State Fiddle Contest Gets Repeat Champion At Stuart’s

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Joe Lautzenheiser used his championship experience and love for “old swing tunes” to fiddle his way to victory at the annual Ohio State Fiddling Contest on Friday night.

More than 20 fiddlers took the stage at Stuart’s Opera House, split into four age groups and bound by the same contest rules. Each contestant is given four minutes to play one waltz and one hoedown to demonstrate their range and depth of skill on the fiddle.

Many players were accompanied by a guitarist (often another contestant) to help them keep rhythm and stay in tune.

Among judging competitions, the Ohio State Fiddling Contest does its best to remain objective. Fiddlers are not announced by name, but rather by their contestant number. Judges sit in the balcony with their backs turned to the stage throughout the entire contest.

After all 23 fiddlers played through their two songs, the top three players from each age category was chosen and the winner advanced onto the final round.

In the 12 and under age group, Benjamin Lin took first place, followed by Addyson Hiltner and Jane Eby. Andrew Lin, last year’s overall champion, won top honors in the 13 to 18-year-old category, with Brandon Shull and Samantha Cunningham taking second and third.

Lautzenheiser won the 19 to 54-year-old category, followed by Kerry Varble and Kelly Tyler rounding out the top three. Finally, Meg Litteral won the 55 and over category, joined by Bill Mullins and Darrell Murray.

The four distinguished fiddlers chose three tunes to play in six minutes for the final round — another waltz and hoedown as well as a tune of their choice.

Lautzenheiser, of Massillon, was finally named the overall winner, his second Ohio State Fiddling Contest title. He started competing in the Nelsonville contest in 2007 when he was just 12-years-old and later won it in 2011.

“I’m very happy,” he said after being announced the winner. “I’m also very sick.”

Despite his illness, Joe was able to give his best performance (including an encore song to close out the night) and also helped out the other fiddlers by playing accompaniment guitar. He said his favorite songs to play on the fiddle are “the old swing tunes, any old swing tunes.” Lautzenheiser is now eligible to compete in the national competition in Weiser, Idaho next June.

This year featured fewer competitors than last year’s 29, though contest coordinator Keith Johnson said there were seven who had to bow out within the past week. Most of all, Johnson ensured the contest would end before the Parade of the Hills’ featured entertainment started.

“We’ll get you out of here by 9 o’clock,” he joked between rounds, “because that’s when the KISS tribute band across the street starts and they are really loud.”