2023 Contest Winners

In the heartland of Winfield, Kansas, during the third weekend of September, the 51st Walnut Valley Festival transformed into a musical battleground, welcoming thousands of talented musicians from across the globe. An army of 121 exceptionally skilled contestants, spanning eight exhilarating instrument contests, engaged in fierce competition for the title of Champion.

This festival proved itself a veritable picker’s paradise, not only by the incredible prowess displayed on contest stages but also by the contagious sense of awe that spread among those simply warming up outside Barn Four, where legends and emerging virtuosos converged. As we unveil the remarkable top winners of these thrilling musical battles, let’s journey through the highlights of their conquests.

The Walnut Valley Festival is the home of the National Flat Pick Guitar Championship, the International Autoharp Championship, the International Fingerstyle Guitar, the National Mountain Dulcimer, the National Hammer Dulcimer Championship and the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship. Other contests held at the Walnut Valley Festival are the National Mandolin Championship and the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle.

International Autoharp Championship


Cindy Harris

  • International Autoharp Championship – First – 2023, 2017
  • International Autoharp Championship – 2nd -2016, 2015, 2014, 2013

In the heart of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cindy Harris has made quite a name for herself as a dedicated and talented musician. With a passion for the autoharp, old-time fiddle, bass, and various other instruments, Cindy’s musical journey is both inspiring and remarkable.

Cindy, a multi-talented artist, not only excels as a musician but also as an educator. She’s a proficient teacher of the autoharp, old-time fiddle, and voice, sharing her knowledge and skills with aspiring musicians. She also directs a community chorus, demonstrating her commitment to fostering musical talents in her hometown.

Cindy, a previous winner of the International Autoharp Championship, made her 11th appearance at the Walnut Valley Festival in 2023. Her journey has been an exhilarating one, with several previous top-three finishes, including four in second place, and a well-deserved championship title in 2017.

During a recent interview, Cindy shared her passion for music and the thrill of competing in the contest. Her description of playing in front of judges and an attentive audience painted a picture of exhilaration and a deep love for her craft.

Cindy’s enthusiasm for the autoharp and her remarkable journey in the field is awe-inspiring. In her free time, she says she enjoys playing at the Carp Camp and Pico de Gallo, where she is surrounded by a talented community of musicians. Her mentors and inspirations include notable figures like Karen Mueller, and Bryan Bowers, who have shaped her musicianship.

Cindy’s story of musical excellence and dedication exemplifies the spirit of artists at the Walnut Valley Festival, where talent, passion, and a sense of community unite to create an unforgettable experience. Her wise words of advice for aspiring musicians are clear: consistency and dedication, even in short daily practice sessions, can lead to musical excellence and a fulfilling journey in the world of music.

Cindy chose as her prize the Schreiber G-D Diatonic Autoharp made by Schreiber Autoharps, 354 Owl Hollow Rd, Millerstown, PA 17062  (717) 418-2775     schreiberautoharps.com







Cindy Harris' championship interview:


Steve Luper

  • International Autoharp Championship – Second – 2023, 2021, 2019
  • International Autoharp Championship – Third Place – 2022, 2018, 2016

Steve Luper, hailing from Andover, has solidified his reputation as a talented and dedicated musician with his remarkable journey in the world of autoharp music. His recent second-place finish at the International Autoharp Championship during the Walnut Valley Festival is a testament to his enduring commitment to his craft.

Luper’s journey into the realm of autoharp mastery began back in 2005. Fast forward to 2023, and he has competed in the prestigious competition for a staggering 15 years, with top-five placements in nearly all of his appearances. Despite missing a few years due to family commitments, he maintains a strong presence among the festival’s elite musicians.

With multiple podia finishes in the competition, including five autoharp victories, Steve continues to captivate audiences with his extraordinary talents. His humility and contentment with his performance, even in the face of strong competition, showcase his passion for music rather than the pursuit of titles.

Previously known by the alias “Gandalf,” Luper has chosen to compete under his given name, a testament to his evolution as a musician and the maturity of his artistry. Over the years, he has experienced the festival’s evolution, watching legendary artists like Norman Blake, Dan Crary, and Doc Watson take the stage, leaving an indelible impact on his musical journey.

Luper’s connection to the Walnut Valley Festival runs deep, with his family attending since 1979. Generations of Luper’s family have become part of the festival community, with his grandchildren now joining in on the musical celebration.

When it comes to practicing, Luper admits he’s not an avid practitioner. He prefers to play songs, work on arrangements, and adapt his melodies, believing that a great performance lies not just in repetition but in the passion and creativity invested in the music.

As the Walnut Valley Festival continues to grow and attract musicians from across the world, Steve stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of artists committed to their craft. His genuine love for the autoharp and the festival serves as an inspiration to both seasoned and aspiring musicians, reminding them that true musical fulfillment comes from dedication and a love for the art, not just from accolades and titles.

Prize Instrument Selected:  Whippoorwill Acoustics Luthier’s Choice Autoharp – Whippoorwill Acoustics, 111 N. Miller St, Paw Paw, MI 49079 260-249-5561 whippoorwillacoustics.com


George Haig

  • International Autoharp Championship   – Winner – 2015, 2007
  • Interntional Autoharp Championship – Second Place – 2005;
  • International Autoharp Championship – Third Place – 1991, 1988

Two-time champion George Haig, a 77-year-old retired civil engineer from Dunfermline, Scotland, showcased his exceptional autoharp skills at the Walnut Valley Festival’s International Autoharp Championship. Despite not having played for five years, he delivered an impressive performance and secured third place, highlighting his enduring dedication to the instrument.

Haig’s musical journey began in 2006 when he first entered the competition. His talent was evident when he clinched the championship in 2007 and again in 2015. George’s unique autoharp playing style, developed due to an injury, sets him apart as a one-of-a-kind musician.

