2017 Judges

 

Dan Kelly

 

Dan 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, Dan 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, Dan won the most famous fiddle title in the nation, the Grand Master Fiddler Championship.

 

Dan'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 Dan 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.

 

Kerry Varble

 

Kerry Varble has been playing the fiddle for more than 25 years and was the Ohio State fiddle champion in 2008 and 2016.  In addition to top finishes in contests from Ohio to Texas, she is a three time Indiana State Gambler's Draw champion and two-time Grand Master Fiddler finalist.  She holds a bachelors degree in classical violin and a masters degree in education.  She currently teaches English and creative writing at West Branch High School in Beloit, Ohio.  Her innovative approach to integrating music and language arts has been reported in local newspapers, as well as featured on the Youngstown NBC television affiliate, WFMJ. 

In addition to playing the fiddle, Kerry is an avid equestrian specializing in retraining thoroughbred ex-racehorses for the sport of eventing.  In October 2017 she will be competing one of her young horses at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

Bobby Taylor

 

Bobby Taylor is a fourth generation West Virginia fiddler. He plays several styles of old-time and contest fiddling, but got his early start from the legendary Clark Kessinger, who influenced a world of fiddlers. He has a melting pot of old-time fiddle styles including the styles of his father Lincoln Taylor (1911-1995), Ed Haley, Mike Humphreys, Benny Thomasson, Reece B. Jarvis, Doc Roberts, French Carpenter and scores of others to name a few. He was the 1977 West Virginia State Open Fiddle Champion. In 2003, Bobby received the FOOTBRIDGE AWARD. This award was presented by FOOTMAD (Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance) for his contributions to old-time music. Bobby was presented The 2010 VANDALIA AWARD by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. The Vandalia award is West Virginia's highest folk-life honor. When fiddle enthusiast West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd passed away in July of 2010, Bobby was honored to be chosen to play Senator Byrd's favorite fiddle tunes during the public visitation in the West Virginia Capitol Rotunda, and for the official memorial service. Bobby was also requested by the Byrd family to play for the private funeral services. He was inducted into the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair Hall of Fame in Ripley, WV in July of 2012 for his musical contributions to the State of West Virginia.

 

Bobby has been the coordinator of West Virginia's Vandalia Gathering contests at the State Capitol in Charleston since 1979. He was the contest coordinator of the Appalachian Open Contest from 1984 through 1987, and he has been the contest coordinator of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival contest since 1990. All of these events are sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Bobby is the Library Manager of the West Virginia Archives and History Library Section of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

 

Bobby has judged the Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia state championships, and is a regular judge at the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Virginia. He has judged the Grand Master Fiddle Championship in Nashville, TN since 2006 to present. He was selected to judge the 2007, 2010 and 2012 Western Open Fiddle Championship in Red Bluff, CA. He was a judge at Jana Jae's Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest in 2006, 2007 and 2009 in Grove, OK. He was selected as a judge at the Grand National Fiddle Championship in Weiser, ID in 2008. Bobby is a certified national fiddle judge. He is a nationally recognized consultant on rules and judging procedures for heritage music competitions. He has taught fiddle workshops at the Augusta Heritage Center, Allegheny Echoes in West Virginia, the 2012 Midwest Banjo Camp in Michigan and at the 2013 Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, WA. He has performed on musical tours in Australia and Ireland, and was a featured performer at the National Folk Festival in Australia in March of 2008. He was a featured performer at the Library of Congress and at the Kennedy Center on August 16, 2012. The Library of Congress show was recorded for their permanent collection.

 

In 1990, Bobby apprenticed and constructed a violin under the guidance of Harold M. Hayslett. Mr. Hayslett was a Violin Society of America "Gold Medal" winner for tone at the 1980 international competition.

 

Bobby currently judges extensively and presents historical showcases on fiddle styles with his old-time band "Kanawha Tradition." It is not uncommon for historic fiddles once owned by great fiddlers such as Clark Kessinger and Ed Haley to show up at these events. Bobby is the custodian of these historical instruments.

