Tag Archive for: MS bluegrass championship

New Albany, MS– The annual Down from the Hills Heritage Museum and Mississippi Bluegrass Competition is set May 21, 2016, at the Union County Fairgrounds.   Competition will begin at 10 a.m. in this the 15th year for the festival that selects the top old-time music makers for the state.

The festival moves back to the fairgrounds this year, said Jill Smith, coordinator and Director of the Union County Heritage Museum..  “We are grateful that we have the great space at the Fairgrounds available to us this year.  The covered arena makes it possible to have the event rain or shine and the big trees make for great shade-tree jamming. “As people get ready for their part in the competition, visitors can hear some pretty fabulous shade-tree picking,” Smith said.

Shade-tree picking will be readily available

Shade-tree picking will be readily available

“It’s amazing how people who have scarcely met can play so beautifully together, as is seen at this festival.  Cost of admission is $5 per person, and 12 and under get free admission. Bleachers are available at the event and lawn chairs are welcome there.

If any crafts people would like to set up their wares, please plan to do so by 9 a.m.and bring your own tables.  No flea market or imported merchandise, please.

Typically, contestants from Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana  come to this event that pays cash awards to both youth and adults.

The New Albany event hosts the official MS Bluegrass Championship competition

The New Albany event hosts the official MS Bluegrass Championship competition

“We started this event with the thought that it will encourage the continuation of this type of music that is the heritage of the Appalachian area.  This is part of the mission. The old-time fiddlers, mandolin players, banjo, guitar and dobro make up the core of those individuals who were, many times, self-taught and shared their talents on the front porches prior to the era of a television in every home.”

National Dobro Champion Johnny Bellar, from Tennessee, will perform at this year’s festival. Bellar, also a judge, has a very unique style of playing from the old time Gospel to the ethereal "Hearts of Space “ style.

National Dobro Champion Johnny Bellar, from Tennessee, will perform at this year’s festival. Bellar, also a judge, has a very unique style of playing from the old time Gospel to the ethereal “Hearts of Space “ style.

Known affectionately as “old time music, it was  played at homes, in churches and at public events during a time when the culture was more rural.  The melodic roots of the music come from many cultures, such as the Scots Irish tradition and shaped, also  from the African American banjo tradition. As it evolved, old time music picked up material from other music styles such as blues, ragtime, and gospel.

The competition is open to all, Smith said.  Each competitor pays $5 per competition and there will be a bluegrass band competition as the final portion of the event.  The band winners will take home $1500, for fist and $500 and $250 for second and third.   Approximately $8,000 in all will be earned by the winners, young and old.  This event is supported by the Mississippi Arts Commission, the City of New Albany, and the Union County Historical Society and its Community Partners.

For more information call 662-538-0014 or email jill@ucheritagemuseum.com or go to www.mississippibluegrass.com for rules and entry information

Competitors in the 2015 Down From the Hills  Mississippi Bluegrass Championships came from Kentucky, Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi this year.

Great Spring weather and a good crowd made for a good day for the event, which was held at the Park Along the River in New Albany, Mississippi.


Old Time Fiddling Champion was won this year by a former winner Wayne Jerrolds from Savannah , Tennessee.


Adult Senior Fiddler 

First Place – Tyler Andal, Nashville, TN;

Second Place – Jacob Johnson-Lincoln, AL

Third Place – Grace Bridges

Fourth Place – Danny Lindsey – Silas , Alabama

Fifth Place – Makala Langley, Camden, Tennessee

Sixth Place – Laura Poole, Finger, TN

Apprentice Fiddler

Winner was 10 year old Gary Peters from Nashville, TN  who played up into this age division.

