2024 National Contest Judges

We want you to get to know the Judges and learn a bit about their ideas and opinions about what makes a “winner” as well as biographical information.

Three judges will work as a panel. A fourth judge rotates through the panel to provide the other three with needed breaks. Judges do not change once a round has started.



Eric enjoyed music from a very young age. While his father was stationed in Germany, serving in the Air Force, at age 3, Eric chose a toy guitar out of any toy from the German toy store. By age 9, Eric started playing violin in school while living in Omaha, Nebraska. He became a member of the California State Old Time Fiddlers (CSOTFA) at age 13 and has been competing ever since.  Eric is a Lifetime Member of CSTOFA Dist. 5 and its current president.   Even while serving in the Marine Corps, Eric would find any opportunity he could to compete in a contest.   In fact, he competed at the Western Open Fiddle Contest the day after graduating boot camp.  Eric has won numerous California State Fiddle Championships: Men’s, Young Adult, Adult, and 2012 Open State Champion. Eric also placed 5th in the National Adult Division and is the 2017 CA State Picking Champion.  Currently, he is the 2024 California Adult State Champion.  Also, on guitar, he accompanies many contestants.

Eric is from Lincoln, CA and shares his enjoyment of music to all ages while teaching fiddle, guitar, and mandolin for the past 32 years and while performing with the Piney Creek Weasels (an Old-Time string band) and The Cripple Creek Band (a Southern Rock, Country and Americana style band).


I like to hear fiddlers with a lot of drive, a smooth sound, their own style, and who make me want to tap my foot.  I want to hear variations with very little repetition.  I listen for intonation and rhythm/timing; these are so important.  I enjoy an easy tune played well rather than one beyond someone’s ability.



One would be hard pressed to find a fiddler alive today with more built-in tradition than Texas Fiddle Champion Jason Andrew. The latest in a long family line of champion and world-renowned fiddle players, the Franklin family’s legacy continues on for another generation of Texas style fiddle royalty. Known for having an extensive repertoire, on the fly improvisation, and a hard driving beat, Jason has that original sound that few accomplished fiddle players have mastered with stage presence and energy that captivates audiences and musicians nationwide.

As a native of Whitewright, Texas, Jason was exposed to fiddle music from the day he was born and was captivated by the many great musicians that would make the journey to jam at his grandparents’ farm while always dreaming of the day in which he would be able to join his grandfather and friends in all the foot stomping fun witnessed throughout his early years. The day Jason received his first fiddle for his 10th birthday started a lifelong journey of learning and mastering an instrument and a language that has brought many great memories and friendships that are held very dear. Lessons from masters such as Dale Morris Sr., along with Grandpa Louis and (Uncle) Larry Franklin coupled with watching, listening, and learning from as many different players as he could get his eyes and ears on, Jason has become a top finisher in any competition he enters as well as a well-versed improvisational player. His playing style draws from many genres, not just Texas Style.  He is well versed in traditional and contemporary bluegrass, western swing, jazz, traditional and modern country, and even classic and modern rock.

Jason’s pinnacle in music thus far came in April of 2018 when he won the coveted Texas State Championship contest in Hallettsville, TX, becoming only the 16th individual to win the title in the 40 plus years of the contest’s existence. In December of 2022, Jason was invited to be a featured performer at the “Festival of Texas Fiddling” in Blanco, Tx, for the fourth consecutive year. He was honored to receive the festival’s annual “Master Texas Fiddler” award, which is described by the festival as an award that is meant to recognize the most significant true vine tradition bearers in the State of Texas.

While his first love may be traditional Texas fiddle music, Jason is just as likely to be found in the studio or sharing the stage with many recording and touring acts throughout the country. Jason has toured with popular acts such as Whiskey Myers, the Josh Abbott Band, Kevin Fowler, William Clark Green, and John David Kent along with countless others. During 2021-2022, he teamed up with Kyle Nix (fiddler for the Turnpike Troubadours) playing fiddle for his current side project of Kyle Nix & the 38’s. Also during 2022, Jason toured with Jason Boland & the Stragglers, Jake Worthington (The Voice Season 5 runner-up), and most notably the 9 time Grammy award winning Kings of Western Swing Asleep at the Wheel. Jason can currently be found fiddling with the hot Texas Country newcomer Ryder Grimes.


First and foremost, playing a tune in time, in tune, and in its entirety will score higher than trying to play a complicated piece that’s not executed well. Drive or groove can be just as important, but not more, as intonation. For the advanced players, I want to hear your interpretation of a tune, not a well rehearsed copy of another players version.

Make me tap my foot!!



I have been attending the NOTFC for over 60 years.  Initially, I began playing the guitar, and by the age of 9, I won my first national accompanist division title.  I won the national accompanist division for the next decade in the 1960’s and 70’s.

I played guitar for thousands of fiddlers over the years, including many of the old fiddle masters, and national champions, like Benny Thomasson, Dick Barrett, and Herman Johnson.  As a child, I would spend a large portion of my summers staying, and traveling, with Dick Barrett, and his family.

In fact, you can see me playing with Benny and Dick while we were on tour on YouTube in a series from the mid-1970’s titled, “Texas Fiddle Legends.”  I also played for 5-time undefeated National Champion, Herman Johnson, here at the NOTFC, and on his album titled, “Simply Perfect.”  I also video-recorded Herman playing all of his songs in his kitchen which can be found on Vi Wickam’s fiddling website.

