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The winner of the International finger-style guitar contest was one of the more familiar faces on Stage 4. Travis Bowman, from Alexander, Arkansas, had been among the finalists the past three years, coming in second in 2017. Bowman said he discovered finger-style guitar around age 15 and fell in love with it. He said he loves the way the finger style community is always trying to find new ways to play things, which he says is extremely addictive and fun. In his spare time, Bowman says that he loves to play tennis. “I watch it on TV and play it as much as I can. Living in Arkansas, though, it’s easier to find musicians to jam with than tennis players.” Bowman selected the Bourgeois OMC Soloist Guitar provided by Bourgeois Guitars, Inc. of Lewiston, ME. He also received a cash prize and first place trophy.
Hiroya Tsukamoto placed second on his first-ever trip to Winfield. The Japanese guitarist had heard about Winfield and wanted to come for years, but he wasn’t even sure he was going to make it into this year’s contest. He said that he registered late and was on a really long waitlist. Tsukamoto arrived in Winfield on Thursday morning, just in time to learn that he’d made it off the waitlist. Based in Woodside, New York – a neighborhood in the western portion of the borough of Queens in New York City – Tsukamoto said that he makes a living as a musician performing across the US, in Japan and Korea. He was impressed by his first visit to the Walnut Valley Festival, and said he enjoyed the variety and eclectic lineup of performers. Tsukamoto won a Larrivée LV10E Deluxe Guitar provided by Jean Larrivée Guitars USA Inc. of Oxnard, CA, and the second place trophy.
Bill Russell, from Washington, MI, took home the third place trophy and a Taylor 814ce Grand Auditorium Guitar provided by Taylor Guitars Inc. of El Cajon, CA. An engineer at his day job, Russell said this was his sixth time at Winfield. He received an automatic entry into this year’s competition for his first place finish at the Indiana Finger Style Guitar competition earlier this year. Guitar-playing is his hobby, and he loves to play at churches. He wanted to make sure he thanked his wife, Adele Russell, who he said is his biggest supporter.
Les Gustafson-Zook, Goshen, IN, ended up in first for the second time in his career. He competed last in Winfield in 2001 when he took home the first-place trophy. Les has been coming to the Walnut Valley Festival since 1982. He said not to read much into the fact that the final round was comprised of all men this year. “It’s probably just a fluke. The reality is that autoharp participation ebbs and flows between men and women. As for advice for aspiring musicians, he encouraged them to “find an instrument that feeds you – that gives you something back. Lives are busy and you aren’t going to embrace something that takes energy from you,” he continued. “The hope is that you find an instrument that you really enjoy playing and that when it is sitting in your living room, it will beg you to pick it up.” In addition to the trophy, he took home a Whippoorwill Acoustics A18 Autoharp presented by Ken Ellis with
Whippoorwill Acoustics of Columbia City, IN.
Music teacher Hal Weeks, Denver, CO, said that he was invited to attend and compete this year by a long-time Winfield attendee. So, that’s what prompted him to make the 47th Annual Festival his first and allowed him to finish second in the International Autoharp Championship. Weeks said he has also attended the Northwest Autoharp Gathering in Oregon, and the California Autoharp Gathering. He said he was impressed by the whole scene in Winfield – the contests, the camping, the concerts and the people. In addition to autoharp, Weeks plays the Native American flute and the piano. With his second-place finish, he took home a trophy and an d’Aigle Cascade SP G-D Diatonic Autoharp presented by Pete Daigle with d’Aigle Autoharps of Sea Tac, WA.
Steve Luper, Andover, KS, is a frequent Winfield attendee – having been at over 20 festivals. He said he really is impressed by all of the talent at the Walnut Valley Festival. In addition to the autoharp contest, he also competed in the flat-pick guitar championships. He started playing autoharp in 2005, and this year marks his 11th entry in the contest (his first was in 2007). He has made the finals eight times – in 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. He placed third in 2016. He returned home with his third-place trophy and an Oscar Schmidt OS 11021AE Autoharp provided by Tom Ferrone with Oscar Schmidt/US Music Corporation of Buffalo Grove, IL.