In addition to his autoharp skills, George had previous experience with other instruments such as the banjo, guitar, and mandolin. However, finger injuries in his left hand forced him to transition to the autoharp, making it the most successful instrument in his musical journey.

George’s return to the Walnut Valley Festival in 2023 marked his first appearance since 2017, following an unfortunate sleepwalking incident that resulted in injuries. He attributed his recovery and ability to play to his persistent passion for music.


During the interview, George expressed his love for the Festival, emphasizing the value of reconnecting with old friends, the joy of sharing music, and the positive atmosphere. He also humorously shared the anticipation of cashing his winning check.


Despite not taking the competition seriously and making a last-minute decision to enter, George’s remarkable talent shone through at the 2023 International Autoharp Championship. His story is a testament to the enduring power of music and the international appeal of the Walnut Valley Festival.


Received $600 cash from Walnut Valley Association


Presentations to the finalists are included with the Third Place’s presentation video.

Loriann Clayton-Bethard
Kansas City, MO

Michael E. Poole
Chapel Hill, NC

International Finger Style Guitar Championship


Momo Kimura

  • International Finger Style Guitar Championship – First – 2023

The Walnut Valley Festival, held in Winfield, Kansas, is renowned for bringing together musicians from around the world, this year, it was graced by the exceptional talent of Momo Kimura, who left as the 2023 Fingerstyle Guitar Champion.

Momo, from Kobe City, Japan, began her musical voyage at the age of 18. She has always been drawn to the captivating art of fingerstyle guitar and never ventured into the realms of flat picks or traditional strumming. Her father, a jazz pianist, played a crucial role in shaping her musical interests and pushed her to start with classical guitar, believing that it laid the foundation for any musician.

 As the conversation unfolded, it became evident that a moment from her childhood had a profound impact on her musical journey. At the age of 12, during a choir concert, Momo was mesmerized by a guitarist performing with a fever of about 103. The beauty of the music and the dedication of the professional musician left an indelible impression on her. It was at that moment that she decided to embrace the world of the guitar.

 Her path to professional musicianship led her to perform in a band she co-founded with her father, aptly named “Momo and the Papa.” Their collaboration shows the love for music that runs deep within her family. In recent years, Momo has been showcasing her talents as a solo artist, captivating audiences with her mesmerizing fingerstyle guitar performances.

Momo’s journey to the Walnut Valley Festival began in 2015, and she has returned six times since, solidifying her reputation as a remarkable fingerstyle guitarist. Her recent victory in the competition marked the first time she had clinched a place beyond the top five, a momentous occasion in her musical career.

 In this triumphant moment, Momo acknowledges the invaluable advice and support of her father, who played an instrumental role in her achievement. Momo expressed her gratitude to her dad and dedicated her win to him, highlighting the special bond they share as musicians.

 As Momo continues to enchant audiences with her fingerstyle guitar prowess, her story serves as an inspiration for aspiring musicians worldwide, emphasizing the importance of passion, dedication, and the unwavering support of loved ones in pursuing one’s dreams.

Prize Instrument Selected: Bourgeois Finger Style Custom Guitar – Bourgeois Guitars, Inc. 2 Cedar Street, Lewiston, ME 04240 (207) 786-0385  bourgeoisguitars.com

Momo Kimura's championship interview:


Adam Cantor

  • International Finger Style Guitar Championship – Second – 2022, 2018

Adam Cantor, a pediatric ophthalmologist from Houston, Texas, recently made it to the finals of the International Fingerstyle Guitar championship, showcasing his immense talent and passion for the guitar. This was his third appearance at the festival.


While Adam is an accomplished pediatric ophthalmologist, he’s just as accomplished in the world of fingerstyle guitar. He’s been playing guitar since his 11th birthday, when his parents noticed his fascination with music at a summer camp. He received his first guitar and fell in love with it, marking the beginning of his musical journey.


Although his primary occupation is in the medical field, Adam doesn’t let go of his passion for music. He’s released several albums, and his music has garnered over 10 million views on YouTube. His third album, “Science,” was a significant milestone in his music career, and he’s currently working on his fourth.


Despite his demanding career, Adam’s passion for fingerstyle guitar shines through. He loves participating in festivals like the Walnut Valley Festival, where he gets to connect with fellow musicians, share his music, and make new friends.


Adam studied at Indiana University School of Music from 2006-2010 and graduated with a degree in guitar performance.


For Adam, it’s not just about competitions, but the joy of playing music and connecting with people who share the same passion. His dedication to both medicine and music highlights the importance of pursuing one’s passions alongside their professional career.


Adam has been practicing as a physician since he graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2016 and is currently working as an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.


His ability to balance a medical career and a thriving music career is a testament to his exceptional talent and determination.

Prize Instrument Selected: Taylor 814-ce Grand Concert – Taylor Guitars, Inc. 1980 Gillespie Way, El Cajon, CA 92020 (619) 258-1207 taylorguitars.com






Mikey Bilello

  • International Finger Style Guitar Championship – Third – 2022, 2018

Meet Mikey Bilello, a remarkable fingerstyle guitarist who recently claimed third place in the International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship. His journey from being a part-time electrical engineer in particle physics research laboratories to pursuing music seriously is both inspiring and impressive.

Mikey’s love for music started early, with his parents buying him an acoustic Breedlove guitar when he was 13. He had never heard of Bend, Oregon, where the guitar was made, and it turned out that it was the best guitar for the money, as recommended by a local shop owner. A peculiar twist of fate brought Mikey to Bend later in life, where he now resides, creating a beautiful full-circle story.

Over the past two decades, Mikey has dedicated himself to the guitar, playing both fingerstyle and with a pick. He began as a classic rock enthusiast in high school, later shifting to fingerstyle guitar, drawn by the genre’s complexity and depth. While there were periods in his life when his focus on music waned, he eventually realized the limitless potential for growth in fingerstyle playing, motivating him to return to it seriously.

