Contest Winners in 2019
International Finger Style Guitar Championship
The winner of the International finger-style guitar contest was not new to Stage 4. Adam Gardino, from Colorado Springs, CO, won the trophy in 2012. He was a finalist when he was 16, and finished third in 2010. Gardino says the secret to success is to have fun. “Pick good tunes and practice the crap out of them and then you show up and have fun. I tell folks all the time that the stars have to align in order for this to work out – I honestly believe that.” Since Gardino’s Dad was competing as well, he said the experience was especially memorable. “We wound up pulling numbers back to back. He was 23 and I was 24 and that was a fun surprise. So we got the chance to be backstage together and pump each other up and make sure we were both in tune and ready to go on when we needed to.” Gardino is a musician by profession, performing as well as teaching private lessons. He said he’s been playing guitar for over half of his life. His newest album on Spotify is “Something for a Ride.” This year, he was the co-writer of a song selected as an alternate winner for the New Song Showcase at the Walnut Valley Festival. In his free time, Gardino enjoys martial arts and hiking. Gardino selected the Bourgeois Finger Style Custom Guitar provided by Bourgeois Guitars, Inc. of Lewiston, ME. He also received a $3,000 cash prize and first place trophy.
- International Finger Style Guitar Championship – First – 2019
- International Finger Style Guitar Championship – First – 2012
- International Finger Style Guitar Championship – Third -2010
Jess Smith, a retired school teacher from Wadsworth, Ohio, placed second. He said that his wife of 50 years was sitting in the front row winking at him while he competed – she’s his best friend and biggest fan. Earlier this year, Smith won the Wayne Henderson contest. He said that the competition in Winfield is something special because of the camaraderie amongst the contestants. “Everyone encourages everyone else and roots for one another – it doesn’t feel like a competition,” he said. “I had always heard that about the Walnut Valley Festival and couldn’t come. It’s way better than what I’d even heard.” Smith said he’s played the guitar since he was 11 years old. He also plays the fiddle, mandolin and 5-string banjo, but the finger style contest is the only one he entered this year in Winfield. Smith won a Taylor 812ce-DLX Grand Auditorium Guitar provided by Taylor Guitars, Inc. of El Cajon, CA, and the second place trophy.
- International Finger Style Guitar Championship – Second – 2019
Gints Smukais, Riga, Latvia, took home the third place trophy and a Huss & Dalton Winfield competition FS Guitar provided by Huss & Dalton Guitars USA, Inc., of Oxnard, CA. The 24-year-old from the Baltic capital is a professional musician. It’s his first top three finish in only his second time competing. Attending the Walnut Valley Festival has been a very freeing experience, Smukais said. “After all of the concerts are done, that’s when the real festival begins,” he said as he talked about the jamming that takes place in the campgrounds. Smukais’ debut album, Flourish, was released in 2018 and is available on Spotify.
- International Finger Style Guitar Championship – Third – 2019
International Autoharp Championship
Doug Pratt, Cary, NC, became a two-time champion at the Walnut Valley Festival this year. His previous win was in 2006. He said that playing autoharp was a hobby that got out of hand. Actually, Pratt said that all of his hobbies have turned into professions. Recently retired from the Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Pratt is a wildlife illustrator, ornithologist and photographer who happens to play the heck out of the autoharp. His Grandma played the instrument so he followed her lead. In addition to the autoharp, he plays the dobro. Pratt entered the contest at Winfield eight different times, having placed three times in addition to his two wins. In June 2011, Pratt became the first recipient of the Cohen-Grappel Recording Endowment at the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering which financed the production of Pratt’s first CD, “You Can’t Play THAT on the Autoharp!” “I love this festival. For a long time, it was the only autoharp competition. I also love it because from Winfield, you can see the middle of nowhere.” In addition to the trophy, Doug took home $200 and a Whippoorwill.
- International Autoharp Championship – First- 2019
- International Autoharp Championship – Third – 2013
- International Autoharp Championship – Second – 2012
- International Autoharp Championship – First – 2006
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. “I don’t like to listen to the other players because it psyches me out,” he explained. “I try to work up new numbers every year. This year I played a new hymn.” 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 12th entry in the contest Luper has made the finals nine times from 2008-2019, placing third in 2016 and 2018. Steve returned home with his second-place trophy, $150, and a d’Aigle Cascade SP G-D Diatonic Autoharp provided by Peter d’Aigle of Sea Tac, WA.
