Bluegrass bars and bluegrass weddings may be harder to find these days, say fans of bluegrass music, but the music form has become no less enjoyable, judging from the crowd at the Deer Creek Fiddlers' Convention in Westminster.
More than 80 musicians from Maryland and surrounding states performed yesterday in front of a crowd that reached 3,000 by day's end. They dazzled listeners with up-tempo tunes on fiddles, banjos, mandolins and guitars.
"I think people are playing and listening to bluegrass as much as ever," said Meghan Shook, who runs the twice-annual conventions with her brother, Dave Greene.
"There aren't as many bluegrass bars and not as many people want bluegrass at their weddings, but I don't see a decline here," she said.
Yesterday's performers competed for cash prizes during a show that began at 11 a.m. and continued throughout the 92-degree afternoon and into the evening.
Musicians ranged in age, skill and dress. Some performers were decked out in cowboy boots and hats. Others wore Dockers shorts and Polo shirts.
One of the youngest competitors, Pat White, 19, started many toes tapping when he began playing a lively fiddle tune, one of about 200 he has learned since he began playing at age 8.
"This young fellow has got what it takes," said Pennsylvanian Clyde Sanders, 68. "I've been a picker for many years, so I know what's good, and this one sure has the talent."
White, who placed second in fiddle at the Maryland State Music Competition last year, tours with a band called Bluegrass Image. While music is White's full-time job, most of the other competitors said they earn their livings some other way.
Bill Beeler, a mandolin player from Dundalk, sells hot water heaters as a full-time occupation.
But ever since he was inspired by the "dueling banjos" in the movie "Deliverance," he has spent his spare hours playing music.
While White and Beeler stuck with instrumental pieces yesterday, a few other performers ventured into vocals, entertaining listeners with yodels and socially conscious lyrics.
A new trend at this year's conventions seems to be the emergence of patriotic songs, perhaps a reflection of the national trend toward patriotism since the Persian Gulf war.
A popular song by vocalist Steve Petrovich included lyrics against flag-burning. "Please don't burn our flag," Petrovich sang. "It stands for the USA/ They died for your right to speak out/ Give them respect/ Go on and protest some other way."
Performers' messages have changed through the years, but both convention directors said the value of bringing musicians together has remained as important as always.
Aspiring musicians find teachers, bands find new members and pickers find new ways to play old songs.
In addition to the musicians, crafts people benefit from the summer gatherings, which attract visitors from several neighboring states.
Bonnie Hood, a Westminster adult education teacher, has sold her hand-painted clothing at the last few conventions. As visitors strolled by, Hood painted floral designs on T-shirts and sweat shirts.
"The conventions are great, because they bring so many people right here to Westminster," Hood said.