Ohio State Old Time Fiddler’s Contest returns to Stuart’s Opera House Friday

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NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) — The Ohio State Old Time Fiddler’s Contest returns to Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville during the Nelsonville Parade of the Hills Friday.

The event was first hosted over 50 years ago at the Ohio State Fair, and even though it moved to Nelsonville some time ago, it still serves as the Ohio State Championship in the world of competitive fiddling.

What is “competitive fiddling,” you ask?

Well, in the case of the Ohio State Old Time Fiddler’s Contest, it means that participants take part in two rounds of performance. The first one consists of a waltz and a hoedown, and those who succeed in that first round will go onto the Championship round, where they’ll play a waltz, a hoedown, and then a tune in the style of their choice.

The Ohio State Old Time Fiddler’s Contest is open to fiddlers of all ages. There are four age categories: 12 and under, 13 to 18, 19 to 54, and 55 and older. Each category competes for cash prizes, plaques, and trophies.

The Grand Champion at last year’s Ohio State Old Time Fiddler’s Contest was Joe Lautzenheiser from North Lawrence, OH. However, if you take the time to Google “Joe Lautzenheiser, fiddling champion,” a lot more entries than simply coverage of last year’s competition in Nelsonville will come up.

You’ll find that Lautzenheiser has been a fiddling champion for many years. He first competed in Nelsonville in 2007 when he was just 12 years old and went on to win it for the first time in 2011. He’s won the competition in Nelsonville multiple times since, in addition to winning other fiddling competitions.

Lautzenheiser started playing fiddle when he was only 9 years old. Pretty quickly it was evident he had a knack for the instrument.

“My mother never had to tell me to practice,” said Lautzenheiser, who describes his current profession as “electrician by day and farmer by night.”

Lautzenheiser was home-schooled, which he said afforded him the flexibility to dive into music as a young person. He thanks his first music teacher with instilling in him the foundational skills which would allow him to foster the exceptional playing he’d later be known for.

“Music education isn’t just about learning how to read the notes, especially in an oral tradition like fiddling,” he said. “It’s not something that can really be taught entirely by sheet music. You have to listen to recordings that were made sometimes almost a hundred years ago. But it is helpful to learn how to read music, to learn about traditional technique. And my first teacher did a pretty good job of balancing both worlds. I think it’s important that get kids a balanced, well-rounded exposure like I did so that they can then decide to play more of what they really want to play down the road.”

Although his years of competing and honing his own skill have left Lautzenheiser an accomplished musician even at the age of 27, he said there are still certain aspects of musical performance he hopes to further develop in his own playing.

“I think it would be difficult, if I were to play a gig, to keep people engaged and not turn their ears off,” he said. “That’s a very challenging thing to do, as a musician. But I also think it’s the most important thing – you want to take people on a journey and give them an emotional experience, a reflective experience. Performing for people and actually connecting with them that way is something deeper than just getting all the notes right.”

The 2022 Ohio State Old Time Fiddler’s Contest takes place Friday, August 19 at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville.

Fiddlers ages 13-18, 19-54, and 55+ compete for:

•1st Place – $300 and a plaque

•2nd Place – $200 and a medal

•3rd Place – $100 and a medal

Fiddlers 12 and under compete for:

•1st Place – $75 and a plaque

•2nd Place – $50 and a medal

•3rd Place – $25 and a medal

The Grand Champion receives $300 and a plaque. 

You can register for the contest at this link