Each year, in the hot days of August, thousands of musicians converge on Galax, Virginia, for the Galax Fiddlers Convention – the longest running convention of its kind in the world. The convention is and has been a gathering place for old-time and bluegrass musicians and fans to share their love of traditions as well as pit their talents against one another.
A few years ago, Galax area natives Julie Simone and Vicki Vlasic decided they wanted to share the beauty of the convention with the world through a documentary film. After a long discussion with the convention’s founder – the Galax Moose Lodge – the ladies were given permission to film.
The film – Fiddlin’ – was finished in 2018 and has been earning high praise and awards on the film festival circuit.
In the documentary, the filmmakers give an intimate look at the week-long contests, concerts and the musicians who live and breathe old-time and bluegrass music.
One of the featured musicians is Marlinton resident Jake Krack.
“I go down to the Galax Fiddler’s convention, and, throughout the years, they have had people play the National Anthem every night at the contest. I’ve played some nights to start the contest,” Krack said. “The folks doing the film had been given my name, but then they happened to hear me play the National Anthem and that kind of got us all connected.”
Krack was interviewed by the filmmakers, and his wife, Katie Workman, shared clips she had made of Krack giving lessons and performing, which were used in the final production of the documentary.
As the film made its festival rounds, the couple was invited to attend the Boulder International Film Festival where they experienced the film on the big screen.
“It was pretty neat,” Krack said. “They did a wonderful job with the film. I think they did a good job. Some of the folks in the film are from Virginia. They went to their homes and spent time at their homes. Everybody was portrayed in a very nice light. I paid them big compliments on that.”
At one of the screenings during the festival, Krack performed on stage and fielded questions from the audience. He was even joined onstage by his two-year-old daughter, Iris.
“I have a buddy that lives in Boulder, and he came to one of the screenings,” Krack said. “He doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him, and he was dancing with Iris. We were trying to keep her on her best behavior. When I went on stage, she said, ‘that’s my daddy,’ and he said, ‘well, go get your daddy,’ and she just made a beeline for the stage. She stole the show for sure.”
Krack also performed at a brewery for about 50 people during the film festival.
“I just played some solo music and told stories, and kind of shared the musical experience,” he said.
That was the filmmakers’ goal – to share the musical experience.
And what an experience the Galax Fiddler’s Convention is.
“It’s not like they hammer into your head about passing the music down and the tradition, but it is very much the theme of the movie,” Krack said. “The way the music is handed down and how there are young kids who are going to be excelling at music and keeping it going.”
Other Pocahontas County musicians who make appearances in the film are Steven Casto and the Bing Brothers Band – Mike Bing, Tim Bing, Bob Lieving and Tim Corbett.
“They’re all in there doing some talking, and we’re doing some interviewing and playing,” Krack said. “Tim tells a tale called the Pig Fair which is a big hit in the film. Everybody got in there a little bit and that’s kind of neat.”
The 80+ year old convention attracts between 20-and-30,000 people from around the world who either perform or simply enjoy the sounds of the mountains.
“[The Galax Fiddlers Convention] starts on a Sunday morning and goes into the wee hours of the next Sunday morning,” Krack continued. “They have individual contests Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night and the Friday and Saturday nights are band contests. Those are the big nights because you have the Bluegrass category. They have a big grandstand at the festival, and it’s a five hour show. I mean – it’s a show.
“Part of the reward for playing in the contest is you have a ginormous audience in the grandstand, and they’re really into the music. It’s not like they’re lumps on a log. They’re hooping and hollering. They cheer. It’s a big time.”
The convention can have up to 300 individuals competing in each category – flat picking guitar, fiddle, etc. On top of that, there can be up to 200 bands, so the music is constant all week long.
When they aren’t competing, the musicians are visiting and sharing music around the campground.
“It’s play music all the time, but through that, you get to meet folks,” Krack said. “I know for sure there are folks there from Japan, England, Australia and then all over the country. Our little group takes afternoon walkabouts to meet people and play music with folks we’ve never met before. Late at night, when you’re playing music at your place, somebody’s walking by and it catches their ear, and they walk in. It’s very welcoming there. Your camps are wide open and people walk in and listen. It’s a very inviting place.”
Now, with Fiddlin’, the invitation has expanded to include the rest of the world who can’t make the trek to Galax, Virginia, in August.
The film continues to fare very well at film festivals and has recently been picked up for distribution with Utopia. While it will take some time for the film to be released – either in theaters or direct to video and digital – the filmmakers have a plan to share the film with those who are featured.
Along with Krack, five other musicians are prominently featured, and the filmmakers hope to have screenings in or near the hometowns of those musicians. The plan is to have the screenings coincide with a performance by the musicians.
“That’s how they want to do the initial distribution,” Workman said.
Could one of those screenings happen at the Pocahontas County Opera House when The Bing Brothers and Jake Krack perform there?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
For more information on Fiddlin’, visit www.fiddlinmovie.com