Fiddle master Deanie Richardson of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s reigning Entertainer of the Year group, Sister Sadie, sings the praises of the Smithville Jamboree.
“Smithville is a massive part of my muse, my adulthood, and my career,” says Richardson, who is also the 2020 IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year. “For me, it feels like my complete childhood rolled up into one day.”
Richardson, 49, won the Beginner Fiddle Championship when she was around age 11 or 12.
“That gave me my first spot on the Grand Ole Opry. That year the fiddle player that won that whole thing got to appear on the Grand Ole Opry.”
“They started giving the kids 12 and under a shot at winning something because we were having to compete with adults,” Richardson recalls. “I believe the year that I won it was the first year they did that.”
Besides fiddle, Richardson competed in the guitar and mandolin contests, and her brother was a dancer. Describing the Jamboree as “the highlight of our year,” Richardson says she loved the atmosphere off stage as much as performing on stage.
“It’s the jamming -- the constant walking around the square and finding a group to get in and play with. The crowd would be massive back there watching those jams. That’s probably my greatest memory as a kid playing music in Smithville and being a part of those jams back behind the courthouse [at the bottom level concrete entrance]. We would snag that up because that was the place the dancers could dance, and we could play.”
As part of her Jamboree days, Richardson would often get to fiddle for the square dancers.
“At the end of the day there’s this square dance competition, and I got to stand up there for that, sweat rolling down my whole body as I played “Sally Goodin,” while the dancers competed. That’s the exact thing that inspired my new record, Circle Up.”
Richardson’s career continued to advance, and since her contest says, she has gone on to tour with Vince Gill, Bob Seger, and the Chieftains. Nominated for the Academy of Country Music’s Top Fiddle Player of the Year in 2010, Richardson also has shared the stage with Emmy Lou Harris, Hank Williams, Jr., Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart, and Del McCoury to name a few. An in-demand music instructor, Richardson has taught several of the kids who have entered the Smithville Jamboree including frequent award winner Ivy Phillips.
“You get those students that come along and just blow you away, and she’s one of them,” Richardson says. “I’ve been teaching Ivy since she was 4. Watching her be so successful through all these years does my heart good.”
The fiddling ace starts preparing her students in January each year for the Smithville Jamboree where they compete in a number of categories.
“For me now as a teacher, it’s such a massive incentive to say, ‘Alright. We’ve got to start prepping for Smithville.’ Honestly, the money that you win at Smithville is not as great as a lot of the other competitions I went to, but it’s also the atmosphere, [and] the other children that these kids get to meet and create lifelong friendships with.”
Richardson wants her students to experience the unique warm and receptive crowds that she encountered as a kid at competitions.
“That was a huge thing for me. Most competitions your audience is sitting there, sort of stoic, and the judges are writing. This one felt more like a performance. It felt like the audience was so engaged in what you were doing. They’re cheering you on if they hear something they like. It’s just a totally different vibe than all the other contests we went to as a kid.”
Often, Richardson also accompanies her students with her guitar while they perform on stage.
“I love going and participating with them. I remember going back for the first time after not being there for years because of my touring schedule, and playing with some students. I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion being on that stage accompanying a child I had taught and prepping for that.”
Certainly, Richardson would like to see her students take home the top trophies, but she says that’s not what it’s all about.
“One of my bucket list items is to watch my kids grow up and get to have the [Smithville Jamboree] be part of their journey as well.”