The winner of the 83rd Athens Old Fiddler’s Contest grew up with a bow in his hand.
Forty-eight-year-old Dale Morris Jr. is the son of a champion fiddler, and began playing when he was three. In the past, he’s won the Texas State Fiddling Championship and the Grand Master Fiddler’s Championship. He was excited to get back in the winner’s circle in Athens, in front of a good crowd on the Henderson County Courthouse lawn.
The concert was a day after the square was evacuated, while officials evaluated the effects of a fertilizer facility fire that broke out Thursday afternoon.
“This is my first contest to enter in a long time,” Morris said. “I haven’t been down here for years. I came down here as a kid, and later as an adult.”
Morris said he last competed in Athens about 10 years ago, and met some stout competition this time around.
“You’ve got a lot of great fiddlers in this thing, so you’ve got to do something to make you stand out from the other ones,” Morris said.
Morris plays music full-time. He teaches aspiring musicians, and does workshops around the country. He also sings and records. His resume reflects a lot of years on stage. Some of his former work includes a 3-year-stint in Branson, playing in Boxcar Willie’s show.
In 2001, Morris began touring with country legend Ray Price. He’s also been a studio musician, backing some of country music’s top names.
Morris took home a total of $800 for his win in the open division and the grand championship prize. The other division winners earned $200. The runner-up was Carl Hopkins of Porter, who won the age 30-65 group. The second place finish was worth $400, added to his $200 as the top fiddler in his division.
The following is a list of the top finishers in each fiddler’s division.
• 66 and Over
First – Jesse Mears, 75, Alvarado
Second – Tom Fonville, 75, Flint
Third – Larry Boddie, 72, Fort Worth
• Adult Ages, 30-65
First – Carl Hopkins, 54, Porter
Second – David Lamb, 60, Delight, Ark.
Third – Jim Varnon, 60, Fort Worth
• Young Adult, Ages 19-29
First – Brian Beken, 28, Austin
• Youth, 18 and Under
First – River Lee, 13, The Woodlands
Second – Faith Nugent, 18, Burleson
Third – Katie Crawford, 17, Burleson
First – Dale Morris Jr., 48, Fort Worth
Second – Jason Andrew, 32, Whitewright
Third – Eddie Davis, 55, Cuero
• Grand Champion
First – Dale Morris, Jr., 48, Fort Worth
Second – Carl Hopkins, 54, Porter