Second Place – Annabelle Watts, Philpott , KY

Third Place – Zeke Morgan, Jackson, MS

Fourth Place – Anna Aires, Hoover, AL

Beginning Fiddler Division Winners 10 and Under

First Place, Beth Davis, Carbondale, IL

Second Place, Erma Peters, Nashville, TN

Third Place , Mattie McKinney, Cullman, AL

Fourth Place, Annabelle Morgan, Jackson, MS

Fifth Place, Molly Aires, Hoover, AL



Adult Banjo Winners 2015

First Place, Joey Gibson,  Manchester, TH

Second Place, James Holland, Clarksville, TN

Third Place, Greg Blaylock, Charlotte, TN

Fourth Place, Tyler AndalNashville, TN

Fifth Place, Jim Ellege, Cumberton, MS

Sixth Place – Makala Langley, Camden TN

Apprentice Banjo

First Place, Anthony Howell, Kosciusko, MS

Second Place, Nick Foster, Florence, AL

Beginner  Banjo

First Place, Erma Peters, Nashville, TN


Guitar Winners 2015

Adult Guitar

First Place, Tyler Andal,  Nashville, TN

Second Place, Clint Morgan, Gallatin, TN

Third Place, Alton Thomas, New Albany, MS

Fourth Place Andrew Davis, Murphreesboro, TN

Fifth Place , Glen Talbert,  Birmingham, AL

Sixth Place, Jeff Wilson, Tupelo, MS

Guitar Apprentice

First Place, Anthony Howell, Kosciusko, MS

Second Place, Annabelle Watts, Philpot, KY

Third Place, William Ayers, Hoover, AL

Guitar Beginner

Firs Place Gary Peters, Nashville, TN


Dobro Winners 2015


First Place, Greg Blaylock, Charlotte, TN

Second Place, Joey Gibson, Manchester, TN

Third Place, Tyler Andal, Nashville, TN

Fourth Place, Jeffrey Wilson, Tupelo, MS

Fifth Place, Glenn Tolbert, Birmingham, AL


Mandolin Winners 2015

Adult Mandolin

First Place, Tyler Andal, Nashville, TN

Second Place, Mason Nolen, Erin, TN

Third Place, Jacob Johnson, Lincoln, AL

Fourth Place, Doug Anderson, Oxford, MS

Fifth Place, Glenn Tolbert, Birmingham, AL

Sixth Place, Laura Poole, Finger, TN

Apprentice Mandolin

First Place, Gary Peters, Nashville, TN

Second Place, Anthony Howell, Kosciusko, MS


Bluegrass Band Category 20105 there were seven bands who entered

First Place-  Bluegrass One of Manchester, TN

Third Place – The Crop Dusters and

Third Place the all female:  The Grass Skirts From Tupelo, MS



Jill Smith, Director

Union County Heritage Museum

Weston Stewart, 2011 National Banjo Champion

My banjo story:

My mom has worked at Athens State University for the past 26 years and, as most of you know, Athens State is host to The Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Conventions. I have attended this great convention, with my parents, every year that I can remember.

It was at this convention that I found my love for music and became interested in playing an instrument.  At 10 years old, while attending this convention I heard the song Foggy Mountain Breakdown being played on the banjo and decided that it was the banjo that I really liked.  So, I approached my mom about playing the banjo.   She thought that I wasn’t serious but she told me that she would see what she could find out about them.  So, I waited patiently, asking every month or so if she had found me one yet.

Finally, I took matters into my own hands and found a classified ad in the local newspaper for a $200.00 banjo.  I waited for my mom to get home from work that day to show her the ad and told her that I had saved enough buy it.  Finally, she took me serious.  It had only taken me three years to convey my seriousness, but I had finally won, and my mom started checking into what would become my future.  She called several local music stores searching for information about banjos.   She said that she didn’t know what I needed to start with or where I needed to start, so she was looking for advice from the local music stores.

She was on what she said was her 6th and final call when the music store employee told her the usual, “I really don’t know that much about the banjo,” but then she added “but, there is a banjo player standing right here, would you like to talk with him?”  My mom says it was divine intervention since she had not been able to get any information about banjos until then.  Anyway, that banjo player turned out to be Robert “Scooter” Muse a local musician who became my mentor and friend.  Scooter ended up selling me a beginner quality banjo for $250.00 and offered to teach me to play.  So, three years later, at 13 years old, I finally had a banjo in my hands and a very qualified instructor.