 

2016 Judges

 

MEGAN LYNCH-CHOWNING

 

Megan Lynch, originally from Redding, California, is a seven time national fiddle champion (including being the reigning National Adult Champion and Grand Master Traditional Fiddler Champion), touring musician, recording artist, teacher, singer, and flat footer.

 

She recently finished a four year touring stint with legendary country music artists Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, and has played with bluegrass stars Dale Ann Bradley, Roland White, Larry Cordle, Jim Hurst, Chris Jones, 3 Fox Drive, Due West, Chris Stuart, and BEML (the duo of Bill Evans and Megan).

 

Megan has fiddled and sung on more than two dozen projects, and has a new solo album out called Something Old, New, Borrowed, Blue. She has taught fiddle and singing at prestigious camps such as Augusta Heritage Week, the British Columbia Bluegrass Workshop, Sore Fingers Bluegrass Week in the UK, and the California Bluegrass Association Camp, among many others.

 

Megan has judged the National Fiddle Championships three times, as well as many state championships throughout the country. She’s the co-director (with her husband Adam) of the Nashville Acoustic Camps which offer instruction in fiddle, banjo, guitar, and other acoustic instruments. But sometimes she just likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers. 

 

JUNIOR MARRIOTT

 

Junior Marriott began playing rhythm guitar at the age of seven for his dad, who played the fiddle.  By age nine he was playing bass and at fourteen he began playing the fiddle.  At the age of sixteen he won the Missouri State Fiddle Championship, a title he has won several times, including the 2010 championship. 

 

Junior has won various contests and other state championships as well.  Some of these include Kansas State Fiddle Championship, Arkansas State Fiddle Championship, fifth place at the 2000 National Fiddle Championship in Weiser, Idaho, and Grand Lake Fiddle Festival Champion in 2006, 2007, and 2010. 

 

A few major fiddle contests Junior has judged include Missouri State Championship, Arkansas State Championship, Grand Lake Championship in Grove, Oklahoma, the Texas State Championship in Hallettsville, Texas and the Grand Master Fiddler Championship.  He enjoys traveling to contests all over the United States. 

 

Junior lives in Ava, Missouri and recently opened Marriott Music, a full-line music store, specializing in vintage Gibson guitars.  He teaches fiddle, guitar, and bass lessons.  Junior also buys, sells, trades, and repairs instruments.

 

MARK RALPH

 

Mark Ralph grew up in the Short Creek community of Grayson County, Kentucky.  He joined the Grayson County Youth Orchestra when he was eleven years old and started an ongoing contest fiddling career soon afterward.

 

Notable wins include:  Kentucky State Fiddling Champion (4 times); Tennessee State Fiddling Champion (3 times); Indiana State Fiddling Champion (3 times); Alabama State Fiddling Champion; Walnut Valley Fiddle Contest in Winfield, Kansas; Lake Superior Open Fiddle Contest in Duluth, Minnesota; Lincoln Heritage National Open Fiddle Contest in Springfield, Illinois and the TVOTFA Fiddle King in Athens, Alabama.  He also has several top ten finishes in the Grand Master Fiddle Championship in Nashville, Tennessee and in the Grand National Championship in Weiser, Idaho.

 

Mark played professionally as a member of The Bar-J Wranglers, a western group based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, during the mid 80s.  He has served as a judge at numerous contests, including:  the Grand National Championship in Weiser, Idaho; the World Championship in Crockett, Texas; the Grand Lake Contest in Grove, Oklahoma and the Kentucky and Tennessee State Championships.  In addition, he helped revive the Alabama State Fiddling Championship and serves as its chief coordinator.

 

Mark is a practicing general dentist residing in Huntsville, Alabama with his two children, Jake and Wade.  Samples of his playing are available on several National Oldtime Fiddlers Championship CDs as well as on his own ‘Gone to Texas’ CD.