The 2017 runner-up, Solly Burton, finished as the winner in 2018, taking home the trophy and a Pava F5 Pro Mandolin provided by Ellis Mandolins of Austin, TX. Burton said that the competition was really tough this year. “I didn’t know if I’d make it into the top five there was so much talent,” he said. Burton said that he was inspired to play music by his great grandma, who was a piano player. He said that he loves the diversity of the music at Winfield as well as the opportunity to pick with friends and make new ones. “I was jammin’ with people from Japan, North Carolina – they were from all over,” he said. Burton is a farmer and also sells jet skis. He loves to go water skiing when he isn’t farming or playing music. Solly also plays guitar but said he plays mandolin about 99% of the time. Burton won the Walnut Valley Mandolin Championship at Winfield in 2007 and the National Mandolin Championship in 2011, and placed on two separate occasions. Burton’s previous student, Ethan Batan, made it into the finals as well. “Ethan was about 11 when I started teaching him how to play the mandolin and I’m super excited that he placed.”
Simon Dunson from Durham, NC, took home the second-place trophy and the Collings MF5 Custom Mandolin provided by Collings Guitars, Inc. of Austin, TX. The New England Conservatory student said this was his first time at the Walnut Valley Festival, and his first contest. He said he really wanted to attend this year’s festival and forced himself to register for the mandolin championship about six months before the festival. Otherwise, he said, he was likely to just put it off if he left it until the last minute. Dunson said he’s been playing the mandolin for about 11 years, but his main area of study at the Conservatory is jazz. He said that he really loved listening to Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle while in Winfield.
Ethan Batan from Spencer, IN, rounded out the winners of the mandolin championship. Batan said that this was his second Winfield festival and his second time competing in the mandolin contest at Winfield. Although he hadn’t been at Winfield for four years, he felt confident in his ability and felt that this was the right time for him to return to compete. In addition to mandolin, Batan plays violin and guitar. He said he loves the culture and atmosphere – how musicians get along and the music brings people together at Winfield. Ethan took home the third-place trophy and an Eastman MD615 Mandolin provided by Eastman Guitars & Mandolins of Pomona, CA.
Wendy Songe, Tulsa, OK, took home the top prize. Songe is a music teacher and classically trained pianist, and has played many instruments for years; however, she first played the mountain dulcimer in 2010. She has competed in the contest at Winfield four times, having placed third in 2016. As a music educator, Songe said that she teaches and performs year-round at festivals all over the country, including her 27-state tour this year. One of her favorite projects is a mobile outreach music mission, where she spends time with disabled veterans, people with Alzheimer’s, and adults and children with disabilities. They get together on a regular basis and she teaches them how to play the mountain dulcimer and other instruments. Wendy named the instrument she played in the contest “Hot Mama.” In addition to the first-place trophy, she took home a 4FHKK Custom Koa Mountain Dulcimer provided by the Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers of Mountain View, AR.
Len Swanson from Georgetown, TX, took home the second-place trophy, and the 6FHRB Baritone Mountain Dulcimer provided by the Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers of Mountain View, AR. This was Swanson’s second visit to the Walnut Valley Festival. Swanson said he registered this year because he wanted to support the instrument, after learning that just four musicians entered the contest in 2017. He said that he used to play the guitar, mandolin and banjo, but mainly plays the mountain dulcimer these days. While at Winfield, he said he loves to watch the various performers on stage. Len likes to travel and dine out, but has had to give up dancing in his retirement.
Repeating her third place win was Jessica Hoskins of Arkansas City, KS. Hoskins said she often has difficulty finding time to practice since she’s a stay at home mom with four children. A lifelong festival-goer, she attended her first Walnut Valley Festival at the age of five months. Hoskins also plays the guitar, bodhran, fiddle and autoharp. She said that her Grandma would always save up for the Festival and bring them to Winfield each year – a legacy that she continues with her own children. As the third place winner, she takes home the third-place trophy and a 4FGCS 3/4 -size Mountain Dulcimer by the Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers of Mountain View, AR.
Jason Shaw from Lincoln, NE, took home the first-place trophy, a Roman Glogowski Fiddle represented by Beautiful Music Violin Shop of Lawrence, KS. This marks Shaw’s third win. Shaw said he started playing the violin at age four. The fiddle he played in the contest was a 100-year-old French-made fiddle that his dad purchased at a garage sale for $20 several years ago. He said he likes the sound and it’s one that he has played on for years. Jason competes in regional fiddle contests across Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Jason and his brother, John, are musicians and home theater store owners, which includes setting up home theaters and surround-sound systems. “We love the people who come to Winfield. They say it’s like coming home, and it truly is for us,” he said. “We see friends that we haven’t seen for a long time, and meet a lot of new people.”
