I was looking over a few old photos of us today, and found these which were taken several years ago, at a contest held in a small town near here. Casey (age 16) and I (age unspecified) played in the banjo and fiddle parts of the contest, respectively.
Now, generally speaking, we don't enter contests (okay, I’ve entered maybe 2 contests in 30 years). This is mostly because of the caliber of judging you find at many of the small-town events. For example, rarely will you have judges who are fiddle experts, because (1) if they can play well they're probably entered in the contest, and (2) if they're not entered in the contest they at least don't want to be judges, because they don't want to get all but one of their fiddle-playing friends (the contest winner they choose) mad at them. So instead, you may find the president of the local bank, or folks from various civic organizations, or the owner of the local gas station doing the judging. Under those circumstances, the prizes may not come anywhere near the best players!
In the case of this contest, just before the even started, I was standing next to the table at which two of the judges were seated. The third judge came and took her seat. One of the others said, "I'm really glad that NOW, we have somebody who knows something about music!" The second judge agreed with him enthusiastically. So I knew what to expect.
The banjo contest came first. Casey, just 16, played great as I backed her up on guitar:
In spite of the fact that it was her first contest and it was a cold day, making it a real challenge to play with chilled fingers, Casey took second prize against a crowd of older and much more experienced players. I was really proud that she had done that well, and her win qualified her to enter the East Coast Invitational Banjo Contest a few weeks later. [Which I didn't place in, and thus it became the last contest that I ever played!]
Next came the fiddle contest. For my three tunes to play I chose "Durang's Hornpipe", "Festival Waltz", and "Sally Goodwin". Chris (age 13) was going to back me up on guitar. He already played great rhythm but wasn't familiar with many fiddle tunes, so he and I had run over the tunes together a few times at home.
Now, I'm not a fiddle specialist, but I think I've got a pretty realistic idea of how well I play the fiddle. As I watched the other fiddlers in the contest, I recognized that I had an edge over most of them, but two of them (call them Fiddler A and Fiddler B) were conspicuously better than the rest of us. Fiddler A was the best, though not by a great deal.
When it came my turn to play, Chris and I got up on the stage and gave it what we had in that chilly weather. Here's what we looked like:
I played my three tunes about as well as I ever had, knowing that the judges might or might not actually have the "ears" to hear what the other contestants and I were playing. After the other fiddlers had all performed, the judges' results were tallied: Fiddler B was awarded first prize, Fiddler A won second prize, and I won third. That was not bad, I thought---even if the judges had scrambled the two best players, at least they'd assigned the best three fiddlers to the top three slots. Pretty good for a small-town contest.
But I haven't entered any more of them since then!