Clancey Stewart of Florien was the Grand Champion of the 2018 Louisiana State Fiddle Championship held at Northwestern State University as part of the 39th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. Tied for second place were Cameron Fontenot of Eunice and Terry Huval of Lafayette. Ron Yule of DeRidder took third place, followed by Marguerite Gravois of Baton Rouge in fourth. The Championship was held in Magale Recital Hall on the Northwestern State campus.
Stewart also took first place in the 21 and under championship division, followed by Fontenot in second and Owen Meche of Arnaudville in third. Gravois won first place in the 22-59 championship division, and Huval took first in the 60 and up championship division, with Yule coming in second, Wilfred Luttrell of DeRidder in third and Ronald Pace of Alexandria in fourth. Luttrell and Yule also took first place in the twin fiddle competition.
Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival and the Louisiana State Fiddle Championship, remarked that “the level of talent of the players in this year’s Championship was amazing, which accounts for the tie for second place winners in the grand championship. When the caliber of talent is so high it makes it very difficult for the judges to pick a single winner. Each of this year’s contestants is an extraordinary player.”
Stewart has played the fiddle for the past 15 years. She takes part in a community jam session on the last Saturday of each month in the historic opera house in Fisher. She will be a senior this fall at Northwestern State.
As the new champion, Stewart also performed on the main stage in Prather Coliseum. Stewart remarked on the importance of getting experience playing in competition settings, saying “As far as competition, the losing is what makes it better. It challenges you to better yourself.”
Several of the contestants observed how positive they found it to play in the Championship. Said Fontenot, “It was a great experience listening to all of these great fiddlers. Can’t wait to do it again and it’s an honor playing here!”
Huval observed that the “Championship is a great program to give musicians an additional incentive to become more proficient with their instrument. Fiddling is an art form so much a part of our Louisiana culture —no matter what the style. This is indeed a wonderful event that needs more support.”
Remarked Gravois, “The fiddle competition is a great chance to meet other fiddlers and hear their selections. The organizers were very accommodating and made us all feel welcome. Plus, it gives us a great reason to visit the city—it’s beautiful.”
Although an accomplished musician, Stewart does not play Cajun music styles, and was surprised to win this year’s Louisiana State Fiddle Championship. “I was really excited. I didn’t think that I was going to win, especially Grand Champion. I was worried about playing in the Texas swing style.”
Stewart teaches fiddle to students in grades 6-12 in Sabine Parish public schools. She advises beginning players to “Never give up on yourself. It’s hard, but you have to stick with it and it’s worth it.” She plans on encouraging her students to take part in next year’s Fiddle Championship, remarking that “I hope to see this festival and competition grow in future years.”
Two fiddles made by master instrument maker Hilton Lytle were given away to contestants of this year’s Championship. A student in the Brazos Huval School of Music in Breaux Bridge, Meche was the beneficiary of a ¾ fiddle donated by Lytle. Fontenot was also the recipient of a handmade Lytle fiddle, donated by Carl and Joyce Parker of Downsville. Rasmussen remarked that Mr. Lytle has helped revitalize fiddle playing throughout Louisiana. “We are indebted to his tireless efforts and kindness to so many. His fiddles are works of art.” Reflected Stewart, who has known Hilton Lytle for several years, “Hil is one of the sweetest older men you will ever meet, and he has a huge heart for younger people. He brings new experiences into people’s lives.” Earlier in the day Lytle was inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center Hall of Master Folk Artists.
2018 Fiddle Championship judges included fiddlers Andrej Kurti, Joe R. Suchanek, and Sofiko Tchetchelashvili. Suchanek was the 2017 Louisiana State Fiddle Champion. As the 2018 Grand Champion, Stewart will serve as a judge for next year’s Championship, which will be held on July 27, 2019.
Support for the Louisiana State Fiddle Championship and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival was provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., the Louisiana Division of the Arts Decentralized Arts Fund Program, the Louisiana Office of Tourism, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council. Support also came from generous sponsorships from Acme Refrigeration of Baton Rouge, Dr. James Arceneaux, Bank of Montgomery, Louie Bernard, City Bank, the City of Natchitoches, Cleco, John Conine; Corkern, Crews, Johnson & Guillet; CP-Tel, Delta Car Wash, Dan and Desirée Dyess, Georgia’s Gift Shop, La Capitol FCU, the Harrington Law Firm, Billy Joe Harrington, Jeanne’s Country Garden, Maglieaux’s Riverfront Restaurant, the Natchitoches Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Natchitoches Wood Preserving, Inc., NSU Men’s Basketball, Page Builders, LLC, Sabine State Bank, R.V. Byles Enterprises, UniFirst, Dr. Michael Vienne, David and Shirley Walker, Waste Connections, and Young Estate LLC.