As my musical journey continued, I also learned how to play the fiddle.  I have judged countless fiddle contests.  I have judged the NOTFC several times.  The first time I judged the NOTFC, in the mid-1970’s, I was youngest judge at that time to have ever judged this contest.

More recently, I am the former NW Regional Open Champion, Texas State Sr. Champion, NW Regional Sr. Champion (multiple times), and National Sr. Champion (multiple times).

My hobbies include working on, building fiddles and guitars.  I have also made several unique fiddle and guitar cases.  I have related several stories about fiddling in the old days in my blog on Facebook titled, “Musings from the Fiddling Road.”  I have also written a number of articles, and transcribed a number of tunes, that have been published in Fiddler Magazine.

I am a retired attorney.


My philosophy of judging is fairly straight forward.  I do not have any perceived notions that one style of fiddling is better than another style.  Thus, it does not matter to me what style of fiddling the contestant plays. The fiddler could play Metis, Cajun, Celtic, Texas, or some other style.  What I try to do when I judge a fiddle contest is first determine how difficult of a tune the contestant is playing, and next I determine how well the contestant plays their songs.  Based upon those primary factors, that is how I determine an overall score for each song.  I try to give extra points for those contestants who make a song their own by adding additional appropriate phrases, harmonies, or parts to their songs.



Aynsley began playing fiddle at the age of 9. She was introduced to contest-style fiddling in her early teens, and quickly fell in love with the music. In order to further hone her craft, Aynsley enrolled in East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies degree program in 2013. She graduated in 2017 with an additional bachelor’s degree in English, and completed her master’s degree in Appalachian Studies in 2020.

Aynsley is also an experienced contest fiddler, having won the Grand Master Fiddler Championship in 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee, and the 2017 Canadian Grand Master Fiddle Championship, making her the first person to win both competitions. She also played in 2016 on the Grand Ole Opry. She is a certified and qualified national contest judge.

In 2018, Aynsley received the 2018 IBMA Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year award. She has played with the SPBGMA award-winning bluegrass band Carolina Blue, the Tennessee Bluegrass Band, and is thrilled to be currently touring with the Darren Nicholson Band. She is an adjunct professor at East Tennessee State University, and is also the director of the ETSU Bluegrass Summer Camp. Aynsley spends her time off the road as a private fiddle instructor, session musician, contest judge, and author.


I look for fiddlers who play with good timing and taste with the best tone.  Groove matters greatly to me.  I look for cleanliness, but good feel is even more impressive to me.  Finally, the melody was written for a reason – establish it!


2024 Swing and Twin Fiddle Contest Judges


Paul grew up near Seattle, Washington. He started playing the violin at 9, soon getting hooked on popular and folk music. He was fortunate to have been able to study with the inventor of swing jazz violin, Joe Venuti, in the late 1970s. Around that same time, he was hired to play fiddle in Merle Haggard’s band, touring the U.S. and Europe for six months and performing on Austin City Limits in 1978.

After that, he worked four years with western swing band Asleep at the Wheel. Moving to Nashville in 1984, he worked for three years with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers and, later, two years with Loretta Lynn. In 1992 he moved back to the Pacific Northwest, and, more recently, to southwest Louisiana.

Philosophy of Judging:

When judging fiddle contests, I look for the following: Good intonation, good solid rhythm and good tone. In addition, I’ll be looking for personal creativity and imagination within the style being presented, playing from the heart, and, above all, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (what the French call frisson).



Isaac Callender was born in Great Falls, Montana. He began playing violin at the age of three and, at age seven due to sibling rivalry, he switched to fiddling. As a young teenager, Isaac continued to pursue fiddling by studying with Dick and Lisa Barrett, traveling to competitions around the west and performing with a variety of bands.

His college years were spent honing his skills while earning a Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance. During this time he also recorded his first album and joined the 133rd US Army Band.

Over the years Isaac has continued to write, teach, record and perform on a variety of instruments. He has toured the world and performed on five continents.

Isaac currently lives in Big Timber, Montana where he and his wife, Louise, host their daily tune YouTube channel “Tunes and Coffee” and enjoy their young son Wilf.

Philosophy of Judging:

My judging philosophy is: I like to hear swing and twin fiddling that demonstrates the fiddler’s musical knowledge of both music theory and fiddling traditions. I enjoy tight harmonies and original improvisation that feature the essence of the original tune while expanding on what makes that individual tune great.



Andy’s first trip to the National Oldtime Fiddle Contest was 1983 where he placed somewhere in the top 60. The contest was enlightening and a desire to improve and participate further sparked a sincere interest in all things related to fiddling.

Andy learned fiddling from several players in the Willamette Valley of Western Oregon and played Violin through High School and College. He switched to Upright Bass several years to study Jazz and Swing while in college.

He attended Western Oregon State College and graduated with a degree in Music.  Andy studied Music Education at Portland State University and taught in the Portland area several years before learning Violin repair at David Kerr Violin Shop.

Andy plays Bluegrass and Swing in Portland and teaches at Summer Camps throughout Oregon and attends fiddle contests in his spare time.

Philosophy of Judging:

In the Swing Divisions I will be looking for inventive and polished playing with great rhythm and timing. It’s hard to play swing when you are a robot!

In the Twin Divisions I will be looking for precise and eloquent playing and higher levels of difficulty will be judged higher. Rhythm and timing will also be judged accordingly.