After taking a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic, fiddlers near and far will return to Littlefield Farm in East Benton to carry on a family tradition nearing its sixth decade.

The East Benton Fiddler’s Contest and Convention kicks off at 10 a.m. on Sunday, rain or shine, and concludes around 6 p.m. The program includes an adult and children’s fiddle contest, a children’s activity area and a fiddlers’ workshop and showcase. Performances throughout the day will feature the Half Moon Jug Band, the Country Choir, the East Benton Jug Band and T-Acadie.

The annual festival typically draws a crowd of all ages from different areas of Maine and other states. Gates open at 9 a.m. at the Litchfield Farm at 270 Richards Road. Admission is $10 at the gate, including parking.

Chuckie Littlefield, an organizer of the event, said in an interview that this will be the festival’s 49th edition.

The event started in 1972, drawing about 400 people. It reached record numbers in 1982 when more than 3,500 attendees arrived at the hill.  In 2019, the crowd was estimated at around 750.

“We’re hoping to have a good turnout and we’re trying to spread the word for next year, because we want to fill the fiddle hill on the 50th (anniversary) just for mom’s legacy. I was 10 years old when it started; this is in my blood,” Littlefield, now 59, said.

The matriarch of the Littlefield family, Shirley, worked as a housekeeper at a dormitory at Colby College in Waterville, and loved to encourage students to visit the family farm. The idea sprang from a gathering of musicians that the Littlefields invited. Chuckie Littlefield said on Thursday that Shirley’s inspiration for creating the fiddlers’ gathering came from a student at Colby who attended a similar event in another state and shared his experience with her.

Shirley and her husband, Red, started the initiative together and ran it until he died in 1989; other family members then stepped up to keep the tradition alive. Part of the plans for next year, Littlefield said, is to find a star performer to help bring in more patrons to commemorate five decades of the bluegrass festival, a goal set by her mother.

“She was the matriarch of this place, she’s what keeps us going,” Littlefield said of her mom. “She wanted a fair and we can’t let it go. I’m the youngest one and we want to keep her legacy going.”

This year, the Fairfield-based Legion Riders will provide hot dogs and other food at the festival, while Littlefield’s niece will set up a lemonade stand during part of the day.

As the pandemic lingers, the state’s guidance will be followed, Littlefield said, and hand sanitizer will be available for attendees.

“It’s a really good time, the kids have fun, the adults have fun,” Littlefield said. “We’ve been getting calls from out of state and that’s a good thing. We’re hoping we’ll be bigger than we were in 2019, and that the rain stays away.”

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