Sunday, July 14, 2024

Ridge Roberts: Fiddle virtuoso wins National Championship


Ridge Roberts, a 21-year-old fiddle prodigy from Granbury, clinched the title of National Grand Champion at the National Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho, on June 22. Adding another accolade to his already impressive career, Roberts’ prizes included $2,400, a bronze trophy, a champion’s jacket, a belt buckle, and a certificate.

Known for his exceptional talent and dedication to the craft, Roberts’ journey in music began at the tender age of seven. He was inspired by his father’s fiddle-playing.

“My dad started playing the fiddle in his 40s but stopped when he had a family,” Roberts recounted. “I heard him play a couple of times and was instantly hooked. He showed me the tunes he knew, and I never put it down after that.”

Roberts’ musical journey is deeply rooted in his family. Despite having three somewhat musically inclined brothers, Ridge is the only one who pursued the fiddle seriously. “One of my older brothers played the saxophone, and another briefly played the fiddle,” Roberts shared. His father now primarily focuses on working on fiddles.

Homeschooled during his formative years, Roberts credits his flexible education model for allowing him the time to hone his craft, travel to gigs, and participate in fiddle contests across the United States. His parents’ support was instrumental, with his mother often driving him to competitions and lessons while his father worked.

“I started taking lessons from Joey McKenzie when I was ten,” said Roberts. “Joey has been my mentor for about ten years, and now we play in a band called the Western Flyers, a Western swing trio inspired by Bob Wills’ music.”

Roberts’ dedication to the fiddle was evident from the beginning. Initially practicing for 30 minutes daily in exchange for video game time, he quickly grew more passionate, eventually dedicating most of his day to the instrument. “I was homeschooled, so after schoolwork, I had all day to sit around and play,” he said.

One of Roberts’ most memorable experiences was performing at the Grand Ole Opry in 2021, a reward for winning a fiddle contest in Nashville in 2019 right before the pandemic struck. He had to wait a year, but said, “It was an amazing experience. Although I only played for 40 seconds, it was unforgettable.”

Roberts shared a story about an unusual mishap he faced while performing at the contest in Weiser. “The A string on my fiddle broke on the second note,” he recalled. “I had to quickly change the string and get back on stage. Despite this setback, the performance was fine — it all went well.”

Roberts’ musical talents extend beyond the fiddle; he plays guitar, sings, and writes songs. “I started composing my own tunes early on because I didn’t have access to many fiddle tunes,” he said. One such composition, “Goliad,” written in honor of the Battle of Goliad, is available on YouTube. He also recorded a fiddle CD about four years ago and is working on a new album with the Western Flyers, which is expected to be released in the coming months.

“I perform about 80 shows a year with the Flyers and travel around the country for various gigs,” Roberts noted. In addition to performing with the Western Flyers, Roberts plays at local nursing homes through a contract with Wings Over Texas, a hospice company founded by Robin Houghton, who taught Roberts’ father to play the fiddle.

Reflecting on his approach to music and his recent victory, Roberts shared, “For the Grand Ole Opry, I didn’t need to prepare specifically because I had played the tune many times. The same goes for the National Championship. It’s about being ready for anything,” he said. His dedication to practice fosters adaptability and preparedness.

Roberts is passionate about traditional country music and Western swing. When asked about the current state of country music, Roberts said, “There’s not much of a role for the fiddle in modern country music. I don’t keep up with who’s on the charts. The newest thing I listen to is probably George Strait. I hope there’s a turn towards traditional country music,” he said, preferring Instruments like the fiddle, steel guitar, and drums over digital music.

Roberts describes Western Swing as “dance music,” a style originating in the 1930s with bands like the Light Crust Doughboys, led by Milton Brown and Bob Wills. “Western Swing is the official state music of Texas, which hardly anybody knows,” he said. “I’m a Texas-style fiddle player all the way.”

Despite his achievements, Roberts remains humble and grateful. “I haven’t faced many challenges in my years of playing. The biggest was struggling with my second tune, ‘Ashokan Farewell,’ but I’ve been steadily progressing since then,” he shared. “I’m a perfectionist, always paying attention to details and striving to improve.”

Roberts hopes to continue playing with the Western Flyers and possibly lead a band in the future. “I want to keep improving my fiddle playing, singing, and songwriting. I’m just trying to make as many connections as possible and see where God leads me,” he said.

Roberts also gives fiddle lessons to all ages, aiming to keep the art alive. “Fiddling is a dying art, and not many people play the fiddle. I’m trying to keep it alive by teaching others and getting them hooked,” he said. He believes Western Swing has a unique charm that appeals to many once they hear it. “It’s happy music, and people love it even if they don’t know what it is.”

Roberts’ influences include Bob Wills, Merle Haggard, and Texas-style fiddle player Terry Morris. He dreams of playing at the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

“It’s apparent that what I have is a gift from God. I can’t take any credit for it, and I’m just glad I get to share it with people,” Roberts said.

As Roberts continues his musical journey, his dedication and passion for preserving traditional fiddle music remain unwavering, inspiring many along the way. For more information or to see Robert’s performance schedule, visit: HOME | Lone Star Fiddler Country Western Cowboy Folk Music | Ridge Roberts