- International Autoharp Championship – Second – 2019
- International Autoharp Championship Third -2018
- International Autoharp Championship Third – 2016
Ivan Stiles, Phoenixville, PA, is known in autoharp circles across the country as an autoharpist of unique ability. Ivan won first place in 1991 and he’s placed in the top five over 60% of the time he’s competed in the Winfield contest. He is a folk musician who plays the Appalachian dulcimer, bowed psaltery, hurdy-gurdy, and musical saw. He is also a graphic designer who has created a lot of material for the web as well as CD covers. He returned home with his third-place trophy, $100, and an Oscar Schmidt OS 11021AE Autoharp by Oscar Schmidt/US Music Corporation of Buffalo Grove, IL.
- International Autoharp Championship Third – 2019
- International Autoharp Championship First – 1991
- International Autoharp Championship Third – 1990
- International Autoharp Championship – Second – 1989
- International Autoharp Championship – 1987 – Third
National Mandolin Championship
R. Wesley Carr
Wes Carr, Rochelle, Illinois, a guitar teacher and worship leader, emerged from the field as the winner in just his third try in the annual contest. He took home the trophy, $300 in memory of Johnny Logsdon, and a Collings MF5 Custom Mandolin provided by Collings Guitars, Inc. of Austin, TX. Carr said he started playing the mandolin when he was 13. “Well I wanted one since I was probably 10, and then I got one for Christmas when I was about 13. At that time, the musicians who inspired me would have been Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, Irish punk bands. I didn’t get super into it until I was in my early 20s and then it’s just been an obsession.” Carr said his 2-year-old daughter, Eden Monroe, has had to fight some big health battles since she was born. Against the odds, she is expected to make a full recovery. “Just knowing what my daughter was going through and seeing how strong she was; and when you see her, she definitely kind of inspires you that way.” Carr shared some advice for aspiring musicians and contestants that he had received from others. “Don’t focus on notes; focus on groove. Make sure that people want to listen to it because it’s good musically, not because you’re just showing off how many notes you can play. And, don’t outplay yourself. Make sure you know what you can do where you’re at right now. You come into the contest and do that –not what you wish you could do.”
- National Mandolin Championship – First – 2019
YouTube: Ralph Carr
Last year’s flat-pick guitar champion, Luke Lovejoy, from Cloverdale, IN, took home the second-place trophy and the Pava F5 Pro Mandolin provided by Ellis Mandolins of Austin, TX. The high school senior said he has been playing the mandolin for about five years. This was the first time he entered the National Mandolin Championship at Winfield. “In order to get better you need to practice and get around as many good musicians as you can,” Lovejoy said. Apparently, he takes that advice to heart, as he plays regularly with his friends and 2018 Mandolin Champion Solly Burton and 2019 co-finalist Ethan Batan. Earlier this year, Lovejoy placed first in the guitar competition at RockyGrass. He says that his secret is “luck.”
- National Mandolin Championship – Second – 2019
- National Flat Pick Guitar Championship First – 2018
Holten Doucette, Waller, TX, rounded out the winners of the mandolin championship. Doucette took home the third-place trophy and an Eastman MD615 Mandolin provided by Eastman Guitars & Mandolins of Pomona, CA. Doucette was a finalist in 2018, placed second in 2016, and finished third once before in 2017 – finishing in the top 5 all but one of the years he entered the contest. Doucette is a business management student at Arizona State, who grew up playing in his family’s band – traveling around the country on a 45’ bus. Doucette played the prize Austin Clark mandolin he won in 2017. In his free time, he likes to play sports. However, last year after the festival he said he blew out his ACL and has had to take time off to recover. Doucette said he loves the family-friendly atmosphere of the Walnut Valley Festival.
- National Mandolin Championship – Third – 2019
- National Mandolin Championship Third – 2017
- National Mandolin Championship Second – 2016
National Mountain Dulcimer Championship
Grant Olson, Andover, MN, took home the top prize in this year’s championship – the first contest he has entered. And, he did it playing a cardboard dulcimer! “My mom took us to a workshop in the Twin Cities. We made a one-string dulcimer. I played with that and I loved it. Then, family members gave me a three-string gossamer which is fully wooden and that was really fun.” Olson said that he’s really excited about his prize instrument, a 6FHRB Baritone Mountain Dulcimer provided by the Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers of Mountain View, AR. “That would be the first six-string that I’ve had; so hopefully it will be a little louder for jam sessions,” he said. In addition to the prize instrument, he took with him a first-place trophy and $200. Olson is a high school senior, who has been playing the mountain dulcimer for about 6.5 years. He also plays the mandolin and guitar. He said that he loves playing the mountain dulcimer. “I do it for fun; and it ends up giving me a lot of practice.”
