The winner of the 83rd Athens Old Fiddler’s Contest grew up with a bow in his hand.

Forty-eight-year-old Dale Morris Jr. is the son of a champion fiddler, and began playing when he was three. In the past, he’s won the Texas State Fiddling Championship and the Grand Master Fiddler’s Championship. He was excited to get back in the winner’s circle in Athens, in front of a good crowd on the Henderson County Courthouse lawn.

The concert was a day after the square was evacuated, while officials evaluated the effects of a fertilizer facility fire that broke out Thursday afternoon.“This is my first contest to enter in a long time,” Morris said. “I haven’t been down here for years. I came down here as a kid, and later as an adult.”Morris said he last competed in Athens about 10 years ago, and met some stout competition this time around.“You’ve got a lot of great fiddlers in this thing, so you’ve got to do something to make you stand out from the other ones,” Morris said.Morris plays music full-time. He teaches aspiring musicians, and does workshops around the country. He also sings and records. His resume reflects a lot of years on stage. Some of his former work includes a 3-year-stint in Branson, playing in Boxcar Willie’s show.In 2001, Morris began touring with country legend Ray Price. He’s also been a studio musician, backing some of country music’s top names.Morris took home a total of $800 for his win in the open division and the grand championship prize. The other division winners earned $200. The runner-up was Carl Hopkins of Porter, who won the age 30-65 group. The second place finish was worth $400, added to his $200 as the top fiddler in his division.

elseth-grand-champ-2013Nacogdoches woman ties title up with a bow

Athens — The 2012 Athens Old Fiddlers Contest champion kept it “old school,” playing a tune in the finals that dates back further than the 82-year-old reunion itself.

Twenty-two-year-old Lydia Elseth of Nacogdoches swayed the judges with “Brilliancy.” The uptempo favorite was good enough to top 2012 winner MIa Orosco in the fiddle off.

“I did not expect to win at all,” Elseth said. “I expected her to get it.”

She won the open division on this hot afternoon, just before picking up her bow again for the final test.

Elseth said she has been playing the fiddle since she was elementary school age.

“I was about seven,” Elseth said. “My parents made me start.

Elseth showed her versatility in the open division playing a reel and a hornpipe. Then she launched into “Brilliancy” to take the grand prize.

“It’s one of my favorites right now,” Elseth said. “Every time I’ve got a new song I’ve been working up, I like to try it out.”

Elseth studies at Stephen F. Austin University, when she’s not playing her instrument. She’s shown her talents at numerous contests for the past several years and plans to hit one more  next week in Crockett , then take a break for the summer.

“The fiddling contests pretty much die out in June, because it gets so hot.”

Lydia took home, not only bragging rights, but a total of $800 for winning grand champion and the open division. Orosco won $600 in prize money.

The list of division champions, who each earned $200, includes:

• Seniors -Tom Fonville, 74, Flint

• Adults – 30-35, Kevin Freeman, 43, Greenville

• Young adult – 19-29, Mia Orosco, 20, Lorena

• Youth 18 and under – Katie Crawford, 16, Burleson

Jenifer WrinkleContest’s first female winner is kind of a big deal now

Rich Flowers / The Athens Review

Athens — Twenty-five years ago, a teenager from Vidor  broke a little ground at the 57th annual Athens Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion.

Jenifer Wrinkle, then just 17, became the first woman and the youngest contestant to ever win first place in the fiddle-off, where the champions of all of the different divisions go for the top prize.

Incidentally, second place went to Wes Westmorland, who finished second to another female last year, Mia Orosco.

Wrinke was asked what she planned to do with the $900 in prize money she earned at the contest. She said “I’ll find something to do with it.” It just might have helped pay her way to Nashville. After high school, Wrinkle hit the road for the country music capital to bring her talents to a bigger stage.

Wrinkle, whose musician skills mastered several instruments besides the fiddle, soon latched on to a spot in Reba McEntire’s band. She was seen around the country, not only playing, but singing as clear as a bell as a backup on many of Reba’s tunes.

The Vidor Chamber of Commerce thought so much of Wrinkle, that in 2010, her name was included on the Vidor Walk of Fame outside city hall. In case you think that’s small potatoes, the walk also includes such Vidor natives  as George Jones, Tracy Byrd, Clay Walker, Don Rollins and Billie Jo Spears.

If you were a face in the crowd back in 1988 and would like to see the grown up version of Jenifer, several of her performances are uploaded on You Tube, both as a solo artist and backing Reba McEntire.

A true Texas legend

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texas-shorty-athens-review-photo‘Texas Shorty’ is a staple at each year’s Old Fiddlers Reunion

Jeff Riggs / The Athens Review

Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor has played the fiddle since he was 12 years-old. Today, he is 70 and plans to be a judge once again at this year’s Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion — which is turning 82.

Chancellor first began playing the mandolin at the age of 9 over the airwaves of KTER radio in Dallas County with his brother, Allen. It was then that he became “Shorty” of “The Texas Al and Shorty Show.” Later, Allen left the duo and Chancellor continued as a solo act.

