This is a question that doesn't have a yes/no answer, but I'll ask it anyway.
I'm making an effort to travel to several OT conventions next year and am making plans. I've already committed to attending the Portland OT Gathering in January. (I have an airplane ticket and lodging.) I'm pretty much committed to going to Clifftop (Appalachian String Band Music Festival). It's far enough away that this may be a one-time thing, and I think this is a good year for me to try it out.
We have the Southwest OT Gathering in Tucson that I will attend. That does not involve travel, but it does take time from work. I'm going to check out a few Arizona Old Time Fiddlers events in Arizona, which I have not done before.
Beyond that I think I can do one more big event, and I'm on the fence between (1) the Mars Hill Blue Ridge OT Music Week, probably going to Mt Airy Fiddler's Convention as well, and (2) the Centralia OT Campout.
Regarding Mars Hill, the main reason I'm considering that is that a local guitar and banjo player, who is very experienced and good, has been going to it for many years. I asked him why he goes, because he certainly doesn't need workshops. He said he goes because of the people and the jams. So I figure if he likes it so much it's worth checking out. Plus it would be a chance to check out Mt Airy, though I wouldn't likely know anyone there.
Regarding the Centralia event, that's been on my radar for years. I have a cousin who lives there, a number of Tucson musicians go, plus some of the people who go visit our SWOT gathering. I think this would be a good event for me, but have two reasons to go in 2025 rather than 2024. First, a friend of mine said he is interested in going in 2025 but can't do it this year. And my wife will be retired in 2025, so she could attend then but not likely in 2024.
Edited by - RinconMtnErnie on 11/18/2023 09:40:52
Do it all dude, do it all. If you have the time and funds and mojo to go, do them all. you won't be disappointed. I try to make Clifftop every year, been going since 05', but wish i had the time to try stuff like Mars Hill & Swananowa . I seem to make Mt. Airy about once every 7-8 yrs. or so.
Maybe do the East coast fests one year, the Centrailia and others on the West side another year.
Anyways, it's always about time and $$.
Take it all in, have fun, make Music.
Mount Airy is a common precusor for folks heading to Mars Hill. Having a bit of an inside track with Mars Hill BROTW I think it is safe to say this would be a dandy year to attend as there will be some mighty fine fiddlers there this year. I am excited about it. The faculty list should be out around 12/1. Keep your eyes open for it on their web page, some classes fill up fast.
I think you've answered your own question. Sounds like you should save Centralia for next year, and come East this year. Clifftop and Mt. Airy are worth at least one visit - they are "events" of their own, and it doesn't really matter if you don't know anyone. I've never been to Mars Hill, but I'm sure Bob and your friend both know what they're talking about.
I’ve been to Centralia a bunch of times. None of the others.
Even Centralia I’ve skipped last several years.
The challenge with Centralia is nothing is organized. I think they still do a square dance a night or two and the rest is just random jamming with you and your friends. But if you are on your own, no friends with you, that can be a drag. However, you can always find a place to pull up a chair folks are friendly.
Now days I usually hit the local bluegrass festivals.
Portland Old Time Gathering is okay. Maybe find some other things to do while you are there. Lots of sights to see. Downtown Portland has become a a dystopic waste land in the last three years. Truly shocking.
BTW - Here a couple of other Western events you might want to explore:
"Fiddle Tunes" is a classic event, with great fiddlers from a variety of traditions. Great location and food - and fellowship.
Although its centered mostly on spoken word (and food and crafts) there's also lots of music. Next year will feature the fabulous Quebe Sisters in one of their last (Oh no!) performances.
Thanks for the informative comments! I'm still leaning towards Mars Hill this year, but there are some cons to that. I told my cousin I might go to Centralia this year, so now there will be a little guilt if I don't. My wife likes Centrailia as it will be cheaper assuming I camp and spend some nights at my cousins. And Centralia would only require taking five days of vacation versus seven for Mt Airy plus Mars Hill.
Gallaher, the organization at Centralia or lack thereof sounds like our Tucson SWOT Gathering. I'm okay with that. Regarding current urban woes in Portland, I'm aware of that and have already made some choices about lodging and transportation as a result. I have a niece who lives there. She hasn't had any problems. Nor have any family members who've visited her. But Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas just had their instruments stolen in Portland less than a week ago from a rental car.
Doug, thanks for the reminder about Fiddle Tunes. I am aware of that event, but don't know anyone well who's been there. I visited Port Townsend maybe 15 years ago to visit the Wooden Boat Festival when I was building a -- wait for it -- wooden boat. I would look forward to going back to Port Townsend.
The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering sounds fun. I could see going there in a few years after I'm retired. Along those lines is the National Western Stock Show in Denver, which has the Colorado Fiddle Championship. I've wanted to go to that since I was a kid, but have never made it a priority.
Edited by - RinconMtnErnie on 11/19/2023 19:42:21
I've never been to Mars Hill but I know people who've gone, back in the old days. A friend of mine went in the 90s and she concentrated on Jeff Goehring's fiddle classes, she had seen him at Mt. Airy the week before. His class was less than five people for the entire week, so it was like one-on-one instruction. I'm still listening to and learning tunes from the cassettes (dates things, doesn't it?) that she digitized years later, from the week.
I started going to Fiddle Tunes in the mid-80s. The last time I attended as a participant was 2005, the last year that Clyde Davenport was there. I have gone and done the campground scene numerous times since then. I can't say enough good things about it: great players, great venue, and a who's-who of West Coast (and beyond) musicians. I'd highly recommend it.
Centralia is always a good time. And, plenty of spread out camping. I agree that it's pretty loosey-goosey, as far as organization goes, but I like the wild and wooly aspect of it. Couldn't go wrong with that one.
The one that no one mentioned is Stickerville/Weiser, it goes on for a week or ten days before the contest starts (third full week in June). Cheap camping (7 bucks a night the last time I camped there), it's a fine time and pilgrimage that one should make at least once (although, you need to go and get to know people, it's as much a social-scene as a musical one).
I worked out of Elko for a number of years but I never did attend the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. I was always work, unfortunately.
I think you'll have fun no matter which one (s) you choose.
Thanks for your reply in general and for mentioning Stickerville/Weiser in particular. I would like to get there in the next several years. I know people who have been there. But I don't know anyone who goes there regularly. So I'm more apprehensive about Stickerville than other events where I at least know a few people.
The good thing about Stickerville would be that if the jam thing didn't work out, I could go listen to the contest!
'Your Daily Dose of Outrage' 11 hrs
'Bartlett Fiddle Mic' 13 hrs
'Recital Blues' 1 day
'Nice, decorated old fiddle' 2 days