Mikey’s commitment to his music shines through. Whether he practices for an hour every other day or devotes himself to long hours of practice and preparation, his dedication is unwavering. His motivation can vary with life circumstances, but the consistency in his practice is what keeps him progressing.

The Walnut Valley Festival has played an instrumental role in Mikey’s music journey. His first visit to the festival was in 2021, and the experience pushed him to return to even more determined and inspired.

With aspirations to create albums and possibly a band, Mikey is an artist to watch in the world of fingerstyle guitar. His commitment to music alongside his scientific pursuits is a testament to the incredible balance he strikes in life.

Prize Instrument Selected: Huss & Dalton Winfield Competition Model FS Guitar Huss & Dalton Guitar Co., Inc. 420 Bridge St, Staunton, VA 24401-4508 (540) 887-2313 hussanddalton.com


Presentations to the Finalists are included with the Third Place Presentation video

National Mountain Dulcimer Championship


David Wilson

  • National Mountain Dulcimer Championship         First – 2023
  • National Mountain Dulcimer Championship – Second – 2022

Amidst the joyful atmosphere of the Walnut Valley Festival, the dulcet tones of the mountain dulcimer take center stage as David Wilson, the newly crowned 2023 National Mountain Dulcimer Champion, shared his thoughts and feelings about his victory.

Immediately following the finals, David reflected on his remarkable win with a mix of happiness, surprise, and relief. Competing in a field of 11 talented contestants, he expressed his amazement at having clinched the championship, especially given the high caliber of competition.

David commended the skills and diverse styles of the other contestants. He humbly credited his success to playing the melody with simplicity and precision, allowing the music to flow naturally. He acknowledged that stage nerves are part and parcel of such competitions but believes that the judges understand the dynamics and can identify exceptional talent despite the jitters.

For those who may be aware of David’s musical journey, his victory may come as less of a surprise. Although he placed second two years ago, he approached this year’s contest with a commitment to staying true to the essence of the instrument.

David’s connection to the mountain dulcimer and the world of folk music started around 35 years ago when he collaborated with Gary and Les Gallier, both National Mountain Dulcimer champions. They introduced him to the dulcimer and inspired him to explore the instrument and its community further. What followed was a fascinating journey of music production, record-making, and participation in dulcimer festivals.

David’s musical talents extend beyond the mountain dulcimer to the cello, bass, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and more. While he enjoys various musical genres, the unique sound of the dulcimer captured his heart and has become an integral part of his musical repertoire.

Prize Instrument Selected: 4FHKK-E Custom – Koa Mountain Dulcimer, provided by The Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers,  P. O. Box 1230 Mountain View, AR 72560 (870) 269-4313 mcspaddendulcimers.com

David Wilson's championship interview


Dana Hamilton

  • National Mountain Dulcimer Championship        Second – 1995
  • National Hammer Dulcimer Championship – First – 1989, 1980
  • National Mountain Dulcimer Championship – Second – 2023, 1992
  • National Mountain Dulcimer Championship – Third – 2022, 1987
  • National Hammer Dulcimer Championship – Third -1988

Dana Hamilton, a retired schoolteacher, may have spent 32 years teaching, but he’s been playing the mountain dulcimer since 1981. His true passion lies in music, specifically in playing and promoting the mountain dulcimer.

Over the years, Dana has actively participated in dulcimer competitions, not only as a player but as a driving force in the community. He has been instrumental in running the Texas contest for the Lone Star State Championship. He said the instrument appeals to both seasoned players and beginners, demonstrating the inclusiveness and diversity of the dulcimer community.

While Dana has found success on the mountain dulcimer, he’s also well-versed in other musical instruments like the banjo, autoharp, guitar, and many more. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who said he enjoys exploring the rich tapestry of folk music.

Dana modestly attributes his success to luck. He emphasized that the real allure of competitions like those at the Walnut Valley Festival lies in the sense of camaraderie. Contestants are not just competing against each other but with each other. This spirit of mutual support and encouragement makes the experience truly enjoyable.

Dana’s 45-year association with the festival and its vibrant community is evidence of the enduring appeal of the mountain dulcimer and the warm bonds formed through music. He pointed out that many former national champions often return to the Festival, joining the jam sessions and sharing their talents with fellow enthusiasts.

Among his favorite aspects of the Walnut Valley Festival is the campground life. The camaraderie, laughter, and music in camps like Carp Camp and Pico de Gallo Camp are cherished memories he looks forward to year after year. It’s a place where people gather to enjoy the music they love, laugh, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Prize Instrument Selected: 6FTWWB-E Baritone – Baritone Mountain Dulcimer provided by The Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers,  P. O. Box 1230 Mountain View, AR 72560 (870) 269-4313 mcspaddendulcimers.com


Allison O’Shea

  • National Mountain Dulcimer Championship      Third – 2023

In the heart of Indiana, nestled in the beautiful town of Nashville, Allison O’Shea resides as an artist and property manager. When she’s not tending to vacation rentals, she’s indulging in her creative passion. However, one might not find her promoting her work on social media or YouTube channels. She enjoys staying hidden, creating a bit of an enigmatic aura around her.

But what brought Allison into the limelight was her newfound courage to compete at the Walnut Valley Festival. Although she’s been playing the dulcimer for seven years, the idea of entering a competition had never crossed her mind. That changed when her friend Kara Barnard, last year’s winner, made her an offer she couldn’t refuse – “if I win this year, you’re going next year.”

This year, Allison took the plunge. She stepped on stage with more poise than she expected, channeling her son’s natural charisma. With her son being a multi-instrumentalist and performer, perhaps some of that stage presence rubbed off on her.

While it was Allison’s first experience performing in a competition, it didn’t faze her as much as she thought it would. She admitted to feeling nervous but managed to keep her composure, even during the encore part, which caught her off guard.

Winfield is no stranger to Allison, but this was her first time attending the festival. She fell in love with the whole experience, especially the delightful camp known as Carp Camp, which she visited with Kara.

