Sunday of the convention will feature a bluegrass jam following the gospel jam, and both events will be at the main stage in front of the Atlantic Hotel from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“This will be the first full weekend of bluegrass music on Main St.,” Frene said.
The additional day for the event has posed some logistical questions for the Berlin Town Council.
“I have a little concern with a fire on Main St.,” said Councilwoman Ellen Lang. “If there’s a fire downtown, you must be able to maneuver [emergency] vehicles.”
In the past, there have been no problems with the stage and seating set up and left there, Frene said, and vendors are kept off Main St.
Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said that emergency vehicles could go around in the event of a fire.
Lang asked Frene if he had run the set-up by the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department.
“In the past, it hasn’t been a problem, but I’ll talk to them,” Frene said.
Council Vice Preisdent Gee Williams said, “Your job is to put on the festival. Their job is public safety.”
Roads will have to be blocked out for longer than usual with the third day, meaning more preparations for town staffl.
“If we do this we’re going to have to have a lot of detour signs,” said Downing.
Another first for the Fiddlers Convention this year is the Patrick Henry artwork on the posters and T-shirts.
“I was just tickled to death when he showed me the final,” said Frene, who had been trying to find a local artist to do the artwork ever since much of Berlin was designated an Arts and Entertainment District a few years ago.
Frene liked the artwork so much he insisted that the poster design keep the text above and below the image.
The festival continues to grow, with 8,000 visitors over three days last year, and about 35 musicians coming from across the nation, Frene said, to compete and jam with their fellows, and many return from year to year, some moving from the youth category to the adult.
“We have several musicians we’ve seen grow up,” said Frene.
They’re also attracted by the performance of the Reno Tradition, he said. The band also judges the competition, so the competitors are assured of professional judges.
“The musicians are really loving the fact we’re bringing in a national recording artist,” said Frene.
The Berlin Chamber of Commerce and local businesses sponsor the free event, which is organized and presented entirely by volunteers.
“My budget this year is about $16,000. We’ve got to cover a lot of ground,” Frene said.
The sale of T-shirts and posters helps defray the costs, according to Frene.
The town of Berlin provides a lot of help, from handling portable restrooms to blocking streets.
“There’s a lot of cooperation and assistance from the town of Berlin and we couldn’t do it without them,” Frene said.