Jim Strickland's introduction to the banjo came with his first lesson held on the porch of a log cabin on the banks of the Hillsborough River. It was 1976, and a gent named Ernie Williams was offering lessons at the local rec center there. Strickland, who had a banjo just gathering dust, figured he'd finally give it a go. "I went from being intrigued with the sound to falling in love with the sound," he said.
So much so, that he kept at it, picking up the fiddle, the guitar and the Autoharp and delving into the traditional roots music played at festivals and competitions throughout the South. That would be the music played before the dawn of bluegrass and Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. "It's a different plucking style that's hard to explain without showing you," Strickland said. "More in the vein of Johnny Cash's mother-in-law, Maybelle Carter."
Somewhere along the line Strickland, Williams and a few others figured they ought to start something to whet the local appetite. In 1982 the first Florida Old Time Music Championship had its humble beginning at the Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City.
After 30 years, Strickland and Williams and others have kept at it, adding a few nuances along the way and for a time moving the championship site to the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville. But this weekend it's a homecoming of sorts, as the Florida Old Time Music Championship once again offers two days of pure Southern roots music at Dade City's Pioneer Florida Museum.
"It's good to be back," said Strickland, who lives in Wesley Chapel and also hosts a monthly old-time music show on community radio station WMNF-FM 88.5. "We always really loved the setting there and the emphasis on preserving the old ways."
There will be plenty of old-time toe-tapping starting today as musicians from throughout the state and beyond come out for a good old showdown in fiddle, banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, washboard, juice harp, spoons, jugs and more. Saturday night promises to be a real treat, Strickland said, with the finals of the string contest.
In keeping with tradition the event will feature special guests of honor playing throughout the two days. This year it's "Moonshine Holler" — the husband and wife duet of Paula Bradley and Bill Dillof. The couple, who also play in their own respective bands, have appeared at festivals throughout the United States and Ireland. Their energetic, "get up off your seat" repertoire, includes hillbilly blues, mountain ballads and a bunch of Carter family classics.
"Almost anyone would want to come on out," Strickland said. "People from all walks of life — whether they grew up listening to old-time music or got a taste from the folk boom of the '60s. "There will be a lot going on besides the competition. Master musicians will be doing demonstrations, hanging out with folks, picking and playing with them and showing them what to do."