Prize Instrument Selected: 4FSGCC-E – 3/4 size Scroll Head Mountain Dulcimer provided by The Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers,  P. O. Box 1230 Mountain View, AR 72560 (870) 269-4313 mcspaddendulcimers.com


Presentations to Finalists are included with Third Place presentation video.

National Mandolin Championship


Ethan Batan

  • National Mandolin Championship – First – 2023
  • National Mandolin Championship – 2nd Place – 2022
  • National Mandolin Championship – 3rd Place – 2018

Ethan Batan Strikes Gold as 2023 National Mandolin Champion

 A resounding applause filled the air as Ethan Batan took center stage, crowned the 2023 National Mandolin Champion. His victory, a culmination of dedication and hard work, felt surreal after years of competing at the Walnut Valley Festival.

Ethan, a self-taught HVAC technician from Spencer, Indiana, is no stranger to the festival circuit. He has been participating in various competitions since 2018. “I’ve always gotten like third, second or finalist,” Ethan explained. “But this year was different. I guess it was my lucky year.”

Ethan attributed part of his success to his newly crafted mandolin, a labor of love that took five and a half years to complete. Working alongside luthier Tyler White of White Mandolins, Ethan painstakingly built the instrument, learning countless lessons along the way. The finished mandolin became Ethan’s lucky charm, as he secured another victory earlier in the year at the Rocky Grass Festival.

 When he isn’t playing his mandolin, Ethan, along with his sister Savannah Batan and friend Luke Lovejoy, forms a delightful trio that performs at wineries, breweries, and various events in Indiana. They are known for their exceptional performances and tight-knit musical chemistry.

 Ethan’s advice to future competitors is simple: “Come out, don’t be too stressed about it. Just have a good time. Do whatever you do best and put your best foot forward.” With his experience and passion, Ethan has proven that success comes to those who enjoy the journey and savor each musical note.

Prize Instrument Selected: Bourgeois M5-F Mandolin – Bourgeois Guitars, Inc. 2 Cedar Street, Lewiston, ME 04240 (207) 786-0385 bourgeoisguitars.com
PLUS $350 cash in memory of Johnny & Louise Logsdon by WVA and trophy



Ethan Batan's championship interview:


Gordon Parker

  • National Mandolin Championship  –Second Place – 2023

Gordon Parker, a high school senior from Mountain View, Arkansas, has made quite a splash at the Walnut Valley Festival. Gordon, whose enthusiasm for the mandolin is nothing short of infectious, charmed the audience and judges with his exceptional performance. In an exclusive interview, he shared some insights into his journey as a musician and his first experience at a renowned festival.

For Gordon, music has been a lifelong passion. He began playing the mandolin at the age of seven. “I started out with the fiddle,” he admitted, but since his sister was the primary fiddle player, he decided to explore the mandolin, marking the beginning of his decade-long musical journey.

This year, Gordon embarked on a remarkable adventure by participating in the Walnut Valley Festival for the first time. He traveled with his family from Mountain View, Arkansas and it’s safe to say they were all thrilled with the experience. Gordon was effusive in his praise of the festival, calling it “amazing” and vastly different from other festivals he’s attended back in Arkansas.

Gordon’s love for the mandolin is evident in his every note. When asked about his aspirations, he expressed his desire to be a full-time musician. “If that doesn’t work out,” he quipped, “I’ll pick up a trade or something. But I’d love to be a musician.”

His band, Sylamore Special, has recently released a single titled “This Side of the Sun,” with more music on the horizon.

Gordon received a cash prize of $1,500 for his second place win.



Luke Lovejoy

  • National Mandolin Championship – Third – 2023, 2022
  • National Flat Pick Guitar Championship – First Place – 2018

Luke Lovejoy is no stranger to the Walnut Valley Festival. He first attended the festival at age 16 and left as the flat pick guitar champion, setting his life on an incredible musical trajectory. Although his professional life now revolves around working as an injection molding technician in Spencer, Indiana, his passion for music remains steadfast, making weekends a time to cherish. In an exclusive interview, Luke shared his journey and experiences at the festival.

This year marked Luke’s fourth appearance at the Walnut Valley Festival. His initial victory in the guitar contest was a pivotal moment, which he fondly recalls. The festival offers him a chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. He relishes the camaraderie, friendship, and the opportunity to play music with other talented musicians.

In the years since his guitar win, Luke transitioned to the mandolin, and his dedication and musical journey led him to become a finalist in the mandolin contest. Luke’s passion extends to performing in a trio called Blue Flame, with his good friends Ethan and Savannah Batan. They entertain audiences in the tri-state area, showcasing their musical talents at various venues, including wineries, social events, churches, and festivals.

Although Luke harbors aspirations for a full-time music career, he finds joy in performing without the pressure of making a living from it. He appreciates his music as a beloved hobby and a form of relaxation. Luke keeps his friends and fans updated on his musical adventures through Facebook and Instagram, where he shares videos of his performances.

Despite returning to the festival as a regular attendee, Luke continues to exude the enthusiasm and love for music that captivated the audience during his initial win. His journey is a testament to the enduring spirit of musicians who cherish the joy of playing, regardless of their professional commitments.

Luke received $750 cash prize for his third place win.



Presentations to the Finalists are included with the Third Place Presentation Video.

Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship


Monty Gaylord

  • Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship          First – 2023, 1989
  • Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship – Third -1993, 1981, 1980

Monte Gaylord, from Nowata, Oklahoma, is no stranger to the fiddle and its captivating melodies. This year, Monte achieved a significant milestone by clinching the 2023 Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship. The competition was fierce, and Monte’s impressive performance earned him the well-deserved title.

Originally from Nowata, a town about 40 miles northeast of Tulsa, Monte has been immersed in the world of music since his early teenage years. With a history of participating in fiddle contests since the age of 15, he has honed his skills and has been a dedicated contestant at the Walnut Valley Festival for over a decade.

