Hot fiddles, cool temperatures draw crowds to state contest

Tim Backun and Monica Huff had heard good things about the Kansas State Fiddling and Picking Championships held annually in South Park.

Sunday afternoon they decided to hear it for themselves. So they found a good shade tree and kicked back to the sound of acoustic guitars, fiddles, mandolins and other musical instruments played by dozens of performers throughout the day.

"We've had a real good time," Backun, Lawrence, said. "There is a lot of good stuff to do and a lot of good music."

Backun also liked the family atmosphere of the event, which began Saturday night. He brought his two sons, Logan, 5, and Brady, 3, and two dogs.

"We thought it was a good thing to bring the kids to," Backun said.

Event organizers estimated that about 1,500 people gathered Sunday in the park to enjoy the music as well as food and drinks sold at nearby booths.

Most of those attending sat in lawn chairs or on the ground near the two stages. Others sprawled out on blankets and still others tossed Frisbees.

"Everything has gone well," said John Craft, one of the organizers of the event. "We've had good weather, good music, and the crowd seems pleased and cooperative. What more do you need?"

Scott and Kylee Sharp were attending their third Picking and Fiddling festival and they said it wouldn't be their last. The Lawrence couple also brought their 16-month-old son, Ethan.

"There is more of a sense of community here," Scott Sharp said.

"The weather has been better than in past years," Kylee Sharp said.

Indeed. It was four years ago during the festival that the temperature hit a high of 109 degrees, Craft said. Last year the temperature was well into the 90s, he said. Sunday afternoon saw highs in the upper 80s.

While musicians performed and competed before the judges, others took their instruments elsewhere in the park to practice for their turn.

Michael Stratton, 39, Topeka, sat under a tree and strummed his acoustic guitar while waiting to be called to the stage. He planned to play a couple of pieces he wrote himself. But Sunday was the first time he would perform on stage by himself.

"I'm very nervous," he said. "My goal right now is just to get through it."

Stratton is more used to having help on stage because he plays with an electric band called Solo Dogs.

"That's where I'm more comfortable," he said. "I figure it's good to get a little uncomfortable sometimes."

Waiting near one of the stages for their turn to perform were Shon Showalter and his son, Jacob, 7, from Ottawa.

"He's going to play the mandolin and I'll back him up on the guitar," Shon Showalter said. "I'm more nervous than he is."

There were other father-and-son performances, as well. Ron Oliphant and his son, Matthew Oliphant, 8, from Chanute, were among them.

"He did pretty good," Ron Oliphant said of his son, after they left the stage.

The Oliphants had other family members there to perform, and Ron Oliphant also backed up a friend, Bubba Hopkins, 15, of Spavinaw, Okla. Hopkins said he planned to return to play next year.

Backun and Huff also plan to return next year to watch and listen.

"We'll take any reason to be outside with some music and food," said Huff, a KU senior from Burlington.


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