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Fink fiddles to first

By By Adam Prestridge
Bluegrass lovers from near and far traveled to Atmore Saturday afternoon as they tuned into the 27th annual Atmore Rotary Club's Fiddler's Convention.
For the first time in several years, Mother Nature cooperated with the schedule of the string music competition as she provided a beautiful day for good music, great barbecue and fellowship.
"It went great," event coordinator Keith Castleberry said. "The crowd, weather and all the people helping out made this year's Fiddler's Convention a great success. Normally around this time, it rains or we have a hurricane and for the last three years we've had rain. Even though we need the rain, I'm just glad it didn't rain this year."
Last year, the Fiddler's Convention venue had to be changed to the Atmore City Hall just one week following Hurricane Dennis. Even though under the circumstances, last year was a success, Castleberry believed returning to the Escambia County High School auditorium made a big difference.
"It was like coming home," he said.
A vast majority of the Fiddler's Convention's faithful returned as well making this year's event one of the biggest in the past decade.
"It's not the biggest crowd, but it's the biggest crowd we've had in 10 years," Castleberry said.
An estimated 600 spectators attended the toe-tapping contest, while enjoying the comedic entertainment of the house band, Down Home, in between contests. Castleberry believes getting the word out in more media outlets throughout the state also greatly contributed to the success of Saturday's event.
"I think we advertised a lot more than we usually do, we put the advertisement in some places we normally don't put it like Southern Living and we had some newspapers that published it."
Of those on hand, Castleberry was amazed at the many new faces that were attending.
"One thing that surprises me, we always ask people to raise their hands if they are first timers and we had a lot of first timers out there," he said.
Pensacola's Will Fink took home first-place honors in the fiddle contest this year winning $300 and bragging rights for the next year. He was presented a plaque along with his cash prize.
"It feels great to win again," Fink, who has won the fiddler's contest two times before, said. "I'll definitely be back next year."
Next year, the winnings for the fiddler's contest will be increased from $300 to $800 after Walt Bowen of WNSI 105.9 FM announced that an additional $500 will be awarded each year in the memory of Wade "Pappy" Ray, who was a famous fiddle player from the 1930s-70s. Fink had the opportunity to assist Bowen in starting a new tradition by playing Ray's five-string fiddle, which was made in 1901, as an encore. Each year, the winning fiddler will have the opportunity to play Ray's antique fiddle.
Fink, who first competed in the Fiddler's Convention in 1991, said he enjoys the fellowship with other fine musicians he has during the event. In fact, that's what keeps him coming to the event.
"It's nice meeting other musicians and being exposed to new tunes and different influences," he said. "You can learn a lot of things from the other people in the contest. They can learn from you too."
Fink said he enjoys playing the fiddle because it is his God-given talent and he wants to share it with others who enjoy music.
"I thought the entertainment was first class," Castleberry said. "We had fewer fiddlers than we would like to see, but they all were first class fiddlers. I was really impressed with the mandolin contest. We had a tie. They were both so good, I know the judges had a hard time picking."
The Atmore Rotary Club's Fiddler's Convention is the only fiddler's competition in the state recognized and designated by the Alabama Legislature as the South Alabama Old Time Fiddler's Convention.