Monte’s journey into the world of fiddling is rooted in his early passion for music and his natural talent. He started playing the fiddle when he was 13, and it wasn’t long before his talents began to shine. It was through a serendipitous encounter with seasoned fiddler Ace Sewell that Monte’s skills truly took flight. Sewell recognized Monte’s potential and offered him guidance, leading to a breakthrough performance at the Oklahoma State championship.

Now, Monte’s life is dedicated to mastering the fiddle and sharing his passion for old-time music. His journey has been enriched by countless encounters with talented musicians and mentors who have inspired him to continue refining his craft.

Despite his notable victory, Monte remains grounded and believes in the importance of staying true to one’s musical roots. He encourages young fiddle players to leverage the vast online resources available to them, which offer lessons, tutorials, and opportunities to learn from experienced musicians.

He said the Walnut Valley Festival holds a special place in his heart. As a devoted attendee and multiple-time contestant, he views it as a hub of musical inspiration. He was also quick to point out the benefits of mastering bluegrass, which he believes provides a significant advantage when it comes to playing the fiddle.

Prize Instrument Selected: Gilga model Vasile Master Fiddle made in Romania – Represented by Beautiful Music Violin Shop, 925 Iowa St., Ste I, Lawrence, KS 66044 (785) 856-8755 beautifulmusicviolinshop.com

Monty Gaylord's championship interview.


Edith Sigler

  • Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship          Second – 2023

Edith Sigler claimed a well-deserved second place at the 2023 Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship. Originally from Joplin, Missouri, Edith now calls Wichita home. However, her life transcends the world of music as she balances the demanding role of a third-year medical student at the University of Kansas. In this incredible feat, she paves the way for a bright medical future.

What makes Edith’s accomplishments all the more astonishing is her unwavering commitment to her musical pursuits despite the rigors of medical school. Notably, Edith is studying medicine and is well on her way to achieving her MD. Yet, even in the midst of medical textbooks and hospital rotations, she still finds time to harness her musical talents.

Edith’s repertoire extends beyond the fiddle, showcasing her proficiency in multiple instruments, including the piano, clarinet, guitar, and mandolin. In fact, her musical journey was influenced by her family’s deep-rooted connection to old-time string band music. Her parents and brother share her musical passion, and together, they form a family band.

She said her journey into the world of fiddling began at age three, and her participation in various contests over the years has honed her skills. In addition to her remarkable second-place finish in Winfield, Edith has numerous accolades to her name, including a win at the Kansas State Championships in Lawrence.

Edith’s love for music and her family’s enduring influence have helped her navigate the intricacies of different musical styles. She effortlessly switches between Texas-style fiddling and old-time fiddle, adapting her tunes to the specific requirements of each competition.

Though her rigorous medical studies may leave little room for relaxation, Edith finds solace in the soothing sounds of her fiddle.

Prize Instrument Selected: Glasser Carbon Composite 5-String Fiddle; – Represented by Beautiful Music Violin Shop, 925 Iowa St., Ste I, Lawrence, KS 66044 (785) 856-8755 beautifulmusicviolinshop.com


Nathan Pedneault

  • Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship      Third – 2023, 2022

Nathan Pedneault, a talented fiddler, recently graced the Walnut Valley Festival with his music and presence. Hailing from Canyon, Texas, Nathan is not just a fiddler but also a dedicated college student working towards a degree in business management with a health management concentration. His academic journey will culminate in December 2024, after which he plans to make his mark in the healthcare system.


Nathan’s fiddling journey began when he was just four years old, inspired by the musical talents of his neighbors. His small stature at the time led to him starting with a 1/16- or 1/32-sized fiddle, and while the early days were scratchy, his passion for the instrument soon took root. However, it wasn’t until around the age of 13 that he truly embraced the fiddle as his musical calling.


In addition to his academic and musical pursuits, Nathan’s life took a momentous turn when he proposed to his now-fiancée, 2022 Old-Time Fiddle Champion Eavia Ryan, back in August. The couple is planning to wed once Nathan graduates, adding another exciting chapter to his journey.


While Nathan said he doesn’t have a solution for our healthcare system just yet, his drive and dedication to his education promise a bright future. Although he has set his sights on hospital systems and intends to pursue a master’s degree to further deepen his knowledge, Nathan understands that the healthcare system’s complexities will take time to unravel.


Despite his rigorous academic schedule, Nathan still finds time to indulge his love for music. Fiddling remains a cherished hobby, providing him with a creative outlet amid his busy college life. He possesses the unique ability to play a variety of instruments, including the guitar, mandolin, and bass, although his heart truly belongs to the fiddle.


Though he once participated in various music contests, Nathan now focuses on his studies and the Walnut Valley Festival. He discovered the festival while living in the Texas Panhandle, making it more accessible than competitions further south.


Despite his limited time at the festival, Nathan is appreciative of the opportunity to participate and showcase his fiddling talent. He expressed a desire to return next year and play a more active role, but academic responsibilities currently dictate his schedule.

Prize Instrument Selected: Andrzei Glodek Fiddle made in Nowy Targ, Poland – Represented by Beautiful Music Violin Shop, 925 Iowa St., Ste I, Lawrence, KS 66044 (785) 856-8755 beautifulmusicviolinshop.com


Presentations to the Finalists are included with the Third Place Presentation Video.

Tricia Spencer
Lawrence, KS

Mary Parker
Mountain View, AR

National Guitar Flat Pick Championship


Ian Ly

  • National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – First – 2023
  • National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – Third – 2022

Ian Ly, a talented musician and student at San Francisco State University, made a remarkable impression this year. Originally from San Francisco, Ian is both a graphic and UI designer and an accomplished flat-pick guitarist.

While juggling his studies and burgeoning career in design, Ian has managed to excel in the realm of music. Despite his packed schedule, he actively pursues his passion for bluegrass. His introduction to the Walnut Valley Festival occurred in 2019 when his uncle, unbeknownst to Ian, signed him up for the flat-pick guitar competition. Although he didn’t place in the top five that year, the experience ignited his enthusiasm for competing and improving.

