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Why enter a banjo contest when you have no hope of winning anything?

Sep 9, 2021 - 12:44 PM
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77 posts since 2/14/2021

I've played a fair number of banjo contest over the years but have never even placed in the top three. I got fourth once but there were only five banjo players entered. So why keep entering contests when there is no hope of winning or even placing? The answer came to me by accident a couple of years ago. Actually, I gave up entering contests until one day I was the sound man for a banjo/fiddle contest at the Randolph County Fair in West Virginia. Gerry Milnes (who always wins if he enters) was the organizer of the competition. He asked me to enter the banjo contest as I sat there twisting knobs. I told him I gave that up but he said there were only two folks in the banjo contest and he asked me because he just needed more warm bodies. The brutal honesty of his request impressed me and I agreed. By the time I was called on stage about five or six other folks had signed up and I really wasn't needed. But my word is my oath (sometimes) and I went up and played a tune. I didn't win anything! But I have thought about that experience since and here is my conclusion.

1. I enjoyed the experience. I'm a complete ham and love to perform.
2. I felt like I was part of the experience not just a sound man twisting knobs.
3. It is not shameful to not win only if you are afraid of losing.
4. I played my best and was proud of my performance.

My answer to the original question is - I'm entering contests again because I can. I wonder if other banjo players have had a similar experience?

Edited by - Professor Jive on 09/09/2021 12:46:21

Sep 9, 2021 - 1:02:21 PM
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banjo bill-e

Tuvalu

11682 posts since 2/22/2007

I always considered it participation more than competition. I entered a few contests with no hope of winning but I wanted to be an active part of the festival beyond just a spectator. And while I was never among the best I always had at least one person tell me that they enjoyed what I played. So yeah, I had to pay to play, but I got to perform on stage in front of an attentive crowd, and that was a memorable experience. Also, when you are a player, you tend to meet other players. Besides all that, we perform a service for the winners as it takes some ordinary playing for the exceptional to stand out!

Sep 9, 2021 - 1:15 PM
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29 posts since 1/10/2011

This is about entering contests. I know it isn't a banjo contest but least I gave it a shot. Speaking of shot, this was a skeet shoot back in La. in the 80's. I entered the tournament and won it receiving a trophy. Hearing about another skeet shoot in a nearby town, I entered that one and luckily won it too. Two first place trophies. When leaving the shoot, I learned of another shoot about 15 miles away and drove over to watch that one. The entry deadline was 5 minutes later so I entered this one with about 100 other skeet shooters. They were using an electric thrower that sent these targets about 50 mph and also a hand one at slow speeds. The wind was bout 30 mph and this wasn't a good day to shoot. I won this tournament too. Wow, 3 first place trophies, 3 towns, and all in one day. Not bragging, but it was a good day. I never heard a congratulations, or read anything in the local papers of these towns about the shoots. I went home and felt like Charlie Brown. Now 70, I wish I had tried out for state shooting but never did. I gave that up and took up the banjo. Better at shooting.

Sep 9, 2021 - 5:40:37 PM
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1818 posts since 7/4/2009

There's always a chance. I've played in the banjo contest at the Vandalia Gathering once or twice and never placed but I've always had fun. I honestly think using a resonator banjo probably hurt my chances more than my playing.

Edited by - UncleClawhammer on 09/09/2021 17:42:20

Sep 10, 2021 - 7:03:50 AM
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77 posts since 2/14/2021

A skeeting shooting contest is pretty much an objective contest. You score well or you don't. But instrumental contests like banjo, fiddle, etc. are notoriously subjective. UncleClawhammer is correct in that there is always a chance to win if you compete. He's also right that playing a resonator banjo instead of an open back can hurt your chances of winning if it is an Oldtime banjo contest but the opposite is true if it is a Bluegrass contest. It's subjective to the core. I've judged several Oldtime contests and though most judges try to be fair, me included, it boils down to a great deal of personal preference. I once marked a great fiddler down because I thought he wasn't playing in a Oldtime style (?), whatever that is. It was a decision I regret.

Sep 10, 2021 - 7:50:27 AM
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RB3

USA

1133 posts since 4/12/2004

If you have a desire and a goal to be a performer, entering contests can be a good way to get some initial performance experience. You'll experience performance anxiety, you'll find out what it's like to perform in front of an audience, and you may experience acceptance or rejection. It's a good way to find out if you really do want to be a performer.

