IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — There were few things in life that brought Harper Van Hoy more pleasure than swapping stories and trading fiddle licks with the folks who made an annual pilgrimage to the Ole Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Festival at Fiddler’s Grove, a piece of property he owned in northern Iredell County.
“It’s the thrill of a lifetime to have people come in and enjoy the music,” Van Hoy said in 2008.
The 2014 fiddlers convention, the oldest continuous fiddlers convention in the country, will have to go on without its longtime caretaker.
A Marine, farmer and fiddler, Van Hoy died Wednesday at a hospice house in Statesville. He was 92.
Van Hoy was three years old when his father, H.P., started a fiddlers convention in 1924 on the grounds of the Union Grove School to raise money for the school.
The festival grew to become hugely popular, particularly during the folk boom of the 1950s and 1960s, drawing folkies and hippies from across the country whose copious consumption of alcohol and illegal substances eventually forced the school board to ask the family to move the festival.
Van Hoy and his brother, Pierce, disagreed on what kind of festival should replace the original, and in 1970, each brother started his own, with Van Hoy, along with his wife, Wansie, choosing to make theirs a purposely small, family-friendly event on 44 acres they bought and named Fiddler’s Grove.
Pierce’s festival was eventually shut down, but Van Hoy’s thrived and became highly regarded among bluegrass and old-time music fans around the country.
Wayne Martin, now the executive director for the N.C. Arts Council, noted Van Hoy’s contribution to the state’s music scene in a 2008 interview.
“He absorbed the music and learned to play it,” Martin said. “He took it a step beyond what most people do. He found a way to share it with a lot of people beyond those in his community. What greater contribution can you make?”
Their son, Hank Van Hoy, an attorney in Mocksville, said the festival was the social event of the year for his parents.
“For mom and dad, the event was a big party among friends,” Hank Van Hoy said.
With Wansie Van Hoy’s death in 2006, and Harper Van Hoy’s deteriorating physical and mental condition, the festival has struggled in the last few years, but volunteers and family members have always stepped in to keep it going.
Harper Van Hoy remained a regular at the festival. Even at 87 years old in 2008, he was tidying up the campground in the days before the festival.
Van Hoy was having some issues with his memory at that point but his love for music and the festival were clear.
Through the course of an interview, he repeated a phrase that seemed to sum up what Fiddler’s Grove had meant to him: “It’s been the highlight of my life.”
By Lisa O’Donnell/Winston-Salem Journal