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Greenville celebrates Bob Wills with fiddle festival, contest

Written by , published October 28, 2014

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Greenville will host the inaugural Bob Wills Fiddle Festival and Contest this weekend, celebrating fiddle music and the legacy of the “King of Western Swing.”

Taking place Friday through Sunday, the event features a contest with more than 50 fiddlers and other events honoring the late Bob Wills, including Western swing bands, a panel discussion, and a special dinner featuring Wills’ favorite foods.

Born in Central Texas in 1906 and raised in the Panhandle town of Turkey, the fiddle-playing Wills is credited with playing a big part in the development of the Western swing sound with his bands, first the Light Crust Doughboys and then the Texas Playboys, in the 1930s and ’40s. His enduring hits included "Faded Love," "San Antonio Rose," "Milk Cow Blues," and "Corrine, Corrina."

“Bob Wills had done so much during his career to further fiddle music and expose people to Western swing music, and it continues to this day,” says Joey McKenzie, a director of the fiddle contest, in a press release for the event. “We want to create the premier event in Greenville to hear some of the greatest musicians in the world. The fiddle contest is a direct connection to Western swing. Bob Wills played in a lot of fiddle contests as a young man. Combining a world class fiddle contest in a festival honoring Bob Wills seems long overdue.”

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The event kicks off Friday night with a “Dinner With Bob Wills” show at the renovated Texan Theater in downtown Greenville. The menu will be made up of Wills’ favorite foods, including steak, red beans, cornbread, and chocolate pie. The accompanying multimedia show will include a performance by the Jason Roberts Band featuring guest Leon Rausch, the vocalist for Wills’ Texas Playboys, as well as elements of theater.

On Saturday, the festival will host a panel discussion titled “The Making of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys ‘For the Last Time’ Album” at the Courtyard Stage between the Texan Theater and Courtyard Pub in Greenville. The album, recorded in Dallas in December 1973, is considered a landmark Western swing album and an influential link to modern country-western music. Wills suffered a stroke after leaving the studio, spent his remaining months in a nursing home, and died in 1975. The free event features panelists Charles R. Townsend, Wills’ biographer; former Texas Playboys vocalist Leon Rausch; and Western swing fiddler and bandleader Jody Nix.

The fiddle contest, which offers more than $8,500 in cash prizes, is broken into seven divisions, with categories ranging from children to seniors and a special Bob Wills category limited to Wills’ music. The preliminary rounds take place  Saturday at the Texan Theater, while the finals and awards presentations will be Sunday at Greenville Municipal Auditorium.

Another highlight of the weekend is the Saturday night concert at the Greenville Municipal Auditorium by The Time Jumpers, a Western swing super group from Nashville made up of Larry Franklin on fiddle, Vince Gill on electric guitar and vocals, Paul Franklin on pedal steel guitar, Jeff Taylor on accordion and piano, Kenny Sears on fiddle and vocals, Brad Albin on upright bass, Andy Reiss on electric guitar, “Ranger Doug” Green on acoustic rhythm guitar and vocals, Joe Spivey on fiddle and harmony vocals, and Billy Thomas on harmony vocals.  

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