Sep 11, 2021 - 5:29:10 AM
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1284 posts since 1/31/2011

Bragging rights.

Sep 12, 2021 - 4:01:48 PM
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Owen

Canada

9782 posts since 6/5/2011
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Sorta 'way off topic, but re. "I got fourth once but there were only five banjo players entered." 

I got ya beat all hollow..... One time I  got third place for my bannock in the mens' section at our yocal agric. fair, and mine was the only entry.    My [home-ec. trained] wife says I was lucky.... she said the center was undercooked and had she been the judge, she wouldn't have given it any prize!!   crying

Edit:  Frank, did I garner "bragging rights"? wink

Edited by - Owen on 09/12/2021 16:03:27

Sep 12, 2021 - 4:37:55 PM
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105 posts since 10/5/2019

I think not only is it fun and a great learning experience but I always see improvement in my playing while preparing for a contest, in your creativity and timing as you practice to do your best by yourself when all they will hear is you and maybe a backup player. Eventually you might win something too which is a nice bonus :)

Sep 12, 2021 - 6:49:52 PM
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125 posts since 7/22/2012

I do find that stage fright and contest fright can be somewhat different animals...maybe it's that you can't talk to the crowd in some contests...anyway, at the end of the day it's just a banjo contest. If I start stressing too much, I'm taking this thing too seriously.

Y'all make some good points; even if a picker was to never win a contest, he (or she) might have fun and be a good part of the show in his (or her) own way and give some people something to enjoy and that's plenty fine.

Edited by - Banjfoot on 09/12/2021 18:55:08

Sep 12, 2021 - 6:50 PM
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224 posts since 10/26/2018

Ultimately, I enter contests (fiddle) for the fun of it. As stated above, it's a good way to get over/used to performance jitters. And also stated above, I usually put some thought into the tune(s) and the contest gives me the opportunity to improve in some way, be it tone or technique or whatever. "Usually" because once the unthinkable happened and I was called up for a tie breaker and hadn't thought of the possibility of even placing. It was for fourth place and I played the first tune I could think of that I can play in my sleep and have many variations for - "Old Joe Clark." I got 4th out of...not sure, maybe 8 or 10 folks in the "over 50 yrs of age" category.

I also like to add one more take on a tune to the mix at a contest, for the audience more than the judges. Or in the case of the Iowa State Fair contest, a style of fiddling they don't hear too often (it's mostly the style that would classified as Contest Style as in, I memorized this transcription of so-and-so's version of "Temperance Reel" and am playing it note for note).

My absolute favorite thing about banjo contests, especially one like Clifftop, with an old time focus, is the seemingly unending variety of sounds that folks get from their instruments. 

Edited by - WVDreamin on 09/12/2021 18:55:21

Sep 28, 2021 - 12:39:53 AM
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25 posts since 11/30/2012

Music contests are fun to enter and play in. I wish more festivals had them. Even if you didn't win the contest, you got to play and that is still winning. You never lose when you play music and especially if you play a banjo. Ever see kids dancin or checkin you out when you are pickin? You may be that one person that inspired them to take up music and you may the one reason the tradition of banjo pickin lives on. Think of it that way. You never know who is listening. You might even get hired to play in a band or even get asked to record with someone.

Sep 28, 2021 - 9:29:28 AM
Players Union Member

rvrose

USA

830 posts since 6/29/2007

The only contest around Illinois is the State Fair. I was considering it until I saw the rules which requires you to play a waltz and a waltz and a hoedown. Sounded like they are more interested in the fiddle contest.

 

 

Sep 28, 2021 - 10:04:53 AM

153 posts since 4/14/2021

Personally, I'm a long LONG ways from entering in any banjo contest. But I have competed in various things throughout my years. I've been a drag racer my entire adult life, and have won dozens of times. I've also raced bicycles. Bike racing is HARD. I never won, and had no chance of winning. But it was a great experience, especially off road racing.
Lately, I've been doing archery tournaments, the biggest being the Vegas Shoot. It is the biggest indoor tournament in the world, and around 3700 shooters come from all over. I have no chance of winning there either, although I'm a pretty fair shooter. Of course, I compete in the most difficult of disciplines - bare-bow recurve. (I always seem to have to do things the hard way). No sight, no stabilizers and finger release. Unlike freestyle compound, perfection is unattainable. But still, the experience is incredible. It also lets me know where I stand with other archers from around the world, which is right about mid pack!
But there seems to be a bit of a difference between a banjo competition and a scoring competition. Where the scoring competition is cut and dried....the score is the score, a banjo competition would be subjective. Would it not?

