If you go
What: The 55th annual York County Fiddler's Convention
Where: The fiddler association's facility near Brogue.
When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22
Cost: $10 for adults. Kids 12 and under free.
Details: The association is on Main Street Extended. To get there, drive south in Route 74 and 5.5 miles south of the square in Red Lion, turn right on Laurel Road. Turn right onto Main Street at the first intersection and the association is a quarter-mile up the road on the left. There are roadside signs on Route 74. Parking lot pickers are welcome. Food, including homemade soups and pies, and beverages are available No pets.
Some decades ago, a group of guys would get together pretty much every Friday night to play music.
They favored the old-time country — the Hanks, Williams and Snow, Roy Acuff, Jimmie Rodgers, that kind of stuff — and would have a good time, nothing more than that. They weren't looking to move to Nashville and be the next big thing. They played because it was fun and after a week of work, it was a good way to relax and unwind.
They did have an idea, a vision. They thought there were a lot of musicians like them, parlor pickers, who deserved to have a place to play, to have a place where they could get together and make music and make music.
They founded the York County Fiddler's Association, meeting, initially, in the chicken house at George Flaharty's place near Brogue. Along with Flaharty, there was Bob Brown, Evans Dunnick, Art Stokes, Jack Warner, John and Milton McGurk and Stanley Runkle — all working men who were pretty good pickers in their own right.
That was in 1960.
The association held its first few conventions at the Stewartstown Fairgrounds, the crowds filling the ballfields that was the site of a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. To promote the early shows, George Flaharty and his friends would climb into the back of a pickup truck and play in parades around York County.
With the money they raised from the convention, and some of their own money, they bought about 20 acres on a gentle hillside near Brogue and built the York County Fiddler's Association grounds — a large hall, a concession stand and an outdoor stage/pavilion.
"They built these buildings pretty much themselves," said Roy Flaharty, George's son, who was old enough to carry block for the men laying it when his father and his friends built the place. "They were some big guys and they knew what they were doing."
Since then, The Fiddler's, as it's called, has become a southern York County landmark, and site of an annual music festival that attracts 1,500 or more concert-goers, and musicians, amateur and otherwise, from all over the mid-Atlantic region — New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia — all with minimal advertising. The association doesn't even have a website.
The annual festival, called the York County Fiddler's Convention, will return for its 55th edition on Saturday, Aug. 22. The festival, as always, features bands in the ground's cavernous second-floor dance hall — which the association rents out for weddings and other special events — and outside on its bandstand at the bottom of the hill.
The real action, if you ask anybody who's been to a convention, happens beyond the stage, in the woods at the top of the hill, where pickers from all over get together to play music. It's not unusual to see a group of 10 or 15 musicians sitting in a circle, playing bluegrass and country classics. There are old tales of groups of musicians playing well into the night, passing a Mason jar as the music they made reverberated through the woods.
"You hear some really good bluegrass up in the woods," said caretaker Jesse Urey. "One year, I went up there and a group of people were playing and there was a woman playing a washtub bass. It sounded really good. It was amazing the music she got out of that thing."
For one, Duffy Llama is excited about this year's Fiddler's Convention. His band, The Bean Soup Project, is among the acts that will play the outside stage. He is the accordion player and one of four songwriters in the band.
He played the Fiddler's about 15 years ago with a different band, an earlier iteration of the current group called The Llama Beans.
"I was so impressed with the musicians who played out back," he said. "My father was a musician,a band leader, a union musician, and every summer they had the union picnic and all of the guys would get together and play music just for the fun of it. I love that. That's a tradition we want to carry on."
Flaharty said when his father and his friends started the Fiddler's, "I don't think they ever knew how big it would get."
The funny thing is that many of the people running the association do not play music. They could think of only one board member who does, a man in his 80s. That board member missed a recent meeting at the facility because, Urey said, his girlfriend was in the hospital.
Flaharty said, "We just want to keep it going. How long we can do that, I don't know."