11th Annual Berkeley Farmers Market String Band Contest
The Berkeley Farmers Market String Band Contest is the centerpiece of the Berkeley Old Time Music Convention, a six-day long festival now in its 11th year. The action begins promptly at 11:00 with a performance by the young Manning Music Fiddlers, followed by 20 bands competing for gift certificates redeemable at the Berkeley Farmers Market, which sponsors the contest. Inspired by the Berkeley Fiddle & Banjo Contests of the wild 1960s, this contest is a low-stress, big-fun affair in which anything goes as long as it’s acoustic. Fiddle-banjo combos predominate, but some groups push the envelope: jug band, Greek band (with belly dancer), ragtime mandolins and Italian tarantellas are just some of the musical styles that have been represented. One year, the winning band consisted of fiddle, banjo, and pump organ, which was muscled onstage using a dolly. Admission is free; attendees stretch out on blankets on the grass or bring lawn chairs.
The Berkeley Old Time Music Convention started off in 2003 as a one-day event consisting of the Berkeley Farmers Market String Band Contest. Suzy Thompson, fiddler and Arhoolie Records artist dubbed by Sing Out magazine “the Bay Area’s torchbearer for traditional music,” tapped her passion for the music and expanded the festival to its current six days. The BOTMC remains a homegrown event, with many of the Bay Area’s best old-time musicians and dancers volunteering time for everything from poster design to hosting visiting artists in their homes.
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