Today, he continues to play — in part for the enjoyment, and in part because he believes it is part of American heritage.

“I competed first in Athens when I was about 16 years old,” he said. “I guess one of the last competitions I have been in on a national basis was the Senior National Oldtime Fiddler’s contest in Boise, Idaho.”

Chancellor, who currently resides on 40 acres near Rockwall, has always enjoyed either competing or judging during the Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion.

“Most of the time, I have always tried to not miss Athens,” he said. Chancellor has judged the Athens contests for the past three years.

Among his other fiddling awards, Chancellor has won the State of Texas Oldtime Fiddler’s Championship in Hallettsville. This is one he has won more than one time. He has also won the Grand Masters Championship in Nashville, Tenn.

When he was 16 years of age, he won the championship in Crockett called the World Fiddle Festival.

“I won that three times in a row,” he said.

In 2010, he was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Music Fellowship granted to 10 people in various fields of art, including music. This award is offered in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Chancellor said he has been paid for playing individual venues, but has never played for a living. He made ends meet at Southwest Airlines, where he retired from the position of Director of Ground Operations at Love Field for the airline in 2000.

He has been married to his wife, Ruthie, for 24 years, a woman who just happens to play the piano and bass fiddle.

They have five children and eight grandchildren. None play the fiddle, but Chancellor loves them just the same.

Chancellor’s interest in the fiddle was heightened when his father introduced him to a legendary fiddler as a teen-ager.

“When I was in my teens, my daddy was a peddler. He stopped in Arlington and met Bennie Thomasson there,” Chancellor said. “My father and I talked about music, and from that, he got acquainted with Bennie, and heard Bennie play. He went out and bought a tape recorder and went over and recorded Bennie, and all of us were shocked by it. We went back to see Bennie. He just started to teach me.

“This caused him to put away my mandolin and I began to learn fiddle under Thomasson’s direct tutelage,” Chancellor continued. “However, the first time I ever went to Athens, I was playing the mandolin, and Bennie was playing the fiddle. He was competing, and I believe he won. He was just so much better than everybody else.”

He said his dad played the fiddle, and that got him started initially getting him interested in music in general. He played guitar, and Chancellor, in his teens, played the fiddle.

As for the Athens Fidder’s competition, Chancellor said the event means more than money to area.

“The old-time fiddle music is a critical part of our American heritage,” he said. “If you go back and review how it played out in history, oldtime fiddling was there. Thomas Jefferson played the fiddle. ‘Grey Eagle’ was one he played. There was also a fiddler on the Lewis and Clark expedition. It was an instrument that was pretty easy to transport. It was music of the people and remains so. Now thousands of kids are really attracted to it, so it is now very much a part of American musical scene.”

Chancellor remembers fiddler Mark O’Connor as one who was instrumental in making the art attractive to youth.

“He was a student of Bennie Thommason,” Chancellor said. “He has gained worldwide-acclaim. He has stimulated the interest from young people. The old-time fiddle contest was kind of the forum for a fiddler to play. And contests have been around for years and years. The interest and importance of that contest brings it to the American public. It’s one of our treasures.

Mary Ensign, who works for the Trinity Valley Community College Registrars Office, has worked with the fiddler’s competition for about 43 years. She said she has known Chancellor the entire time.

“He was coming to the event when I first started,” she said. “He is one of the best fiddlers. Last year, we had a little down time, and he explained techniques to the audience, and then he gave demonstrations. He would explain, and then he would show us. He’s so knowledgeable, and he can tell you and demonstrate it. He’s just a great guy. Anytime we ever needed anything, he was always there and willing. He’s someone you can really depend on.”

Fiddlers-sponsors-BrookshiresOld Fiddlers organizers announce shift in schedule

Jayson Larson/ The Athens Review

The 82nd Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion and Contest is officially on the radar.

Brookshires in Athens once again kicked off preparations for the annual event by presenting a check for $2,500 on Wednesday to Mary Ensign of the Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion.

“We’re once again glad to be a Platinum Sponsor of the event this year,” Brookshires Store Director Charles Beasley said. “This event has such a rich history here, and we’re looking forward to the fun.”

This year’s event will once again have all the fiddling, fun and funnel cakes you can handle, but there will be one big change. To better accommodate contestants, the decision has been made to hold the jam session on the last Friday, which falls on May 31 this year, with the contest to follow on Saturday, June 1.

All festivities will once again be held on the Henderson County Courthouse square, where they’ve been held each year since 1934 after large crowds forced the event to move from the Athens High School auditorium in 1933 (the first contest, in 1932, was held in Bethel).

Ensign said it was hard to make the decision to move the contest to Saturday, but added it should open the contest up to young fiddlers who previously couldn’t attend because they were in school on Fridays.

She said overall attendance may grow, as well, since many spectators won’t have to take off work to come.