The following year, Ian became a finalist, demonstrating remarkable growth in a short span. He continued to progress, claiming the third spot in 2022. In a stunning achievement, Ian won this year’s flat-pick guitar championship.

Ian is not only an exceptional flat-pick guitarist but also a versatile musician. He said he dabbles in mandolin and banjo, showcasing his passion for various bluegrass instruments. Although he has no plans to compete in mandolin or banjo contests, his proficiency on these instruments undoubtedly contributes to his guitar skills.

As a member of theCrying Uncle Bluegrass Band,   hailing from the Bay Area, California, Ian is making waves in the bluegrass scene. The band recently earned a nomination for and was later recognized as the Momentum Band of the Year at the 2023 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards, marking a significant milestone in their burgeoning career.

Despite his young age and a demanding dual career as a student and musician, Ian’s dedication and rapid progress in the world of flat-pick guitar demonstrate that he is a rising star to watch. His presence at the Walnut Valley Festival is a testament to the enduring spirit of music, and his journey serves as an inspiration to young musicians pursuing their passions alongside their studies and careers.

Prize Instrument Selected: Collings Winfield Model Mahogany/Adirondack Spruce Guitar Collings Guitar, Inc., 11210 W. Highway 290, Austin, TX 78737 (512) 288-7776 collingsguitars.com

Facebook:     @i.a.n.l.y

Ian Ly’s Championship Interview


Mike Cramer

  • National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – Second – 2023

Mike Cramer, an exceptionally talented musician from Minneapolis, Minnesota, secured second place in the flat-pick guitar competition at the Walnut Valley Festival. Although Mike is no stranger to the festival, having competed six times, this year marked a significant milestone as he clinched a top position for the first time.

Mike’s journey began in 2005, making appearances in 2006, 2011 and 2012. While discussing the differences between then and now, Mike attributed his success to eleven more years of experience, growth, and dedication to honing his craft. However, the 2023 competition was made even more special with the presence of his son, who backed him up during the performance, and also participated in the national mandolin contest.

In an interview, Mike expressed how having his son by his side helped calm his nerves. Having missed the festival for over a decade, it was the support of his family and the shared musical moments that added to the excitement.

Mike’s musical prowess extends beyond the guitar, encompassing the mandolin, where he enjoys playing with his son. This father-son duo not only perform bluegrass but also dabble in jazz, showcasing the diversity of their musical talents.

While Mike has a day job as a software developer, he maintains an active role in the Twin Cities music scene, performing with the bluegrass band, the Barley Jacks. He is also actively engaged in the jazz scene and keeps music lovers entertained with his talent.

Mike’s passion for music doesn’t end with performing. He encourages young musicians, like his son, by providing guidance, sharing invaluable experience, and teaching them to embrace both the excitement and nervousness that come with performing on stage.

As a long-time participant at the Walnut Valley Festival, Mike embodies the spirit of this celebration of music, sharing his talents, experiences, and family bonds with the global community that gathers there.

Prize Instrument Selected: PK Thompson D-MA Guitar – PK Thompson Guitars 352 East Main Avenue, Sisters, OR 97759  541-588-6211 pktguitars.com


Hayden Reidling

  • National Flat Pick Guitar Championship  Third Place -2023

Seventeen-year-old Hayden Reidling, Dawson County, Georgia, made an unforgettable debut at the prestigious Walnut Valley Festival. His remarkable journey in the 2023 flat-picking guitar competition took an unexpected twist when a broken string threatened to derail his performance. However, his quick thinking, determination, and the kindness of a fellow contestant turned what could have been a disaster into a triumphant moment.

In a candid interview, Hayden shared his experience, describing the initial shock when a string snapped during the middle of his first song. The young musician confessed his immediate reaction was a simple “oh, crap.” Nevertheless, he displayed impressive composure under pressure by improvising on the spot to adapt to the situation.

While recalling the nail-biting moment, Hayden revealed that he was trembling throughout the string replacement process, but he managed to borrow a fellow contestant’s guitar and a pack of strings. This act of camaraderie by a fellow musician saved the day.

Hayden’s talent extends beyond the guitar. He is a multi-instrumentalist, proficient in the mandolin and banjo. His high school’s marching band even features him playing the banjo in a country bluegrass show.


The aspiring musician’s ambitions go beyond performing. He intends to turn his passion into a profession by teaching guitar and various bluegrass instruments. He is also part of two bands, The Band Lonesome and Marvel Hill, with plans to record music in the near future.


Hayden’s unexpected string mishap may have created a memorable story, but it’s his raw talent, adaptability, and the support of his fellow musicians that will leave a lasting impression on the Walnut Valley Festival and its attendees. This young artist is undoubtedly one to watch as he continues to impress with his musical journey.

Prize Instrument Selected: Martin D-28 Guitar – C.F. Martin & Co., 510 Sycamore St., Nazareth, PA 18064 (610) 759-2837 martinguitar.com


Presentations to the Finalists are included with the Third Place Presentation Video.

National Hammer Dulcimer Championship


Mickey Sweeney

  • National Hammer Duclimer Championship        First – 2023
  • National Hammer Dulcimer Championship – Third Place -2022

From Music Teacher to Hammer Dulcimer Champion

 Mickey Sweeney, from Lake St. Louis, Missouri, is the newly crowned champion of the Hammer Dulcimer Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival.

Mickey’s journey into the world of the hammered dulcimer is a unique one. Six years ago, while visiting the Celtic Festival in St. Augustine, Florida, she encountered a musician playing the hammer dulcimer on the streets. Instantly captivated by the instrument’s sound, she decided to embark on her musical journey. This marked the beginning of her love affair with the hammer dulcimer.

