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Elliott County old-time music festival ramps up for its fifth year

Hallie Adams

This summer’s Elliott County Fiddler’s Convention is set for Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13.

A recent addition to the music festival lineup in eastern Kentucky, the gathering in Sandy Hook will feature various musical performances from local musicians, workshops, contests, and old-time music jams.

John Ryster is the founder and organizer of the Elliott County Fiddler’s Convention. He said the festival has a quirk that sets it apart from other events in a fiddler’s contest circuit.

“Most contests will have very qualified judges, but this is folk music. I feel like it’s music of this area, and so I hire just three people from Elliott County to judge that aren’t even necessarily well versed in old time,” said Ryster. “And I just want three normal people to say ‘this was good’ or ‘this was not as good’.”

Contest categories include fiddle, dulcimer, ballad singing, banjo, dancing, and string band competitions, with different categories for youth and adults.

Ryster said the event was created to fill a need for old-time music gatherings in the area after a similar festival in Morehead faded away, as well as to highlight the area’s rich music history.

“There’s things to be proud of in our history here, our musical history. And not just Bluegrass, but there’s a lot of old-time music that comes from this area- in Elliott County, in Carter County, in Rowan County, Morgan County. A lot of people would grow up and think, ‘Oh, it’s hillbilly music, I’m trying to be cooler than that.’ But it’s not hillbilly music, really,” said Ryster.

Gates officially open Friday, July 12th at 5 p.m., with musical performances starting at 8 p.m. Festivities will last through the night of Saturday, July 13 at the Little Sandy Lodge in Sandy Hook. Ryster added there is an entry fee, but no one will be turned away if they can’t afford a ticket.

Camping spots are available, and guests can also reserve a room at the Little Sandy Lodge. More information is available online at the Elliott County Fiddler’s Convention Facebook Page, as well as the Little Sandy Lodge website.