 

 

 

2015 Judges

 

Luke Price

 

Luke Price is a talented young multi-instrumentalist known for his great balance of taste, rhythm, and technical ability.  He is known for pushing genres, styles, and fellow musicians into new territory while delicately respecting the great musical traditions that have come before.

 

At the young age of seven, Luke began competing in fiddle contests and quickly made a name for himself winning the National Title at ages 12 and 17, along with a long list of awards from contests all across the country, including The Fiddlers Frolics and the Grand Masters.  In 2014, he became the National Old-Time Fiddling Grand Champion. 

 

At the young age of 15, he began teaching private lessons.  While continuing to carry on the Texas fiddling and contest traditions, Luke began to expand his playing to many other styles, namely; jazz, soul, blues,  funk, bluegrass, and pop.

 

After completing his B.A. in Professional Music at the esteemed Berklee College of Music, he moved to Portland, OR, where he continues to record and perform his original music with his Old Soul Pop band,
Dean!  He has performed and collaborated with a host of other musicians including: Tony Furtado, Scott Law, Jesse Harper, Sam Grisman, Jack Dwyer, Love Canon, Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, and many more.

 

Now, he continues to teach privately, while also teaching as an Associate Professor at Lewis & Clark College.  He is also touring with other “Dean!” and other projects.  Luke is passionate about passing on the Old fiddling traditions, and also creating new music measured with taste, technical control, and joy.

 

 

Bill Jones

Bill Jones was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. He started playing classical violin at age 10 with 5th grade strings program in the Nashville public school system and shortly after that joined the fiddle world playing old time, Irish, and bluegrass music. He has been playing as a hobby ever since.   Bill was trained at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University where he was a member of the youth group “Fiddle Frenzy” led by Crystal Plohman. Bill was also trained and influenced by Loretta Brank, Luke Bulla, and Daniel Carwile.

 

At age 14 Bill competed in his first fiddle contest in Smithville, TN.  He considered it a victory that he did not fall off the stage considering how nervous and shaky he was. From then on he went to every contest he could talk his father into going to and his father backed him up on guitar for many of them. Later Bill branched out became proficient on both tenor and six string guitar, backing fiddlers up on their rounds or playing in bands.

 

He has participated and competed in old time and bluegrass music events all over the US. He was has won or placed in the top 3 at many contests including Tennessee State, Georgia State, KY State, Indiana State, Alabama State, Grand Lakes National Fiddler Championship (Grove OK), Walnut Valley Fiddle Championship (Winfield, KS), & The Western Open (Red Bluff, CA). In 2009 he was invited to judge the World Championship Fiddle contest in Crockett, TX. Freshly inspired from great fiddling he heard, he attended the U.S National Fiddler Championship in Weiser, ID and won the 2009 Young Adult National Championship.

 

Bill holds a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Tennessee Technical University. He works as a Business Center Manager for Carlisle Tire in Clinton, TN. He and his wife Heather, have one son, Weston. With work and family Bill doesn’t compete as much as he would like to, but you can often see him at contests or jam sessions playing fiddle or guitar behind other fiddlers.

 

 

Bobby Taylor

Bobby Taylor is a fourth generation West Virginia fiddler. He plays several styles of old-time and contest fiddling, but got his early start from the legendary Clark Kessinger, who influenced a world of fiddlers. He has a melting pot of old-time fiddle styles including the styles of his father Lincoln Taylor (1911-1995), Ed Haley, Mike Humphreys, Benny Thomasson, Reece B. Jarvis, Doc Roberts, French Carpenter and scores of others to name a few. He was the 1977 West Virginia State Open Fiddle Champion. In 2003, Bobby received the FOOTBRIDGE AWARD. This award was presented by FOOTMAD (Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance) for his contributions to old-time music. Bobby was presented The 2010 VANDALIA AWARD by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. The Vandalia award is West Virginia's highest folk-life honor. When fiddle enthusiast West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd passed away in July of 2010, Bobby was honored to be chosen to play Senator Byrd's favorite fiddle tunes during the public visitation in the West Virginia Capitol Rotunda, and for the official memorial service. Bobby was also requested by the Byrd family to play for the private funeral services. He was inducted into the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair Hall of Fame in Ripley, WV in July of 2012 for his musical contributions to the State of West Virginia.

