Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

The 30th annual Fiddle and Bango Contest will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Columbia State Historic Park.

Spectator admission is free.

Entry fee for musicians is $12 per category, with signups from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

There also will be a chili cookoff sponsored by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

The contest is open to musicians of all ages and genres.

"Since the beginning of this competition there have been professionals andamateurs alike that compete against each other and it always surprised me how often the pros have lost to these hopeful players," said Mike Keene, a past organizer of the contest and current consultant. "Past winners have gone on to play the main stage at Strawberry Music Festival, and we were always happy to hear that."

The competition categories are fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, vocals and miscellaneous. Cash prizes are awarded to first and second place in each category, with gift certificates for third place.

The grand prize is a gold nugget, which will be awarded about 4:30 p.m.

The 2012 contest is dedicated to the memory of Denise Kerner, lthe event coordinator for many years who died unexpectedly in April at age 54.

Columbia's first Fiddle and Banjo Contest was held in 1983. However, the word banjo was misspelled on the back of the inaugural T-shirts, leading to an impromptu new name for the competition.

"We always love to explain about the use of 'Bango' instead of banjo," Keene said. "That misprint on the first T-shirt back in 1983 was so funny that we have used it ever since."

Judges this year will be Brian Massey of Thick Soup, Doug Johnson of Blue Shoes and last year's grand prize winner, Alex "Muddy" Smith.

"We always try to get past winners back as judges as well as longtime local musicians from the region," Keene said. "The judging is a tough job to say the least. They spend six hours with these players in front of them and the crowd at their backs. Sometimes they see a phenomenal fiddle player, perhaps the winner, at like 11:30 a.m. and then at 3:45 p.m. a 15-year-old guitar virtuoso gets up on the gazebo and blows them away. Things like that keep them on their feet with this competition."

Judging is based on a point system for rhythm, musicianship ad technique. Each contestant is required to have at least two songs to perform.

The chili cookoff was added in recent years, with Columbia merchants vying for the title.

A "tasting pass" that includes a souvenir tin cup, spoon, map to the chili hot spots and ballot is available for $6.

At noon the music breaks for about an hour to allow tasting.

"The chili competition is really fun," Keene said. "Honestly, it is a great way to brag to otherfellow merchants when you win the cookoff."

Visitors should bring their own chairs, hats and sunscreen.

T-shirts will be available for purchase.

For more information or a copy of the judging guidelines, call 536-1672, email or visit