Sep 28, 2021 - 2:51:21 PM
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7062 posts since 6/30/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Professor Jive

................I went up and played a tune. I didn't win anything! But I have thought about that experience since and here is my conclusion.

1. I enjoyed the experience. I'm a complete ham and love to perform.
2. I felt like I was part of the experience not just a sound man twisting knobs.
3. It is not shameful to not win only if you are afraid of losing.
4. I played my best and was proud of my performance.

My answer to the original question is - I'm entering contests again because I can. I wonder if other banjo players have had a similar experience?


The reasons you have listed (1-4) and the fact that you have the courage to enter contests, make you a winner every time!

Edited by - Pick-A-Lick on 09/28/2021 14:53:02

Sep 30, 2021 - 7:57:37 AM

2860 posts since 2/10/2013

What has bothered me in many contests, is the poor quality of some judges. And IMHO each judge should only judge one aspect of playing. Each aspect would have a point value. The player with most points would win the competition. And, when performing, players would not be seen by the judges or audience - only heard. I talked to an acquaintance who won the regional fiddling competition. I mentioned how outstanding the #3 fiddler was. The acquaintance then said that the tune that fiddler played was very difficult and well played, and that that person should have won the competition. I have been to competitions where the best musician was not selected among the top 3 competitors.

I no longer go to competitions.

Sep 30, 2021 - 8:10:17 AM

YellowSkyBlueSun

Virgin Islands (U.S.)

437 posts since 5/11/2021

Depends on the competition. I like local/regional competitions, where the audience and judges don't have such rigid boxes that you must stay inside if you want to win. Competitions that allow the banjo players to express themselves creatively are great fun and worth the time. 

But some of the bigger competitions, specifically the 'big fiddle convention' that I won't mention by name, seem to be more about name recognition and 'doing it the right way'. TBH I watched the most recent competition, and you couldn't hear any difference between the top 10 players in the clawhammer banjo category. For the life of me I can't tell how they pick a winner and a loser, because they all sound identical. These competitions seem to be a measurement of who can play the best backup for the fiddle, rather than who's the best banjo player. I don't see why anyone would bother entering into those competitions at all.

Edited by - YellowSkyBlueSun on 09/30/2021 08:11:29

Sep 30, 2021 - 8:21:32 AM

737 posts since 5/22/2021

quote:
Originally posted by YellowSkyBlueSun

Depends on the competition. I like local/regional competitions, where the audience and judges don't have such rigid boxes that you must stay inside if you want to win. Competitions that allow the banjo players to express themselves creatively are great fun and worth the time. 

But some of the bigger competitions, specifically the 'big fiddle convention' that I won't mention by name, seem to be more about name recognition and 'doing it the right way'. TBH I watched the most recent competition, and you couldn't hear any difference between the top 10 players in the clawhammer banjo category. For the life of me I can't tell how they pick a winner and a loser, because they all sound identical. These competitions seem to be a measurement of who can play the best backup for the fiddle, rather than who's the best banjo player. I don't see why anyone would bother entering into those competitions at all.


I agree with you!

Finding those smaller contests are hard, unfortunately, though.

Oct 1, 2021 - 7:58:10 AM

2860 posts since 2/10/2013

Based om my experiences, the larger competitions have more qualified judges. But, judges taste leads toward a specific style. I have even heard a judge go to the microphone and say that the competition was about bluegrass style music, when the competition was supposed to just be a fiddling competition and not for a specific styles of music.

I would like to see regional competitions "swap" judges with other regions. That would minimize the number of judges with preconceived knowledge and opinions.

I do think competitions benefit players. But, judging must be fair, objective, and have judges who are experienced enough to evaluate the musical talent

Edited by - Richard Hauser on 10/01/2021 07:59:52

Oct 7, 2021 - 6:34:55 AM

3987 posts since 5/1/2003

I won a banjo contest a couple yrs ago playing 3 finger style. The other contestant played claw hammer. I guess the judges liked my style better. The $150 check was nice but I can’t brag about it very loudly. ;)

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