BENTON — For a few hours Sunday afternoon, a grassy hill in the middle of central Maine might as well have been the heart of Dixie.

With bluegrass musicians playing and fiddlers waiting in the wings, the East Benton Fiddlers Convention and Contest brought young and old together on a splendid summer day to hear the music of American roots. The festival, now 45 years old, is a way for people to gather to hear the unique form of country music at Littlefield Farm.

Rose McManus, one of the family members responsible for organizing the event, said the festival has grown year after year. The hill on Richards Road serves as a natural amphitheater, she said, which makes it a good venue for all ages to come and hear live American roots music.

As she welcomed people into the venue Sunday, many carrying their own coolers and folding chairs, McManus said the event features a lot of a familiar faces, and one of the groups performing consisted of three generations.

McManus said part of the festival was a remembrance for her brother, Michael, who died this year.

The festival included a workshop for younger musicians to learn from those who would be performing later on in the day.

There were only a handful of vendors selling T-shirts and hot dogs at the event, and McManus said that was by design.

Traditionally, there aren’t that many vendors at the festival because the family doesn’t want it to feel like a fair. Outside of a few tables and a grill area, the only real structures at the event were the stage for the musicians and the tent for the workshop.

“It’s very informal,” McManus said of the workshop. People just show up with their instruments “and jam.”

Meanwhile, as the music really started kicking off, the 100 or so in attendance by midafternoon started settling in, with events scheduled to run through the evening.

Molly and Ed Hamel of Jackson said this was the first time they had attended the festival. They read about it and were reminded that it was going on, so they decided to head down from Waldo County to see it.

“Bluegrass is great,” Molly said.

Dana and Claire Wingren said they came to the festival because they were visiting family in the area.

Now living in Waldoboro, the two lived in Cape Cod for 30 years and were coming to the festival for the very first time.Dana said he is the cousin of Shirley Littlefield, who ran the show until she died in 2004.

“I like it, he doesn’t,” Claire said of bluegrass music.

Shirley Littlefield, who worked as a housekeeper at dormitory at Colby College in Waterville, loved to invite students to visit and started the festival from a gathering of musicians invited to the farm. Shirley and her husband, Red, started the fiddler’s convention together and ran it together until his death in 1989.

McManus said now it’s a family affair.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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