EAST BENTON — “Momma don’t allow no jug band music ’round here.”

That was the joking refrain during tune-up sessions of guitars and fiddles Sunday behind the performance stage at the 44th annual East Benton Fiddlers Convention and Contest.

Momma, of course was the late Shirley Littlefield, who with her husband, Red, founded the festival in 1972 in their pasture on Richards Road in East Benton. She certainly would have allowed — as well as encouraged and danced to — jug band music and all of the other and pickin’ and grinnin’ that went on Sunday.

“Momma used to be Shirley. Rosie and Chuck have kind of taken over,” Eric Rolfson, of Albion, said of festival founder Shirley Littlefield who died in 2004, and her daughters Chuck and Rose Littlefield. “They allow jug band music once a year, though, only once a year.”

Rolfson, who played bass Sunday during mentoring sessions for up-and-coming musicians, said this year was the first time there was a mentoring workshop for children to learn to play the fiddle and other musical instruments. Greg Boardman, a festival veteran, and Ellen Gawler, who plays with the Gawler Family Band, did the mentoring.

“Forty-four years ago we started with a kids’ contest, and now there are more young kids playing than there are older folks,” Rolfson said. “Basically, we played a lot of fiddle tunes and invited the kids to start a song that they knew, and others would follow along and kind of learn them. A lot of these kids now are better than the adults.”


Shirley Littlefield, who worked as a housekeeper at a dormitory at Colby College in Waterville, loved to invite students to visit and started the festival from a gathering of musicians she invited to the farm.

Greg Boardman, 65, who mentored the children Sunday in the old ways of musical delight, was among the first to arrive at the Littlefield farm from his dormitory at Colby. Shirley and her husband, Red, started the fiddler’s convention together and ran it together until Red’s death in 1989. The event drew music enthusiasts from all over the world who came to listen to premier traditional folk fiddle and bluegrass music.

“She invited me and a bunch of my friends out to meet Red and her father, Bert Germon, who built the place with his father,” Boardman said. “We just hung out and learned about farm life in Maine and played a lot of music. We learned what it means to be hospitable. Whenever I think of hospitality, I think of Red and Shirley.”

That first year, Colby students and several area youths, family members and friends showed up to create what would become an annual event with rough camping, foot-stomping music and family fun. Boardman finished his music studies at the University of Southern Maine. He now teaches music at public schools in Lewiston.

“It’s quite a beautiful scene to be a part of,” he said.

On Sunday a couple of hundred people sprawled out on blankets and in lawn chairs on a grassy hill facing the rustic stage. Others grooved to the musical strains of duo Maisie Newell and Eric Dayan, of Montville, who were joined on vocals by young sons Elijah and Benton Dayan for a rousing rendition of the song “John Henry.” Newell flew away on fiddle, stomping her cowboy-booted foot to the music, with Dayan on guitar.


Visitors on the hill brought coolers and picnic bags containing food and a few cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Clarance Moses, of York, sat in a lawn chair Sunday under a big black umbrella next to a friend in a wide straw hat, with a watermelon and couple of Budweiser beers between them, listening to the music.

“The umbrella is just to keep the sun off,” said Moses, 58. “The Budweisers are to keep me hydrated. I’ve been coming here 20 years. I love it. I come every year. I love the music. The kids are just wonderful on the fiddle.”

Over at the children’s fiddle stage Sunday afternoon, 6-year-old redhead Steve Allen Towers, of Clinton, wooed the ladies with his own compositions, “I Love My Momma” and “I Love My Grampy.”

His father, Scott Towers, 48, said young Steve is like a third generation Littlefield, in that his grandparents lived across the road and Scott Towers worked on the Littlefield farm from the time he was 9 years old and was part of the family.

“My grandparents lived in the blue house across the road; we got married in the white schoolhouse right there, next door; and I grew up on the farm right here,” Scott Towers said. “I took care of the critters, did whatever they needed.”


Live music Sunday included Country Choir, Half Moon Jug Band, Eric and Maisie, and the East Benton Jug Band, which is made up of anyone who wants to take the stage and join in.

So does Momma allow the music, Chuck Littlefield was asked?

“Yeah, I do,” said Littlefield, who has run the show for the past 12 years. “Any kind of music. Jug band — any old-time music, old time bluegrass — as long as it has a fiddle in it, Mum would be happy.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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