NEWBURGH, Ind. — The Newburgh Fiddler Fest has been through plenty in its 31 years, with four different organizations taking turns at the helm. But the annual event, featuring live music and catfish dinners, has managed to survive.
So a few raindrops on Saturday morning weren't really anything to worry about.
By Saturday evening, the sky had cleared, and the crowd was again bustling along the Newburgh riverfront. Bluegrass music filled the air as volunteers fried up basket after basket of catfish fillets and fiddlers.
"This year, we've had a pretty decent crowd even with the rain," said Byron Sherman, Fiddler Fest treasurer. "The first hour Friday was just tremendous, and I think it's because people came down here before going to the (Castle High School) football game. And (Saturday) we lost the first hour to rain, but since then we've not only made that up, we've exceeded what we did last year."
The festival continues from noon until 5 p.m. today, weather permitting. Because the fish is cooked outdoors, the fryers have to be shut down when it rains. The festival is held at the Old Lock and Dam building on Old Indiana 662.
The Fiddler Fest is so named because of an old legend that a catfish will make a sound like a fiddle with its whiskers when hauled up in fishing nets. Though the festival is held on the banks of the Ohio River, the fish are shipped in from out of state. They are then cleaned by local Boy Scouts before heading to the fryers.
This is the second year the Fiddler Fest has been organized by the nonprofit organization Friends of Newburgh, formed last year to keep the event going. Most of the members of the group had been volunteers at the Fiddler Fest in the past.
Live music on Saturday included singer/guitarist Byron Rohrig, Tony Rothrock and his bluegrass band and the quartet Against Medical Advice. The Old Dam Community Band is scheduled to play today.
Several food and craft booths are set up just a few steps from the fish fryers.
The seven-member Friends of Newburgh board is assisted by a large group of volunteers who do everything from signing up musical acts to breading and frying the fish in giant vats of oil. "You have to make sure you bread the inside of it," said Shari Sherman. "If you miss that part, it gets dried out inside. You have to get under the fins and everything. But these are the best fiddlers that you will ever have. Only once a year can you get food this good in this kind of environment, and for a good cause."
Proceeds from the Fiddler Fest are donated back to the community. Last year, Friends of Newburgh was able to hand out more than $2,400 to local community groups. But the volunteers said they don't think of the Fiddler Fest as a way to make money.
"I think if you are looking at this as a fundraiser, probably it will not be a successful event," said Shari Sherman. "But if you are looking at it as a community event to get people out and enjoy the town and enjoy the music, then it is a success. "
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