Josiah Colle from Batesville, AR, took second place in the contest, winning a Mark Wilcox #34 Fiddle represented by Beautiful Music Violin Shop of Lawrence, KS. A chemical engineer, Colle said that he has been coming to Winfield for over ten years, and had finished in third place in a previous fiddle contest. He said that he plays mandolin and guitar, and may feel confident enough to enter the guitar championship in five years or so. His favorite thing to do in Winfield is spend time in the camps and watch The Steel Wheels perform. He said that he thinks Winfield is unique because of the great variety of music – ranging from gospel to bluegrass, country and Irish.
One of the youngest contestants to place this year was Maria McArthur, 16, who finished third in the fiddle contest. For her efforts she won a trophy and the E. Wilfer V60 Fiddle represented by the Beautiful Music Violin Shop of Lawrence, KS. McArthur is a home-school student from Tucson, AZ. She has been coming to the Walnut Valley Festival for four years, making it an annual tradition. She said she loves to participate in Andy May’s Acoustic Kids sessions and credits them with helping her to learn how to perform. She said that Winfield has become more like a reunion where she gets to see her friends. She likes the fact that the Walnut Valley Festival has so many contests – not just the traditional bluegrass instruments, but also the autoharp and mountain dulcimer. She plays guitar, banjo and mandolin, and competed in the 2018 banjo competition at Winfield.
Luke Lovejoy, a 16-year-old from Cloverdale, IN, outplayed all challengers to take home the first place trophy, a cash prize of $3,000 in memory of Brian Redford and the Collings Winfield Model Mahogany/Adirondack Spruce Guitar, provided by Collings Guitar, Inc., Austin, TX. The high school junior said he has been playing the guitar for four years, is self-taught and was shocked to make it to the finals at his first Walnut Valley Festival. Before Winfield, he had only played in a local guitar contest with five other contestants. “I showed up to the warmup area, I saw three of my heroes and just walked up and said to myself, ‘It’s over.’ But I decided I’d just do the best I could.” Lovejoy had only prepared pieces for the first round, and had to scramble a bit when his number was called to play again in the finals. “I had about five minutes to get ready for the second round, so I just played two of my favorite fiddle tunes, ‘Black Mountain Rag’ and ‘Big Sandy,’” he said. Prior to the win, his only guitar was an inexpensive Asian-made dreadnought. But earlier in the week, Bourgeois Guitars loaned the young guitarist a top-of-the-line dreadnought for the contest.
The second place trophy and a Martin D-41 Custom Guitar provided by C.F. Martin & Co. of Nazareth, PA, went home with Jason Shaw from Lincoln, NE. Shaw was one of the veterans who had won the flat pick championship multiple times; in 1993, 2004 and 2010; and he’s finished third in 2003, second for the past three years. Shaw said this was his 28th time at the Walnut Valley Festival, and he still loves coming to it each year. Jason said he loves how friendly everyone is at the festival, and continues to be impressed by the level of competition, the prizes, and what the festival has grown into over the years. Shaw said that when he isn’t playing music, he enjoys running. In fact, while at the festival he was training for his third half-marathon. In addition to the guitar, Shaw also plays the fiddle, mandolin and the drums.
Third-place winner Roy Curry played a 1956 D-18 Martin guitar during the contest. Curry said the previous owner of his guitar was Norman Blake, who was a studio musician who would loan his guitar to other entertainers who were in the studio, people like Johnny Cash and others. From Chattanooga, TN, Curry said he has attended around 23 Walnut Valley Festivals since his first time in 1979. He won the flat pick championship in 1980 and 1991, and placed in 2012. He said that his favorite thing to do at the festival is to listen to the entertainers. In addition to the trophy, Curry took home with him a Gallagher Doc Watson Model Guitar provided by J.W. Gallagher & Son of Wartrace, TN.
In his fourth contest, Colin Beasley, Mobile, AL, took home the first-place trophy and a Master Works 16/15 CBWXR7 Bantam Weight Chromatic Extended Range Hammer Dulcimer presented by Russell Cook with Master Works, Inc. of Bennington, OK. Colin discovered the hurdy-gurdy, which led to his discovery of the hammer dulcimer. He’s been playing for almost five years, and has made the finals each time he competed in the contest.