Although Mickey was a retired music teacher with a background in piano, the hammer dulcimer was a new world for her. She quickly decided to acquire one of her own. A chance visit to a music store in Missouri led to her renting a hammer dulcimer for a short period. It didn’t take long for Mickey to fall in love with the instrument, and two weeks later, she purchased the one she initially couldn’t afford. She played a Masterworks Dulce forte, an exceptional instrument, complete with an extra bass and chromatic capabilities.

This year, Mickey’s journey culminated in being crowned the Hammer Dulcimer champion. But her path to victory was filled with challenges. Mickey said her hands shook, her heart raced, and her nerves got the better of her when she stepped onto the festival stage. Despite the shaky start, her dedication, talent, and hard work ultimately paid off.

Competing at the Walnut Valley Festival taught her invaluable lessons and allowed her to connect with incredible people. Mickey noted the supportive and cooperative atmosphere among competitors and described it as a wonderful family.

While she has no social media presence or albums to her name yet, Mickey’s journey from music teacher to Hammer Dulcimer champion exemplifies the boundless possibilities and learning experiences that life can offer. As she heads into a five-year hiatus from competition, Mickey is excited to continue her musical journey and maybe even pursue a recording career.

Prize Instrument Selected: Rick Thum 17/17 Professional Chromatic Hammer Dulcimer – Rick Thum Dulcimers, 6710 Twin River Rd, Eureka, MO 63025, 314-406-0690 rthum.com

Mickey Sweeney's championship interview:


Gage Milton

  • National Hammer Dulcimer Championship – Second – 2023

Hailing from Louisville, Texas, Gage Milton, the second-place finisher in the Hammer Dulcimer Championship, wowed the crowd at stage 4 of the Walnut Valley Festival. In an exclusive interview, Gage shared his experience and the journey that led him to this remarkable achievement. 

Gage’s performance drew a big crowd of family and friends, including his wife and cousin, who cheered him on with enthusiasm. This year marked Gage’s fourth appearance at the festival, having previously made it to the second round. However, he never secured the coveted top three finish. 

The 2023 competition brought a much-awaited victory for Gage as he secured a spot as a finalist. When the audience heard that he had achieved a higher ranking than fourth or fifth, they enthusiastically expressed their support. Yet, even after his triumph, Gage humbly downplayed his success, focusing on the absence of mistakes in his performance. 

Gage’s journey into the world of the hammer dulcimer began at the age of 13 when he selected the instrument as his musical pursuit. Coming from a large family of ten siblings, Gage followed a musical tradition where each sibling learned to play a different instrument. While his siblings chose instruments like harp, guitar, and violin, Gage’s heart was set on the hammer dulcimer. He discovered his love for the instrument during a church performance by David Mahler, who later became his teacher. 

Years of dedication and tutelage from accomplished musicians led Gage to his remarkable performance at the festival. While not a full-time musician, he combines his passion for the hammer dulcimer with a career in software development. 

When asked about his favorite aspect of the Walnut Valley Festival, Gage expressed a strong connection with fellow musicians. In his hometown, he rarely encounters people who understand the hammer dulcimer, but at the festival, he can engage with like-minded individuals and experience a sense of camaraderie. He particularly enjoys exploring different dulcimers available at the festival and practicing his songs. 

Gage’s musical role model is Joshua Messick, whom he met at the festival. Messick’s music and playing style have been a significant source of inspiration for Gage’s journey in the world of hammer dulcimer.

 As Gage returns to Texas, he carries his passion for the hammer dulcimer and a dream to continue improving and performing on this unique and captivating instrument.

Prize Instrument Selected: Master Works 16/15 CBWXR7 Bantam Weight Chromatic Extended Range Hammer Dulcimer CBWXR7 – Master Works, PO Box 167, 36613 US Hwy 70, Bennington, OK 74723 580-847-2273 masterworksok.com



Tim Simek

  • National Hammer Dulcimer Championship – Third – 2022

Mickey Sweeney, Lake St. Louis, MO, said her teacher, Rick Thumb, did a bit of arm-twisting this year to convince her to compete because she had been planning to attend, relax and enjoy the music. Everyone was telling me I should enter the contest. “I didn’t have songs, so I practiced for two days instead of listening to music,” she said. “But here I am. I’m just tickled to death. And it wasn’t nerve-wracking because I only had two days to worry about it.” In last year’s contest, Sweeney finished in the top five – and had prepared for the two weeks prior to the contest. A classical pianist with a couple of music degrees, Sweeney said she taught music at every level from preschool to college at some point before she retired. She said she loves so much about Winfield – Bella Fleck, vendors, concerts, and jamming in the campgrounds – the wagon she uses to cart around her instrument has changed her life, she says, making her and her instrument super mobile.   Mickey selected for her prize instrument the Songbird Finch Chromatic Pro Hammer Dulcimer made by Songbird Hammer Dulcimers in Muskatine, IA.


Presentations to the Finalists are included with the Third Place Presentation Video.

Cliff White
Jefferson City, MO

Ken Shoemaker
Overland Park, KS

National Bluegrass Banjo Championship


Anthony Howell

  • National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – First – 2023
  • National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – Third – 2022

The 2023 National Bluegrass Banjo Champion, Anthony Howell, shared his thoughts and experiences following his incredible victory at the prestigious competition. Anthony revealed the nerve-wracking journey and dedication behind his triumphant performance.

With a humble disposition, Anthony expressed his feelings about the win, saying, “I feel good. I still feel a little nervous just because of the shock of the results and residual nerves from the contest, but I feel great, and it’s a relief to have it over with, to be honest with you.”

The tension of the final moments before learning that he had prevailed was palpable. Anthony confessed, “It felt like my heart had moved into my throat and was about to come out my mouth. It’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been.” This revelation was surprising given his extensive stage experience. However, he emphasized that performing in a contest is an entirely different challenge.

“Playing on stage is different,” Anthony explained. “You’re playing for an audience, but it’s like you’re playing to get paid. You’re not necessarily worried about messing up. If you mess up at a contest, it can be life or death. So, it’s playing on stage, but it’s a completely different animal.”