 

Bobby has been the coordinator of West Virginia's Vandalia Gathering contests at the State Capitol in Charleston since 1979. He was the contest coordinator of the Appalachian Open Contest from 1984 through 1987, and he has been the contest coordinator of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival contest since 1990. All of these events are sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Bobby is the Library Manager of the West Virginia Archives and History Library Section of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

 

Bobby has judged the Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia state championships, and is a regular judge at the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Virginia. He has judged the Grand Master Fiddle Championship in Nashville, TN since 2006 to present. He was selected to judge the 2007, 2010 and 2012 Western Open Fiddle Championship in Red Bluff, CA. He was a judge at Jana Jae's Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest in 2006, 2007 and 2009 in Grove, OK. He was selected as a judge at the Grand National Fiddle Championship in Weiser, ID in 2008. Bobby is a certified national fiddle judge. He is a nationally recognized consultant on rules and judging procedures for heritage music competitions. He has taught fiddle workshops at the Augusta Heritage Center, Allegheny Echoes in West Virginia, the 2012 Midwest Banjo Camp in Michigan and at the 2013 Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, WA. He has performed on musical tours in Australia and Ireland, and was a featured performer at the National Folk Festival in Australia in March of 2008. He was a featured performer at the Library of Congress and at the Kennedy Center on August 16, 2012. The Library of Congress show was recorded for their permanent collection.

 

In 1990, Bobby apprenticed and constructed a violin under the guidance of Harold M. Hayslett. Mr. Hayslett was a Violin Society of America "Gold Medal" winner for tone at the 1980 international competition.

 

Bobby currently judges extensively and presents historical showcases on fiddle styles with his old-time band "Kanawha Tradition." It is not uncommon for historic fiddles once owned by great fiddlers such as Clark Kessinger and Ed Haley to show up at these events. Bobby is the custodian of these historical instruments.

 

 

2014 Judges

 

Dan Kelly

Dan 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, Dan 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, Dan won the most famous fiddle title in the nation, the Grand Master Fiddler Championship.

 

Dan'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 Dan 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.

 

 

Justin Branum

Justin 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, Justin 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 and the Grand Master Fiddler Contest.

 

Justin 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.

 

 

Matt Wyatt

Matt is the current Missouri State Fiddle Champion and has competed and judged at hundreds of contests across the country.  Matt grew up listening to the fiddle and developed a love and respect for music at a young age.  Matt 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 graduated from Belmont, in Nashville, with a degree in Commercial Music.  During his time in Nashville, Matt 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 has developed his skills and his knowledge of the traditions of old-time fiddling makes him a direct link to that driving sound.  Matt owns the Wyatt Violin Shop along with his Father, in Kansas City, Missouri.  Matt 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 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!

 

2012 and 2013 Judges: Junior Marriott, Mark Ralph, and Bobby Taylor.

 

Junior Marriott

Junior Marriott began playing rhythm guitar at the age of seven for his dad, who played the fiddle. By age nine  he was playing bass and at fourteen he began playing the fiddle. At the age of sixteen he won the Missouri State Fiddle Championship, a title he has won several times, including the 2010 championship.

 

Junior has won various contests and other state championships as well. Some of these include Kansas State
Fiddle Championship, Arkansas State Fiddle Championship, fifth place at the 2000 National Fiddle Championship in Weiser, Idaho, and Grand Lake Fiddle Festival Champion in 2006, 2007, and 2010. 

A few major fiddle contests Junior has judged include Missouri State Championship, Arkansas State Championship, Grand Lake Championship in Grove, Oklahoma, the Texas State Championship in Hallettsville, Texas and the Grand Master Fiddler Championship. He enjoys traveling to contests all over the United States.