- National Mountain Dulcimer Championship First – 2019
Jeff Hames from Madison, MS, took home the second-place trophy, $175 and the 4FHKK Custom Koa Mountain Dulcimer provided by the Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers of Mountain View, AR. A two-time winner, the appliance repairman/service technician has placed all five times he’s competed in the competition. He won in 2006 and 2013. He has been playing the mountain dulcimer for 22 years. He has two CDs, “It’s Dulcimer Time” and “One for a Friend.” As for the festival, he said, “I love it! It’s one of the best places to come and hear music.”
- National Mountain Dulcimer Championship – Second – 2019
- National Mountain Dulcimer Championship First – 2013
- National Mountain Dulcimer Championship – Second – 2012
- National Mountain Dulcimer Championship First – 2006
- National Mountain Dulcimer Championship Third – 2005
Newcomer Michele Star, Durham, NC, finished third in her first contest at Winfield. While in Winfield, she was planning to help out at Feisty’s Kids Camp, and she went to Winfield Middle School to perform. She said her main focus had been on getting ready for the competition, so she hadn’t had the chance to do much exploration at the festival, but was looking forward to it once the contest was over. “It’s been really nice to hear all of the different ways people approach the dulcimer,” she said. As the third place winner, she takes home $150, the third-place trophy and a 4FGCS 3/4 -size Mountain Dulcimer by the Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Mountain Dulcimers of Mountain View, AR.
- National Mountain Dulcimer Championship Third – 2019
Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship
University of Colorado student, Celeste Johnson, competing at Winfield for the first time took home the championship trophy, $300 in memory of Dean Bradbury and a Juzek Model 175 represented by Beautiful Music Violin Shop of Lawrence, KS. Johnson, Arvada, CO, has been playing the fiddle since she was 5 years old. She said that as a young girl she became really attached to the idea of playing the violin, so she pestered her parents non-stop. “I told them if Santa Claus would bring me a violin for Christmas he didn’t have to bring me any other presents. That’s all I wanted. And, Santa obliged that year so I started playing when I was five and I’ve been hooked ever since.” Johnson said she grew up playing Texas-style, so her heroes include Terry Morris, Jimmy Thompson and Major Franklin and those Texas players. She said she really loves Western swing-lots of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. She will soon be graduating from college with a degree in French, and would love to be able to make a career as a musician. She advises young musicians to “follow what you’re really passionate about and find the thing that you love, then just go in as deep as you can and pursue that.”
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship First – 2019
The lone male in the finals, Monte Gaylord from Vinita, OK, took second place in the contest, winning a Cristiano Ferrazzi Workshop Fiddle represented by Beautiful Music Violin Shop of Lawrence, KS. Gaylord has entered the competition several times, and has also competed in Walnut Valley Festival’s flat-pick guitar championship. He said he won the contest in 1989.
A professional musician, Gaylord has played with well-known musicians, including Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, Patty Loveless, and Trim Carpenter, to name just a few. Gaylord grew up in a musical family, and plays the guitar, mandolin and banjo. He said he loves the Walnut Valley Festival – meeting up with friends he’s known for over 30 years – but is blessed to be busy, which has kept him away for 25 years.
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Second – 2019
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Third – 1993
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship First – 1989
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Third – 1981
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Third – 1980
Returning 2018 finalist Marina Pendleton, Houston, TX, took home the third place trophy and the E. Wilfer V60 Fiddle represented by the Beautiful Music Violin Shop of Lawrence, KS. The mechanical engineer said that she has been playing the fiddle since she was two years old, and has taken part in the contest at Winfield three or four times. She placed second in 2008. She said that she started playing in a family band at age 7 (along with her sister, Emma Jane, who was a finalist), and has around 600 performances under her belt. For the first time, she placed in the mandolin competition this year. She loves to travel, and recently visited Iceland to see the Northern Lights. She said that the Walnut Valley Festival is legendary. “This is the first time I camped, so I was able to experience the campgrounds and jamming at night. It’s a happy place. It’s a great festival.”