Anthony’s journey to the championship wasn’t without prior attempts. He mentioned that he had placed third in the competition the previous year.

Anthony said he was trained as a utility player, mastering several instruments, including mandolin, guitar, banjo, and bass. He also taught himself dobro and how to sing all the harmony parts. Anthony acknowledged the invaluable role of his teacher, Alan Sibley, in his development as a musician.

Additionally, Anthony discussed his newly released album, “Hold Back the Dawn.” The project featured some of his original instrumentals along with contributions from notable vocalists in bluegrass. He mentioned that the album’s creation was a lengthy process, taking nearly three years to complete. However, he emphasized that the effort and self-recording had saved him a significant amount of money, making the journey worthwhile.

When asked for advice for newcomers in the music business, Anthony recommended learning multiple instruments. He stated, “If you want to have a chance to make it in music, you probably need to learn everything you can, because there’s not many people out there that can make it just playing one instrument. Do whatever you learn whatever you can.”

Regarding his future plans, Anthony mentioned that he might not compete in the banjo contest again for a while, considering the stress and hard work involved. However, he remains committed to his music and expressed his hopes of returning to Winfield in the future.

In conclusion, Anthony Howell’s journey from third place in the 2022 competition to claiming the title of the 2023 National Bluegrass Banjo Champion is a testament to his dedication and musical versatility. His commitment to learning multiple instruments and his recent album release demonstrate his passion for bluegrass and his dedication to his craft. As Anthony continues to chart his musical journey, his future in the bluegrass world appears promising, and his victory serves as an inspiration to aspiring musicians.

Prize Instrument Selected: OME Megatone IKON Bluegrass Banjo – OME Banjos, 5680 Valmont Rd., Boulder CO 80301 (303) 449-0041  omebanjos.com

Instagram:   anthonyhowellmusic

Facebook:  @Anthony-Howell-Music

YouTube:   @anthonyhowellmusic

Tik-Tok:   Anthony-Howell-Music

Anthony Howell's championship interview.


Owen Brockman

  • National Bluegrass Banjo Championship Second – 2023

Thirteen-year-old banjo prodigy, Owen Brockman, brought his musical journey to the 51st Walnut Valley Festival. The young virtuoso has already been strumming his way through bluegrass for four years and managed to secure second place in the festival’s banjo contest. As an eighth grader from Dayton, Ohio, Owen has no shortage of support from his friends, teachers, and his hometown, where he shares the stage with his brother as the “Brockman Brothers.”

 Despite his impressive achievement, Owen remains remarkably humble, crediting his teacher, Gary “Biscuit” Davis, with shaping his musical talent. Biscuit Davis is not only Owen’s teacher but a five-time champion at the Walnut Valley Festival, making him a true mentor in the art of banjo playing. Owen, inspired by Biscuit’s guidance, decided to compete at Winfield and delivered an unforgettable performance that impressed the Festival audience. Owen, who also plays piano and the French horn, plans to create a bluegrass band at his school in the future, blending his passion for bluegrass with his education. He shared his excitement about the festival, particularly highlighting the opportunity to watch and learn from renowned bands like Appalachian Road Show.

 Though the young banjo whiz missed out on the campground picking due to his contest  preparations, his enthusiasm and dedication are evident, making him a rising star in the world of bluegrass music. Owen’s unforgettable experience at the Walnut Valley Festival will undoubtedly propel him forward in his musical journey, marking a milestone in his promising career.

Prize Instrument Selected: Deering Calico 5-string Banjo – Deering Banjo Company, 3733 Kenora Drive, Spring Valley, CA 91977-1829  800-845-7791 deeringbanjos.com

You Tube: @brockmsw

Instagram: @brockmanbrothers


Steven Moore

  • National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – First – 2015, 2018
  • National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – Second – 2022
  • National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – Third – 2023, 2006

Steven Moore; From Day Job to Bluegrass Star

Hailing from Saint Clairsville, Ohio, Steven Moore is not your typical banjo virtuoso. By day, he works in industrial hygiene, focusing on employee health and safety for a natural gas and electric utility company. However, when the sun goes down and the weekends arrive, Steven transforms into a bluegrass sensation, taking the stage and leaving audiences spellbound.

Despite his full-time job, Steven’s passion for bluegrass music knows no bounds. He began playing the banjo at age eight and has continued his musical journey for an impressive 24 years. His dedication and talent have not only earned him the admiration of fellow musicians but also several accolades, including two previous wins at the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship.

In a recent interview, Steven expressed his delight at securing third place in the 2023 competition, though he admitted that he faced a few stumbles during his performance.

When not competing in Winfield, Steven is an essential part of two bands, The David Mayfield Parade and John Cowan’s ensemble. He particularly enjoys playing bluegrass with John Cowan, the renowned artist whose main gig is with the legendary Doobie Brothers. Steven’s involvement with these bands and their exciting performances has allowed him to explore new horizons in the world of bluegrass.

Steven says one of his favorite aspects of the Walnut Valley Festival is the camaraderie and the opportunity to play with numerous musicians. He is known as a “weekend warrior,” leaving his day job behind on Fridays to immerse himself in a world of bluegrass music over the weekend. It’s a whirlwind experience that has allowed him to share his passion and talents with countless audiences. His favorite part of the Walnut Valley Festival is camping in the Pecan Grove. It’s an experience he treasures, allowing him to live and breathe bluegrass for an entire week.

Despite the challenges of juggling his day job with his passion for bluegrass, Steven’s commitment to music and the community is unwavering. He’s a true testament to the idea that following one’s passion, even outside the traditional 9-to-5, can lead to a fulfilling and harmonious life.

Prize Instrument Selected: Deering White Lotus 5-string Banjo— Deering Banjo Company, 3733 Kenora Drive, Spring Valley, CA 91977-1829  800-845-7791 deeringbanjos.com


Presentations to the Finalists are included with the Third Place Presentation Video.

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