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Registration for the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention increased overall for the first time in five years.
Last year was the fourth year in a row that registrations for the convention declined. Registrations for 2007 were down 130 from the previous year.
But for the 73rd annual event, overall registrations were 1,817 — up 52 contestants from 2007.
Officials with the convention’s sponsor, Galax Moose Lodge #733, say the registration numbers have never reflected actual attendance.
Because musicians must be registered to perform, they often send in a registration form before making actual plans to attend.
Still, the increase is something of a surprise given the cost of gas. The convention’s program book reveals hundreds of contestants from short driving distances — Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee — with a few making trips from the West Coast and other distant locales.
Contestants from England, Quebec and Australia also registered.
The convention’s increasingly popular youth night on Monday continues to draw more and more competitors each year, but contestants register the day of the event and are not included in the 1,817 total.
Registration increased from 2007 in eight of the 13 categories — Autoharp, clawhammer banjo, bluegrass fiddle, dobro, dance, guitar, mandolin and old-time band.
Guitar is the biggest category, with 295 contestants registered. Autoharp is the smallest category, with 51 signed up.
The biggest decline this year was in the folk song category, where registration fell by only 12.
Overall competition sign-ups declined by 86 from 2005 to 2006. Registered contestants totaled 1,981 in 2005 and 1,995 in 2004.
The convention starts Monday evening and runs through Saturday in Galax’s Felts Park. Winners will be announced early Sunday morning.
Performer registration has little to do with how many fans come to Galax for the event. Attendance over the week is estimated at 40,000 to 50,000.
The youth competition will begin Monday at 5:30 p.m. Youth bands will perform and individual contestants age 15 and younger will show off their skills on fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar.
Competitions the rest of the week — all starting at 6 p.m. — include old-time fiddle, dobro and mandolin on Tuesday; bluegrass fiddle, dulcimer and bluegrass banjo on Wednesday; clawhammer banjo, Autoharp and guitar on Thursday; and old-time and bluegrass bands on Friday and Saturday.
Folk song and flatfoot dance competition will start at noon on Saturday.
• Admission to the fiddlers’ convention is $6 on Monday through Thursday nights, $10 Friday night and $12 on Saturday. Season and contestant tickets are $40. Children age 12 and younger are admitted free with a paid escort. Camping fee is $70 per space.
For more information, visit oldfiddlersconvention.com