My parents were great about my decision to play the banjo after they finally realized that it wasn’t just a passing thought of mine.  However, my mom told me from the beginning that she was not going to waste her time or mine on something that I didn’t put any effort into, and that if I didn’t practice my banjo she would not take me to lessons.  It didn’t take her long to realize that she didn’t need to worry about that, and she then began to use my banjo practice as a punishment telling me that if I didn’t have my homework finished first then I wouldn’t be allowed to go to banjo practice.  She never made me miss a practice…but the threat did change my bad homework habits.  Anyway, all in all, my parents were extremely supportive from the beginning.  They took me to every bluegrass festival, competition or jam that they could find, usually with my grandparents in tow.   I had my own entourage at an early age.

When I first started playing the banjo, I would practice a few hours a day until things started to fall into place and I could actually hear the melody in the songs, then my practice would sometimes last as long as 8 hours a days, especially during my summer break when I was out of school.  I can remember my mom leaving for work at around 7:30 in the morning and at 5:00 in the evening when she came home I would still be on the couch with my banjo.  I guess you could say that the banjo had consumed me by that point.

Scooter encouraged me to go to festivals and competitions.  He also encouraged me to enter those competitions.  He said that a taste of the stage would be good for me and that I would not win, so I shouldn’t expect to.  He said that he just wanted me to get on stage and do the best that I could.  Well, I did and I didn’t think that my legs would ever quit shaking.  However, I did enjoy the applause that I got and I decided to do it again later.  From there things moved pretty fast for me and by the time I was 15 I had won my first competition with my legs still shaking.

During this time anything “banjo” got and kept my attention.   I continued to go to festivals and competitions and I would look for anyone that was open to jam with me.  I met many friends along the way who added to my abilities by showing me little things on the banjo or teaching me the chords to a new song.  Some of the people have been professionals while others were just individuals who simply grew up playing and loving music.  Many thanks for my music abilities are given to the friends I have made along the way.  It would have been great if I had been born into a family that played music together, but I wasn’t; so all this bluegrass stuff was new to my whole family.

I don’t, by any means, consider myself a “GREAT” banjo player, but I do strive to do my best and have pushed myself to be a “GOOD” banjo player.  I love all types of banjo playing styles, but really enjoy the melodic style most of all.  Melodic playing is what I believe Scooter loves and he passed that on to me.  Scooter also pushed me to be the best that I could to the point of telling me that he wanted me to learn more than he could write down for me.  He told me that he couldn’t teach me anymore and that I needed to work on learning things from others by listening to CDs or just hearing them play.  Talk about driving a kid crazy.  I was bound and determined that I would succeed at this.  So, I spent many hours in front of a CD player with my finger on the rewind button, listening to players like Earl Scruggs, Larry McNeely, JD Crowe, Mike Snider, Randal Morton, Bela Fleck, James McKinney, Scott Vestal, Alan Munde, Eddie Arnold, and so many more that I can’t mention them all.  Each of these players had their own unique style or sound that made them stand out some way to me and made me realize that I wanted to be unique also.  Anyway, I soon developed an ear for music and an ability to pick up stuff pretty quickly on my own.

In 2009, I was noticed by banjo maker Tom Nechville.  Tom seemed real interested in my playing and I picked up an endorsement from him in the form of a custom Phantom Galaxy Banjo.  I also picked up an endorsement from BlueChip picks and a string endorsement from Ernie Ball Music Man.  I don’t know what I would do without them.  Thank you Nechville, Ernie Ball and BlueChip.

Also, in 2009 I began a new endeavor.  I became a member of The Soul Pickers.  This is a bluegrass group on Tom T and Dixie Hall’s Blue Circle Label.  I now perform with Ricky Reece and Fast Forward.

Currently, I have placed or won in more than 75 competitions to include 10 state titles, the 2011 Merlefest Bluegrass Banjo Championship title, and the 2011 National Bluegrass Banjo Championship title.    I am extremely honored to have won these titles.

Finally, I don’t know that I will always compete but I do know that I will always love the banjo and I will always play the music that I love as long as God grants me the time and ability to do so.  I would also like to thank you for taking your time to read about a small town banjo player from Alabama.

God Bless you and I hope to meet you out pickin sometime.