“This year was definitely the most stacked in terms of competition. I think that worked to my benefit,” he said. “In previous years, I felt like, ‘I can win this.’ This year, I felt like, ‘I can play the best I’ve ever played and still not win.’ I think it was that mentality that let me just go up there and play for the audience instead of just compete. When you play for the audience, you want to play music more than notes. That allowed me to play better than I usually do in a contest.”
A teenager from Wilkesboro, NC, took home second place in his first hammer dulcimer contest at Winfield. Benjamin Barker is a high school student who, thanks to dual enrollment opportunities, will graduate with an associate’s degree in business from Wilkes Community College in May, along with is high school degree. He plans to go to Berkley to study music and arrangement upon graduation. Barker is a student of Joshua Messick, who suggested that he enter the hammer dulcimer contest in Winfield this year. Barker has played piano since age five, and picked up the harp a couple of years ago. He said he appreciates the fact that the hammer dulcimer is treated the same as the other instruments at Winfield. He returned home with the second-place trophy, $125, and a Cloud Nine Model 18/17/9 Hammer Dulcimer provided by Michael C. Allen with Cloud Nine Musical Instruments in Ostrander, OH.
The youngest contestant to place this year was Ben Haguewood from Mineral Point, MO, a 14-year-old, home-school student. This was Haguewood’s first time competing at Winfield, a spot he earned by winning the Southern Regional hammer dulcimer competition earlier this year. He said that he was impressed by the number of people who play the mountain and hammer dulcimers at Winfield, as well as the variety of music. In his free time, he said he likes to hang out with friends and spend time with family – playing games and conversing. Haguewood returns to his home in Missouri, with a third-place trophy, $100 and a Huddleson UL400C Chromatic Hammer Dulcimer presented by Mike Huddleson with Mike Huddleson Stringed Instruments in Wichita, KS.
In just his second time competing at Winfield, Hudsen Doucette, Waller, TX, claimed the top prize in the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship. A musician who plays in his family’s traveling band, Doucette said that he fell in love with the banjo when he was 11. “I heard a guy play the banjo at our church, and I was fascinated with it,” Doucette said. “I had played guitar earlier, but the banjo just blew me away. That was my instrument. My dad got me a banjo that Christmas, and I’ve been playing ever since.” He won the state competition at the Fire on the Strings banjo competition in Texas. He said he thought that the competition this year was incredible. These guys are incredibly talented,” he said. “I just played my style, and I guess that’s what the judges wanted. But, those guys are insane. I look up to them. I wasn’t really expecting to win, but I’ll take it.” He said he gets pretty nervous when he competes. “It’s nerve-racking, but overall it’s good for any player to compete. It drives them to be better as a player and competitor,” Doucette said. “Normally, my hands start sweating, making it hard for my hands to slide across the fretboard. I try to imagine myself at home, just practicing like I normally do, and try not to look at the crowd.” Doucette returns home with a first-place trophy and an Ome Megatone Bluegrass Banjo provided by Ome Banjos of Boulder, CO.
On the advice of his mentor and taking advantage of his last university break, Takumi Kodera, Tokiwadai, Hodogaya, Japan, flew to Winfield to enter the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship. Hiro Arita, his teacher and mentor, won the competition in the 1980s and encouraged Takumi to take part in this year’s competition. A civil engineering student at Yokohama National University, Takumi participated in the Fresh Grass Contest two years ago, and placed second at the Hakone Sunset Creek Bluegrass Festival. He said that he enjoyed the campground jam sessions, and hopes to be able to make it back to Winfield. When he returns to Japan, Takumi takes with him the second-place trophy and a Deering Calico 5-String Banjo provided by Deering Banjo Company of Spring Valley, CA.
Professional banjo player, Trevor Smith, Austin, TX, finished in third place at the Winfield bluegrass banjo competition. This was his first time to attend the Walnut Valley Festival. He said that he has heard about Winfield his whole life – the quality contests and the great campground jam sessions. He said that there are a lot of very high-caliber jams and the musicians are very polite and use good etiquette. Smith is a member of the Wood & Wire band, and grew up playing classical piano. He returned to Austin with a third-place trophy and a Nechville Renaissance Vintage Banjo provided by Nechville Musical Products of Bloomington, MN.