The Columbia Chamber of Commerce hosts its 34th annual Fiddle and “Bango” (yes, Bango) Contest from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Columbia State Historic Park’s gazebo on Main Street.

The Fiddle and Bango Contest (so named because in its first year a printing error misspelled banjo) is unique in that it is an open contest, pitting amateurs and professionals, young and old, against each other in a juried competition.

Up to 50 contestants compete in seven categories including fiddle, banjo, vocal, guitar, mandolin, miscellaneous and original song, with prizes ranging from $15 to $50, and with a grand prize of a golden nugget. A separate Columbia Songster award for the composition category includes a gift certificate for Kamice’s Photographic Establishment.

The rules are simple: contestants are limited to five minutes per performance; individuals may enter in multiple categories; no electric instruments or devices are allowed; and contestants may have no more than three accompanists. Entries ($15) are accepted from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., when the performances begin.

Spectators are encouraged to arrive early to get the best possible seating, bring lawn chairs and sunscreen, and be prepared to hear both polished musicians and folks making their public debuts.

Past winners have gone on to successful music careers, including playing at music festivals and making recordings, but the day almost always includes at least a few youngsters who enthrall the audience and complicate the judges’ work.

In response to objections that the open nature of the contest pitted children against seasoned adults, Mike Keene, longtime coordinator of the event, said, “Pity the polished pro who has to follow an 11 year old who just totally nailed a fiddle tune.”

A couple of generations of mostly local talent have had their first exposure to a large crowd at the Fiddle and Bango Contest, organizers said.

The event also features a chili cook-off competition during its lunch break. Those in attendance pay $5 to taste the chili entries and cast votes for their favorites. For more information, call Keene at (209) 536-1329.

Also Saturday, visit St. Charles Saloon from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the annual Poison Oak Show. This event allows those with a sense of humor to enter their “floral arts” featuring poison oak. Call (209) 288-2258 for more information.

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