“I really think it will be a better deal,” she said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about changing it to Saturday. We’re still keeping with the tradition of having the event the last Friday in May, we’re just kicking it off with the jam session Friday night.”

Mia Orosco 2012 Grand Champion Fiddler

Rich Flowers, The Athens Daily Review

Athens — Mia Orosco wasn’t born with a fiddle in her hand playing a breakdown, but to the crowd at the Athens Old Fiddler’s Reunion it seemed as easy for her as drawing a breath.

Orosco turned 19 on Wednesday, taking her out of the youth division to compete against the best. She’s only been using her violin in the fiddlin’ style for about five years.

“I’ve done classical all my life, but this (fiddling) has turned into a big part now,” Orosco said.

Orosco, who comes from Lorena, is comfortable with a bow in her hand, and commands the stage like few her age. That’s because, despite her youth, she’s a veteran musician.

When she was 16, Orosco was featured on the National Public Radio program, “From the Top,” that features exceptional young classical musicians.

What does Mia think makes a great fiddler?

“I think you have to be willing to observe others, take what they do well and replicate that,” Orosco said. “You also have to be able to add your own touches as well.”

Orosco began the final round with a smooth-as-butter “Memory Waltz,” then kicked into a breakdown called “Wagner,” that had feet tapping in the warm afternoon sun on the west side of the Henderson County Courthouse.

How long did it take before she realized she was an accomplished fiddler?

“I’m not there yet,” Orosco said.

The 81st edition of the Athens fiddle contest brought out an abundance of talent in all of the age brackets.

The runner-up is a bit of a master of the art, 49-year-old Wes Westmoreland of Temple.  Westmoreland beat Mia in the finals two years ago. Westmoreland first came to Athens for the fiddler’s event when he was about 10-years-old. He grew up with the music, and said he likes the way each player can bring something a little different to the table.

The other division winners who competed in the fiddle-off are 9-year-old Anthony Orosco, 22-year-old Bubba Hopkins of Fort Worth and 73-year-old Tom Fonville of Flint.


Athens Old Fiddlers ReunionThe Athens Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion is known nationwide and (as far as we know), is the oldest such contest that has run continuously year after year.

NEW DATES FOR 2013!!!  Friday, May 31st – Saturday, June 1st 2013

The Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion kicks off on Friday night at 7:30pm with the Jam Session.  The main attraction – the Fiddlers Contest – begins Saturday morning at 9:00am and runs throughout the day.


Each fiddle contestant will play 2 tunes:  1 old time break down & 1 tune of the fiddler’s choosing.  Contestants will draw numbers for the competition order.

SENIOR DIVISION (66 years & over)

ADULT DIVISION (30-65 years)


YOUTH DIVISION (18 years & under)

OPEN DIVISION (all ages)


Athens Fiddlers Contest Judges



Each division will award three prizes to the top-scoring contestants:

1ST PLACE / $200.00 prize

2ND PLACE / $150.00 prize

3RD PLACE / $100.00 prize


Following the Open Division contest, the Grand Champion play-off will be held between the 1st place winners from the five contest divisions. The play-off  winner is named the Grand Champion Fiddler and receives a $600.00 prize!  The Grand Champion Runner Up receives a $400.00 prize.


Once the Grand Champion Fiddler is named, the Acoustic Guitar Contest will be held.  Acoustic guitar contestants will play 2 tunes of the picker’s choosing.  Contestants will draw numbers for the competition order.  This contest division is open to pickers of all ages and awards three (3) places/prizes:

1ST PLACE / $200.00 prize

2ND PLACE / $100.00 prize

3RD PLACE / $50.00 prize

Following the Fiddlers Contest on Saturday, a country & western band will play for our famous Street Dance!

Concession and novelty vendors will be set up along the sidewalks. In addition to vendors, there will also be a carnival set up just off the courthouse square.

Athens Old Fiddlers ReunionAll inquiries should be directed to:

Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion

ATTN: Mary Ensign

3041 FM 2495

Athens, TX  75752

Tel: (903) 675-1859

Email: athensfiddlers@gmail.com

For the record…

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Judge-Sanders-Mary-ProclamationJayson Larson / The Athens Review

Athens — Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion representative Mary Ensign (right) presents Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders a proclamation from U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, recognizing the Athens Old Fiddlers Contest and Reunion. Hensarling has also had the proclamation entered into the Congressional Record for the 112th Congress. The proclamation will hang inside the Henderson County Courthouse annex. The Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion has been held on the courthouse square since 1933, moving there from its original home in 1932 in the Bethel community. This year’s reunion will kick off with a jam session May 24, with the main event — the fiddle contest — kicking off May 25.

Wes Westmoreland - 2011 Grand Champion Fiddler and Little Red Hayes

2011 Athens Old Fiddlers Contest Grand Champion Wes Westmoreland gets a quick fiddlin’ demo from Kenneth “Little Red” Hayes.

Many “thanks” to everyone who came out to the 80th annual Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion.  Congrats to our 2011 Grand Champion fiddler, Wes Westmoreland!