This will be the 40th year Llano has held a fiddle contest. It all started in 1976, on the banks of the Llano River in Robinson Park. Llano always had a rich history when it comes to the fiddle, and it can be attributed to the many grass roots fiddlers in the Llano area such as Otis Light, Tilman Harlow, Bud Otto, Wilford Tumlinson, Armand Taylor, Harmon Ellis, Eddie McDonald, Woodrow Thomas, the Goff Brothers, and J. C. Burton just to name a few!

Some of Otis Light’s fiddle recordings in 1937 are stored in the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. Young Hugh and Karl Farr were playing fiddle and guitar with their father in the Llano area around 1915. Hugh and Karl later moved to California with their family and joined the Sons of the Pioneers. In the 1960s, Arthur Lee Simpson of Llano played fiddle for the Ramblin Rose band that backed up many famous country artists like Ernest Tubb, Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, Hank Thompson, and George Jones.

The first Llano contest was organized by Armand Taylor. Boots Simpson, Ken Hazlett, and Bud Otto would follow as contest organizers. During the Bud Otto years, many fiddlers would gather after the contest at the home of Hazel Overstreet and continue playing until the early morning hours. In 1997, Floyd Ratliff picked up the torch and revived the Llano Open Fiddle Contest until his passing in 2007. Bill Tuckness headed up the contest in 2008 and 2009. There was no contest in 2010. In 2011, the Llano Fiddle Fest organization, a 501c3 non-profit entity, was formed and expanded the event to a three day fiddle festival.

I had not played my instruments in 20 years and after moving to Llano in 2010, was interested in picking up my instruments and playing again. I walked into the Llano American Legion Hall where a fiddle contest was in progress. That was my first contact with the Llano fiddle crowd and Texas fiddle music. I started to attend fiddle jams with seasoned veteran fiddlers Woodrow Thomas, Jack and Herbert Goff and a younger Bill Tuckness, along with Boots Simpson on banjo, Loma Ranne on keyboard and James Scott on guitar.

The one thing I noticed about these musicians was they played for the right reason; they just loved to play. They did not need to be paid or to play in front of a crowd. They inspired me and I started playing again. As we were talking, they reminisced about the fiddle contest and how sad it was that Llano’s fiddle contest had been discontinued. They looked at me, and as gravity slowly released my right arm, it raised into the air. And that is how I became involved in Llano Fiddle Fest.

Just as important as the Llano fiddlers and musicians are the hundreds of fiddle fans who support our contest, and the businesses, individuals, and grant providers whose financial support is critical to the festival’s sustainability. The tradition of Llano’s fiddle contests continues, welcoming fiddlers and musicians who want to compete and share a common passion with peers and fans alike. Hopefully their passion will transfer to a young girl or boy, awestruck by the sweet melodic sound of Texas fiddle music. Oh by the way, we still jam late into the night at the Gammage House. See you in Llano on April 1st.

John Caballero

Editor’s note: My thanks to John Caballero who provided this story about the Llano Fiddle Fest on short notice. The Llano Fiddle Fest never disappoints, whether you’re there to hear some great Texas-style fiddle music or you’re one of the many fine musicians who participate in the contest or other events surrounding it. If you’ve attended before, you know that the Llano is full of fiddle-crazy people who make for a great audience. The fun starts on Friday with an Air Fiddle and Anything Goes contest and continues through the weekend with the Llano Open fiddle contest Saturday morning, a concert on Saturday evening, and a Sunday service with cowboy breakfast and more fiddle tunes Sunday morning. If you haven’t attended before, then 2017 is the time to start!


The first Live Oak Fiddle Camp occurred in 2011. It focuses on advanced fiddle and guitar instruction from a variety of master instructors. This year marks the 7th annual camp, and its instructors include Brittany Haas, Tatiana Hargreaves, Jeremy Kittel, and Wes Westmoreland. It will be located at the TR Ranch just outside Hallettsville, Texas. Several musical styles will be covered, including bluegrass, Texas-style, old-time, swing, jazz and Celtic.

Attendance is for advanced players, 16 years or older, and this year’s camp will be May 28 – June 1. Registration is limited to 30 students. The fee is $450, which covers housing and meals. Email Heidi Ludiker at for registration information. You can visit the Live Oak Fiddle Camp website for more information.


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The Devil's Box available for purchase here!The Devil's Box is a fast paced jam-packed look at the world of contest fiddling. Every year contestants from all over the United States flock to the town of Hallettsville, Texas, to compete for the title of best Texas-style fiddler. Featuring performances from some of the greatest legends of American roots music, The Devil’s Box explores the beginnings of the art form and showcases the rising talents that will dominate the traditional music scene for years to come. The Devil’s Box is an instant classic, filled with fantastic music and great family fun. The 3-disc set includes:

Disc 1: The Devil's Box documentary, an 84-minute look at the world of contest fiddling and all of the major players involved. Bonus features include an extended history section of Texas-style, a four-minute movie of the Hallettsville Bar-BQ Cook-Off, Song Writers Serenade featurette, and an interview with the director Jason Hammond and producer Beth Jasper

Disc 2: The Devil's Box Bonus Disc features 42 complete fiddle tunes played by contestants from around the country as well as performances by Larry Franklin, Texas Shorty, and many, many more.

Disc 3 The Lost Benny Thomasson Tapes: This disc is a wonderful hour-long interview with the master himself, Benny Thomasson. Benny tells the story of Texas-style as only he knows it and plays 19 tunes like only he can. This interview from 1976 has been cleaned up and remastered and is the ideal tutorial for any fiddler who wants to hear the tunes exactly as Benny played them and learn some fascinating fiddle history along the way.

To buy the 3-disc set, click the "Buy Now" button below. You may pay with a credit card or a PayPal account. Thank you for your support! And spread the word about The Devil's Box - the happy documentary!


March 31-April 2: Llano
April 21-23: Hallettsville*
May 6: Groesbeck
May 27: Athens*
September 8: Alvarado
October 7: Bowie
October 14: Seguin
October 21: Gilmer
November 11: Glen Rose

*non-association contest


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