Final Four weekend is coming up, and my two favorite teams are in Houston preparing to compete for the NCAA men’s basketball championship.Â Growing up in Kentucky, I’ve been a fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats as long as I can remember. Then when Debbie and I moved to Indiana in 2005, we very quickly became fans of the Bulldogs of Butler University. Now they’re both in the Final Four, preparing for the competition.
At the same time, I’m gearing up for a competition of my own. Last fall, more or less on a whim, I went to Boonville in southwest Indiana and entered the thumbpick guitar competition at the Indiana State Picking and Fiddling Championships. Much to my surprise, I won. So I’ve decided to go to Mountain View, Ark., in May and enter the national contest during Thumbpicking Weekend at the Ozark Folk Center.
Believe me, I don’t have any delusions of grandeur about this contest. I know the calibre of the pickers that enter, and they’ll pick circles around me. In days gone by, that would have been enough to keep me home, but I’ve learned a bit about the value of competition.
An obvious benefit of competition is preparation. Entering the contest at Mountain View is a strong motivation to practice, to experiment and to develop new skills. However, competition also brings you in contact with people who share some of the same passions and experiences as you.
When competition is healthy, it builds community. The people who have worked hard to build the same set of skills can relate to one another in a unique way, and that’s how it is with thumbpicking guitars. The more thumbpickers I meet, the more people I know who share a love for the Travis style, who want to dig deep into its roots, who want to learn and share with one another. Through competition, a novice like me can meet people who knew Merle (Travis) and Mose (Rager), pioneers of thumbpicking. Through competition, that rich heritage gets passed along.
This will be my first year at Mountain View, but having talked with some folks who have been there before, it sounds to me like the contest is secondary to the jam sessions that happen on the town square over the weekend. Not unlike the county and state fair, where we judge pies and beauties and quilts and farm animals. We may have the hope of bringing home a ribbon, but the gathering is the important thing.
So I’m looking forward to Mountain View, in part for the time at the Center because of the history and the people I know who have won there, but mainly for the opportunity to pick guitars all night with some of the finest pickers in the country.