Gary Keller sat near a shade tree in South Park listening to the sounds of fiddles, guitars and other acoustic musical instruments Sunday afternoon. And when the mood suited him, he started playing his own mandolin.
Keller wasn't a performer during this year's Kansas State Fiddling and Picking Championships, but the Spring Hill man came prepared to enjoy some serious "jamming" with other musicians.
"We've come here every year," Keller said of himself as well as his family and friends. "It's a chance to socialize with other musicians."
Hundreds of music lovers gathered in the park for the concerts, contests and workshops as the fiddling and picking championships marked their 25th year in Lawrence.
Linwood resident Kevin Irick, who stood a short distance from one of two stages used by musicians, summed up the afternoon experience in one word:
"Awesome," he said.
Next to Irick, friend Craig Nowatzke agreed.
"I come every year, and you get to see a lot of the same players and a few new ones," Nowatzke said between bites of a steak pita sandwich.
Most of the musicians were from throughout Kansas and Missouri, said Kay Runge, who co-chaired this year's event along with John Craft. Although contestants didn't have to register more than 20 minutes before an event, the championship usually draws an average of 225 contestants, Runge said. Judges consisted of other musicians, some of whom also were music teachers, she said.
"A lot of people use this as practice for Winfield," Runge said, referring to the national championships scheduled for next month during that city's Walnut Valley Festival.
In celebration of the Lawrence championships, related events began Friday night with a free ice cream social featuring products provided by Sylas & Maddy's Home Made Ice Cream, 1014 Mass. A showcase of musicians who had won past championships followed, and by the end of the evening, 30 to 40 musicians were conducting their own jam session, Runge said.
On Saturday, instrument workshops were conducted, and Sunday featured "shape-note" singing workshops in the South Park gazebo.
Although people came and went from the park throughout the afternoon, Runge said past crowd estimates have ranged from 700 to more than 1,000. This year's crowd was greeted by partly cloudy skies and temperatures near 90 degrees.
Many of those who came to hear the music brought their own blankets and lawn chairs, including Denny and Margaret Phillips of Overland Park. While enjoying the music, they said they could see the intensity the musicians had for their craft.
"You can see how hard everybody is really concentrating when they are playing," Margaret Phillips said.
"I love this music," Denny Phillips said. "I love the banjo and the old songs, like those from Earl Scruggs."
Among those waiting to perform on stage late Sunday afternoon was Chris Biggs, Kansas Securities Commissioner and a former Geary County prosecutor. Biggs, who just recently announced he would not be a second-time Democratic candidate for the Kansas Attorney General's post held by Phill Kline, was performing with long-time friends Scott Tichenor, Bob Atchison and Rick Desko.
"I always find time to play," Biggs said. "It makes life a little more enjoyable."
Fiddling, picking winners picked
Miscellaneous Acoustic Instruments 1st, Leon Bell, Tonganoxie, Dobro Carroll Gunter, Wichita Steve Mason, Lawrence
Ensemble Folk Singing ¢ 1st, Viney's Cousins Michael Paul, Lawrence Terri Laddusaw, Lawrence ¢ Burntwater Tenley Hansen, Gladstone, Mo. April Armstrong, Gladstone, Mo. Michael Fraser, Gladstone, Mo. ¢ Sister Strings Melody Routh, Augusta Allison Routh, Augusta Danielle Routh, Augusta
Banjo 1st, Ken Plummer, Augusta 2nd, Jim Rome, Lawrence Brett Callaway, Baxter, Iowa Korey Kaul, Lawrence Jim Krause, Lawrence Allison Routh, Augusta (Youth)
Hammered Dulcimer 1st, April Armstrong, Gladstone, Mo. Allen Macfarlane, Lawrence
Mountain Dulcimer 1st, Allen Macfarlane, Lawrence David Crawford, Shawnee Rusty Denes ,Kansas City, Mo. Allison Routh, Augusta (Youth)
Mandolin 1st, Josh Hungate, Kearney, Mo. (Youth) 2nd, Dennis Pash, Lawrence David Barnhill, Lawrence Bill Browning, Lawrence Mark Franzke, Prairie Village Danielle Routh, Augusta (Youth) Justin White, Ottawa (Youth)
Flatpick Guitar 1st, Ken Plummer, Augusta 2nd, Efrem Plummer, Augusta Steve Bagwell, Lawrence David Barnhill, Lawrence Jessie Callaway, Baxter, Iowa (Youth) Larry Lintner, Ottawa Mark Vranicar, Overland Park Dustin White, Smithville, Mo.
Fingerpick Guitar 1st, Dan Bliss, Merriam 2nd, Jeff Furst, Oskaloosa 3rd, Tony Huber, Topeka Jessie Callaway Baxter, Iowa (Youth) Justin Falleaf, Lawrence Michael Garfield, Lawrence Steve Gouge, Kansas City, Mo. Kelly Howell, Lawrence Michael Stratton, Topeka
Fiddle 1st, Cara Oliphant, Chanute 2nd, Diane Gillenwater, Topeka Lindsay Craig, Emporia Wes Dotson, Wichita David M. Hendricks, Overland Park Steve Mason, Lawrence Josephine Michener, Lawrence Tricia Spencer, Lawrence
Youth Fiddle 1st, Tess Stephens, Pleasant Hill, Mo. 2nd, Shannon O'Shea, Lawrence 3rd, Victoria Gillman, Lawrence
Youth Award Josh Hungate, Kearney, Mo.
Other Youth Contestants (alphabetical order) Jesse Callaway, Baxter, Iowa, Fingerpick Guitar, Flatpick Guitar Leah Callaway, Baxter, Iowa, Youth Fiddle Sage Cornelius, Berryton, Youth Fiddle Lauren Cranden, Lawrence, Youth Fiddle Blaine Dunlop, Parker, Youth Fiddle Matthew Oliphant, Chanute, Youth Fiddle Allison Routh, Augusta, Banjo, Mountain Dulcimer Danielle Routh, Augusta, Mandolin Melody Routh, Augusta, Youth Fiddle Justin White, Ottawa, Mandolin