Weston Stewart, an Alabama native from Anderson, Alabama, holds 14 state titles on banjo, as well as the 2011 National Bluegrass Banjo Title. In 2013, he was the Tennessee state champion on both banjo and dobro. Stewart is a master artist with the State Arts Council’s Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program and is passing on his musical knowledge to students in North Alabama. –  see more athttp://www.noodls.com/view/B4E3BB67B173C976F0B574409A6CBF9CD1935E47?7563xxx1393360464#sthash.SHlmHWuw.dpuf

For more on the Bluegrass Festival

For more than a decade, bluegrass musicians and fans from around the southeast have been coming to New Albany to play traditional music and to compete for more than $8,000 in prizes at the Mississippi Bluegrass Championships. Also known as “Down from the Hills,” the event was sanctioned by the Mississippi   Legislature in 2010 as the official Bluegrass Championship for the state.

The event will be held in downtown New Albany at the Park Along the River on West Main Street.  This is a change of venue from past years when the even was held at the Union County Fairgrounds.  Construction at the fairgrounds and the addition of a Farm to Table Dinner over the Tallahatchie River brought about this change.  Competition on Saturday will begin at 10 a.m.

2014 winners of youth fiddle competition

2014 winners of youth fiddle competition

National banjo champion Weston Stewart  with MS trophies.

National banjo champion Weston Stewart with MS trophies.

Competitions in mandolin, dobro, guitar, banjo , fiddle and bluegrass band will be held in youth, apprentice and adult.  Admission is $5, adults and children under 12 free,  and attendee’s admission will get the competitor into one competition.

Johnny Bellar, dobro

Johnny Bellar, dobro

2014 Guitar winners

2014 Guitar winners


Friday night’s schedule will include Oxford’s Chef John Stokes’ cuisine of Grilled Quail stuffed with Delta Grind Grits, Baby Vidalia, and Marjoram, a salad of Union County Tomatoes and much more as a part of the locally grown food that is part of the nation wide Farm to Table movement to bring people closer to the local sources of food.  Sean Watkins of Nickle Creek will offer a free concert after the dinner.

Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek

Sean Watkins of Nickle Creek

Oxford chef John Stokes, an advocate of locally sourced foods.

Oxford chef John Stokes, an advocate of locally sourced foods.

“Preservation of the culture and music of our region is part of the mission of the museum.  We want to showcase the talent and dedication of the youth and adults who make this music and keep the traditions alive,” said Jill Smith, director of the Union County Heritage Museum.

The event has had strong and steady attendance throughout the years, and organizers believe that the event can be larger. For the 2015 event, the Union County Heritage museum has teamed up with the city’s tourism department, the Master Gardeners Biscuits and Jam Farmers Market, and  the Folk Art Market to expand the festival into a two day event to be held at Park Along the River in downtown.

Saturday, the festival will begin early with the opening of the award-winning Biscuits & Jam Farmers market. Throughout the day bluegrass musicians from around the South will be competing for more than $8,000 in prizes on the main stage, while impromptu jam sessions occur throughout the shaded park. In the evening, attendees will be treated to concerts by the Cakewalkers and Eisenhauer Band.

The Cake Walkers

The Cake Walkers

The populaar Eisenhaur Band will return to New Albany for the Bluegrass Festival.

The populaar Eisenhaur Band will return to New Albany for the Bluegrass Festival.



As well as music, there will be an arts and crafts market, a variety of great food (including BBQ and shrimp boil), and things for the kids including pony rides and a petting zoo.

Organizers hope that the event’s proximity to downtown and its unique shops and restaurants will add another element to the festival.

“The festival, shopping and restaurants, and the Tanglefoot Trail are all within walking distance of one another, and we’re hoping that people will come and enjoy a full day in New Albany,” says New Albany tourism director, Sean Johnson.

For more information about the festival, visit www.mississippibluegrass.com or call 662-534-1047. The event is $5.00 to attend or compete in the bluegrass competition. Free parking is available.

Scenes from the 2014 bluegrass competition.     For more about Banjo Champion Weston Stewart:

band competition

band competition

A youth fiddler

A youth fiddler

festival in a shed


man and girl w award


Jill N. Smith, Director

Union County Heritage Museum

114 Cleveland Street

New Albany, Mississippi 38652