BENTON — For a few hours at least on a Sunday afternoon, a grassy hill in the middle of central Maine might as well have been the yellow 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 putting the event on, said her family decided to put on a fiddling festival nearly 50 years before, and it’s 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, many carrying their own coolers and folding chairs, McManus said the event features a lot of a familiar faces, even with the performers. One of the groups performing consisted of three generations, she said.

McManus, who said part of the festival was also a remembrance for her brother, Michael, who passed away earlier this year, said part of 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 slinging 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, since the family doesn’t want the event to feel like a fair, despite drawing a crowd of hundreds each year. 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 mid afternoon 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. The two said it was always fun to see live music, but were fans of bluegrass music.

“We decided to come out and see it,” Ed said.

“Bluegrass is great,” Molly said.

Not far, 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 her appreciation of bluegrass music compared to Dana’s.

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 they 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, with a competition winding things down at the event.

“It’s a family adventure together,” McManus said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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