Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

July 29, 2007

Huntington hosts harmonica competition

HUNTINGTON — To take home the first-place prize in the West Virginia Harmonica Championship on Saturday, nine contestants attempted their fanciest skills and best showmanship.

The contest, a first for the third annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival in downtown Huntington, had two purposes: To find the best harp player in the area and to give musicians a chance to share their instrument with others.

“That’s why we have this kind of competition; to meet up with other harp players and to make sure the harmonica doesn’t become a dying art,” Paula Stewart of Huntington said.

Stewart is a member of the Huntington Harmonica Club and was the only woman in the competition. She is proof that the club’s ideas to get more people interested in the harmonica are effective.

“We were at a fall festival when I saw the club perform,” Stewart said. “They were offering a free harmonica and a five minute lesson to anyone interested. And being the ham that I am, I said I would try it.”

That was a year and half ago and she’s been playing ever since.

“I just do it for fun,” she said. “And what ever I have to do to get a laugh.”

Stewart wore a hat and jacket during her “cowboy tune,” which she took off and threw onto the stage when she went into her rendition of a blues song.

Geoff Riffe’s guitar accompanist, Tony Smith, thought his friend had the win in the bag.

“He owned that song,” Smith said of Riffe’s version of “Amazing Grace.”

The duo from Ashland also played “Orange Blossom Special” for the audience.

But Riffe, who plays his harmonica for his church and various retirement homes in Ashland, was awarded the $100 prize and second place.

“Oh well. Maybe next year,” he said.

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