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Third – 2019
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Second – 2008
National Guitar Flat Pick Championship
Allen Shadd, Lake Wylie, SC, joined Roy Curry, Steve Kauffman and Jason Shaw as the most recent contestant to win the championship a third time. He took home the first place trophy, a cash price of $3,000 in memory of Brian Redford, and the Preston Thompson D-SMA Custom Dreadnought Guitar, provided by Preston Thompson Guitars of Sisters, OR. Shadd said he knew that Preston had personally selected the wood for the prize instrument, and knew that it was one of the last guitars that he had a hand in building before passing earlier this year. “It feels surreal to be in this elite group. I wasn’t really prepared to win today; I didn’t expect to win. You never expect to win, but you always think, ‘What if?’.” Shadd said, “I had three goals in music. Winfield was one of those from the time I was probably 12 years old. I wanted to win Winfield. And the first time I did, I was a lot older than 12, it was no longer a goal to win again or anything like that ever. You just want to come do your best and see your friends and hope the right guy wins.” To Shadd, Winfield is more than the contests; more than a bluegrass festival. “My wife and I got married out here in 2010 at the Kissinger Camp. It’s really a mecca for acoustic music. It’s been a large part of my life.”
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – First – 2019
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – First – 2013
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 2012
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Third – 2011
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 2010
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 2008
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 2006
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – First – 1997
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 1996
The second place trophy and Collings Winfield Model Mahogany/Adirondack Spruce Guitar, provided by Collings Guitar, Inc., Austin, TX, went home with Sullivan Tuttle from Palo Alto, CA. Tuttle comes from a musical family, and grew up playing with his family members, including sister, Molly, and dad, Jack, in The Tuttles with AJ Lee. He still plays with AJ Lee in the group Blue Summit. While playing his final selection, a downpour struck. “It was hard playing through the rain. I focused on staying in time, even though I couldn’t hear myself.” The roar of the rain on the tin roof of the barn that houses stage four was so loud that Jack, who accompanied him, said that he just stopped playing – so he wouldn’t negatively impact Sullivan’s performance. With this being his first time in the contest and at the Walnut Valley Festival, Tuttle said that he thinks Winfield is amazing. “It’s one of the biggest bluegrass festivals I’ve ever been to.”
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – Second – 2019
Jason Shaw, Lincoln, NE, is a perennial favorite in the annual contest. He is in the elite group with this year’s winner, having won the flat-pick championship in 1993, 2004 and 2010. This marks his second third-place finish, and has finished second on three occasions. Shaw said this was his 30th year at the Walnut Valley Festival, and he still enjoys his time in Winfield. He said that 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 his brother usually accompanies him, but wasn’t able to make it this year. Shaw also plays the fiddle, mandolin and the drums. Shaw’s prize package included a trophy and a Martin D-41 Custom Guitar provided by C.F. Martin & Co. of Nazareth, PA.
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship – Third – 2019
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship First- 2018
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 2018
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 2017
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Second – 2016
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship – Third – 2015
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Third – 2014
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship First- 2010
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship First – 2008
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship First- 2004
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship Third – 2003
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Second – 2002
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Third – 2001
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Second – 1998
- National Guitar Flat Pick Championship First- 1993
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship First – 1991
- Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship Third – 1990
National Hammer Dulcimer Championship
After placing second and third in 2012 and 2013, respectively, fifth time was the charm for Nate Pultorak, Saranac, NY. The first-time champion took home the first-place trophy, $150 and a Master Works 16/15 CBWXR7 Bantam Weight Chromatic Extended Range Hammer Dulcimer provided by Master Works of Bennington, OK. “There are a lot of really talented people in there. It’s just great getting to see them again,” Pultorak said. His path to the hammer dulcimer started through drums, playing in church with his family. “There was a guy that encouraged him to give this a try. I did, and I got hooked. I think my parents liked having dulcimer rather than drums playing at all hours in my house.” After completing his degree in theology, with a minor in sacred music, from Franciscan University, Pultorak is an organist at a church in northeastern New York planning the music and leading a choir. With the imposed five-year champion-hiatus from participating in the hammer dulcimer contest, Pultorak said he might start hitting his mountain dulcimer a little bit more. He says the Walnut Valley Festival is very much like family. “You show up here and see all the people that you’ve known before. You jam with them, catch up with them, see how they’re doing and you also get to hear some really great music.”
