Ron Yule of DeRidder was the Grand Champion of the 2019 Louisiana State Fiddle Championship held at Northwestern State University as part of the 40th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. Second place winner was Joe Suchanek of Merryville, with Owen Meche of Arnaudville placing third. The Championship was held in Magale Recital Hall on the NSU campus.
Meche also took first place in the 21 and under championship division. Suchanek took first in the 60 and up championship division, with Yule coming in second, Birgit Murphy of Opelousas in third, Mark Young of Basile in fourth, Wilfred Luttrell of DeRidder in fifth, and Ron Pace of Alexandria in sixth. Luttrell and Yule also took first place in the twin fiddles competition.
Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Championship and the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, remarked that “the level of talent of the players in this year’s Championship was phenomenal. Each of this year’s contestants is an extraordinary player who is helping keep this important tradition alive.”
Ron Yule began playing the fiddle in 1968 while a student at the University of Texas. In 1973, Yule began producing fiddle contests and promoting bluegrass shows throughout Louisiana and southeast Texas. He and his wife Georgia produced the first bluegrass/fiddle club and newsletter in the state of Louisiana, “The Southwest Louisiana Fiddler and Bluegrass Club,” from 1974 to 1977. Yule has continued promoting and playing folk music for the last 40+ years with numerous bands and groups. Following his retirement, Yule started a written documentation of fiddling, bluegrass, Cajun, and country music in Louisiana with a focus on southwest Louisiana, resulting in several articles and papers as well as six books, including “When the Fiddle was King” (2006), “My Fiddlin’ Grounds” (2007), “Louisiana Fiddlers” (2009), and “Cajun Dancehall Heyday” (2017).
“Louisiana country fiddling and fiddle contests have always been an interest of mine since I started playing,” said Yule. “I attend fiddle contests to connect with other fiddlers, especially old friends, and pick and jam.”
Yule won the Championship in 2000.
“As luck would have it, I actually won this year for the second time at the age of 76 after fiddling for 50 years,” said Yule. “I feel honored to be the Louisiana State Champion and represent the face of Louisiana fiddling.”
Yule said he feels that the Championship is incredibly important to Louisiana traditional culture, and that he will continue to support it as he has since 1974.
“The Championship provides a showcase of rural traditional Louisiana fiddling which continues to evolve as the music scene changes,” he said. “I encourage all fiddlers to attend and experience this contest as well as the other music genres and styles showcased at the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival.”
According to Yule, any involvement with the contest and festival allows a beginner, as well as a seasoned fiddler, a chance to be a part of the learning process of handing down the fiddling tradition.
“As we hold on to this fading musical tradition, we must realize that this music was an integral part of nearly all early rural country social exchanges from country dances, family reunions, political rallies and house parties,” said Yule. “Its history is unique. At one time the fiddler was the town’s entertainer in many cases.”
Yule’s future plans are to continue to do what he loves best, which is to “play music with bluegrass, country, and Cajun friends at jam sessions, festivals, nursing homes and anywhere they’ll allow the noise.”
2019 Fiddle Championship judges included Steve Birdwell, Steve Harper, Henry Hemple and Clancey Stewart. Stewart was the 2018 Louisiana State Fiddle Champion. NSU Professor of English Dr. Lisa Abney and NSU graduate student James Harrison managed the fiddle championship, with Dr. Susan Roach of Louisiana Tech University emceeing. As the new Grand Champion, Yule also performed on the festival main stage in Prather Coliseum, and will serve as a judge for next year’s Championship, to be held on July 25, 2020.
Support for the Fiddle Championship and the 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 Foundation and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.