BERLIN — Friday, Sept. 21 kicks off the 26th Annual Berlin Fiddlers Convention, and it promises to be three packed days full of talent and fare for bluegrass lovers of all ages to enjoy.
Folks from far and wide are expected to flock to Berlin’s historic Main Street to enjoy free concerts, craft vendors, youth and adult competitions, and the Maryland State Flatpicking Guitar Championship, as well as to appreciate all of the treasures that Berlin has to offer.
The Berlin Fiddlers Convention was initially started in 1992 by Jack Barrett, who worked with the Berlin Chamber of Commerce to create this event as an endeavor to get some traffic through the town. What used to be a one-day event hosted on the steps of the Atlantic Hotel has now turned into a free three-day extravaganza, touting fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bluegrass band competitions for musicians as young as three years old, and performances by nationally-touring bluegrass groups, as well as hometown favorites.
Steve Frene, president-elect of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, has been involved in the organization and facilitation of the convention since 2005.
“Each year we try to make it bigger and better,” Frene said.
It seems that that is exactly what has been happening. Last year’s 25th-anniversary celebration was the flagship year of Berlin’s hosting of the Maryland State Flatpicking Guitar Championship, and this new tradition will continue this year with the gift of a brand-new Eastman Acoustic Guitar, awarded to the winner of the championship, as well as other cash prizes and trophies for the other competitions.
The schedule for this year is kicked off Friday with a concert from 7-10 p.m. on stage outside of Fin’s at the north end of Main Street. If the forecast calls for rain, the concert will be held at the Globe. The night will begin with the Lonesome Ridge Rangers, two-thirds of which are 2017 Fiddlers Convention competition alumni, followed by Rebecca Frazier, flatpicker extraordinaire. Frazier, who also performs with the band Hit and Run, was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine as well as being the first woman to be nominated by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America for the title of “Guitar Player of the Year.”
Frazer will be followed by the Washington, D.C.-based headlining band, Only Lonesome, a five-piece bluegrass outfit that has been the object of some acclaim over the past few years. The band has been nominated four times for the title of “Best Bluegrass Group” by the Washington Area Music Association and has been fondly reviewed as “music with some hair on it” by The Washington Post. Only Lonesome will have an encore concert Saturday after judging the day’s competitions, which will begin at noon.
Sunday seems to be a bit more relaxed, with a Gospel Jam Band performance hosted by local bluegrass musicians Steve Frene, Kenny Good and friends at the Taylor Museum from noon-3 p.m.
The Berlin Fiddlers Convention traditionally falls on the same weekend as Ocean City’s Sunfest celebration, ensuring that both towns, only seven miles apart, will be full of events with a little something for everyone to enjoy.
In regards to economic impact and busyness upon Berlin’s local restaurants and shops, the convention is on par with Black Friday and Small-Business Saturday for the merchants. In anticipation of a large crowd-drawing and to ensure that this experience will be as easy as possible for visitors, town officials have arranged a bus service through a partnership with Ocean Downs Casino to pick-up and drop-off convention-goers from the free designated parking area at Berlin Intermediate School, located at 309 Franklin Ave, Berlin, Md. 21811. Visitors are also encouraged to park at Stephen Decatur Park, which is less than a quarter of a mile away from the event itself.
The Berlin Fiddlers Convention is just another event that keeps the 2014 title winner of “America’s Coolest Small Town” cool. When asked about the title, Ivy Wells, director of Economic and Community Development for the Town of Berlin, mentioned schools and safety as some of the thresholds keeping the town vibrant, but further went on to state that there are things that are happening in Berlin that “make people want to become part of the community.”