 

Junior lives in Ava, Missouri and recently opened Marriott Music, a full-line music store, specializing in vintage Gibson guitars. He teaches fiddle, guitar, and bass lessons. Junior also buys, sells, trades, and repairs instruments.

 

 

Mark Ralph

Mark Ralph grew up in the Short Creek community of Grayson County, Kentucky. He joined the Grayson County Youth Orchestra when he was eleven years old and started an ongoing contest fiddling career soon afterward. 

 

Notable wins include: Kentucky State Fiddling Champion (4 times); Tennessee State Fiddling Champion (3 times); Indiana State Fiddling Champion (3 times); Alabama State Fiddling Champion; Walnut Valley Fiddle Contest in Winfield, Kansas; Lake Superior Open Fiddle Contest in Duluth, Minnesota; Lincoln Heritage National Open Fiddle Contest in Springfield, Illinois and the TVOTFA Fiddle King in Athens, Alabama. He also has several top ten finishes in the Grand Master Fiddle Championship in Nashville, Tennessee and in the Grand National Championship in Weiser, Idaho.

 

Mark played professionally as a member of The Bar-J Wranglers, a western group based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, during the mid 1980s. He has served as a judge at numerous contests, including: the Grand National Championship in Weiser, Idaho; the World Championship in Crockett, Texas; the Grand Lake Contest in Grove, Oklahoma and the Kentucky and Tennessee State Championships. In addition, he helped
revive the Alabama State Fiddling Championship and serves as its chief coordinator.

 

Mark is a practicing general dentist residing in Huntsville, Alabama with his two children, Jake and Wade. Samples of his playing are available on several National Oldtime Fiddlers Championship CDs as well as on his own ‘Gone to Texas’ CD.

 

 

Bobby Taylor

Bobby Taylor is a fourth generation West Virginia fiddler who has played the fiddle for over 40 years, starting at the age of 13. He learned his music from the legendary Clark Kessinger and Mike Humphreys, both of whom lived near where he grew up in Dunbar, WV. Bobby has also studied countless American fiddle styles and conducts workshops showcasing his special blend of various styles. He retired from playing contests in 1977 to start coordinating contests for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Among his wins is the 1977 West Virginia State Open Fiddle Championship in Elkins, WV. This prestigious contest allowed all
champions from other states to enter as well as West Virginians, drawing in fiddlers from all over the eastern United States and as far as Canada.

 

Bobby has been the coordinator of West Virginia’s Vandalia Gathering musicians’ contests at the State Capitol in Charleston, WV, since 1979. He was the coordinator of the Appalachian Open Championships from 1984-1987, a contest that drew many great fiddlers, including some of the Grand Master fiddlers. He is currently the coordinator of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in Clifftop, WV, an old-time music festival started in 1990. He continues to judge fiddle contests extensively throughout the country. He is also a consultant for contest promoters in the Eastern United States and beyond regarding rules and guidelines for musical competitions. He was a judge at the 2008 National Old-time Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival at Weiser, Idaho. Bobby is a former judge here at the Grand Master Fiddler Championship.

 

He enjoys passing his own unique musical style on to younger musicians, and frequently serves as fiddle instructor at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV, and Allegheny Echoes in Marlinton, WV. In 2003, Bobby was recognized for his efforts when the Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance (FOOTMAD) presented him with the FOOTBRIDGE AWARD, a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to old-time music.

 

Personal musical performances have included many major festivals for more than 40 years throughout West Virginia and the Eastern United States. Bobby played in Germany in 1979 as a part of the Friendship Force, at the Florida House and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC., and at the Chicago Folk Festival. In 1996, Bobby was honored to be invited to play at a banquet honoring Senator Robert C. Byrd that was attended by
President Bill Clinton. In November 2005, he played at the Bluegrass and Old-time Music Festival in Harrietville, Australia. Most recently, Bobby was an invited performer at the National Folk Festival in Canberra, Australia.