- National Hammer Duclimer Championship First – 2019
- National Hammer Duclimer Championship Third – 2013
- National Hammer Duclimer Championship Second – 2012
Moving up one place to second this year was Ben Haguewood from Mineral Point, MO. A 16-year-old, home-school student, Haguewood said that he decided to participate the day before the competition. He said that his Dad asked him on Friday if he wanted to go to Winfield to compete on Saturday. So, he and his Dad left their home around 4 am. He said that he was tuning the instrument in the car, and arranging the music in his head as they drove. He credits Janice Huff as a mentor and coach. He remembers being mesmerized by the sound she created. “It was one song and I was hooked. A few months later, I placed second at a competition in Mountain View, AR.” Haguewood says that he feels like he’s had a lot of dynamic growth in his playing since last year. “I stopped thinking of the music as notes and now I am able to play more smoothly.” Haguewood returns home with a second-place trophy, $125 and a Cloud Nine Model 18/17/9 Hammer Dulcimer provided by Michael C. Allen, Cloud Nine Musical Instruments of Ostrander, OH.
- National Hammer Dulcimer Championship – Second – 2019
- National Hammer Dulcimer Championship Third – 2018
Another newcomer to Winfield debuted with a top three finish at the Walnut Valley Festival instrument championships. Fran Mayfield, a homemaker from Spring, TX, took home a third-place trophy, $100 and a Huddleson UL400C Chromatic Hammer Dulcimer presented by Mike Huddleson Stringed Instruments of Wichita, KS. Despite running a home with three teenage girls, Mayfield manages to carve out at least 30 minutes a day to hone her skills on the hammer dulcimer. The practice has paid off since she has been playing the instrument for only two years. Mayfield said that a couple of years ago, she bought the hammer dulcimer as a birthday present. She participated in her first contest at the Lone Star competition in May, securing her spot for the Winfield championship. She also plays the piano, and accompanies the Bayou City Singers community choir. She said that her first trip to Winfield has been great. Since she loves the guitar, she said she listened to all of the finger-style guitar competition. She said she’s been impressed by the contests.
- National Hammer Dulcimer Championship – Third – 2019
National Bluegrass Banjo Championship
Returning for his second championship title was retired jet pilot Eric Welty from Argyle, TX. Welty returned home with a first-place trophyand an Ome Megatone Bluegrass Banjo provided by Ome Banjos of Boulder, CO. Welty won the contest for the first time in 1991; placed second in 2017; third in 2016. For the past several years, he and his son, Gregg, have competed at Winfield. Last year, his son was a finalist, while Eric was shut out of the finals. Welty said he has been playing the banjo for 45 years. He likes playing at Winfield, but admits that his son drags him to other contests every once in a while. “When I was his age, I was just like him. But, after I won this, I thought, I don’t have to do any of this again.” Welty said that he remembers on his first trip to Winfield, when he watched the finals of the banjo championship and was a little intimidated by the musicians. “It was the late 1980s, and after watching the finals, I thought there is no way I could play in this contest.” On the third visit, he competed for the first time. He said he wanted to make sure that the town of Winfield knows how much musicians appreciate this festival. “What a great wholesome family experience. You get see a lot of great bands when they are on the way up. I got to see Allison Kraus when she was 14 years old. And, the Dixie Chicks,” he said.
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – First – 2019
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship Second – 2017
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship Third – 2016
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship First – 1993
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship Third – 1991
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship Third – 1990
2011 National Bluegrass Banjo Champion, Weston Stewart, Anderson, AL, placed second in this year’s competition. He won the first time he competed, and finished in the top five in 2018. He is a master folk artist with the Alabama Arts Council’s Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program. He teaches gifted and talented students in northern Alabama. He said he knew he wanted to play the banjo when he was ten, but it took him three years to convince his parents that he was serious. At age 13, he met Robert “Scooter” Muse, a local musician who became his mentor and friend. He said he could easily spend eight or more hours practicing because he loved playing the banjo so much. When he has free time, he said he likes to play music, go fishing, and spend time with his wife and two children. For their 12-hour drive home, Stewart had to make room for his second-place trophy and a Deering Calico 5-String Banjo provided by Deering Banjo Company of Spring Valley, CA.
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship Second – 2019
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship First – 2011
A professional banjo player, Trevor Smith, Austin, TX, finished in third place for the second straight year at the Winfield bluegrass banjo competition. This was his second time to attend the Walnut Valley Festival. Having heard about Winfield his whole life, he said it is one of the best pickin’ festivals he’s ever attended. He said that the pickin’ at Winfield is unrivaled. Smith is a member of the Wood & Wire band, whose album, North of Despair, received a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album in 2018. In his spare time, he likes to do some freshwater fishing. He returned to Austin with a third-place trophy and a Deering White Lotus Banjo provided by Deering Banjo Company of Spring Valley, CA.
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – Third – 2019
- National Bluegrass Banjo Championship – Third – 2018
Website: woodandwireband.com; FB/Twitter – @woodandwireband, @trevorsmithbanjo