Broad Street was converted into a pedestrian mall full of music, food, arts and crafts Saturday as the Downtown Development Authority hosted the fourth annual Fiddlin’ Fest. Stages were set in front of the South Broad Bridge as well as the intersection of Third Avenue and Broad Street while other artists performed under tents set up right on the street.
Fiddle legend James Bryan, from Mentone, Alabama, mesmerized fans that packed in front of the stage at Third Avenue and Broad Street on Saturday afternoon. Bryan, a legendary figure on the fiddle, has been playing for more than 50 years.
Rome attorney Frank Beacham, a bluegrass aficionado who also played during Fiddlin’ Fest on Saturday, said Bryan is considered by many across the Southeast to be the best traditional fiddle artist in the South in the modern era.
He started playing the fiddle when he was 11. In 1970, at the age of 16, Bryan won the title of Fiddle King at the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention. He won it again three years later, and eight years ago, Bryan was honored with the Alabama Folk Heritage award for 50-plus years in the industry.
“It’s just a great thing to get out here around people and play live,” Bryan said. “I play a lot at home by myself.” Bryan was part of the first Fiddlin’ Fest. “The crowd seems to be a lot bigger now, a lot better.”
Local guitarist Russ McClanahan got a chance to play with both Bryan and local violin virtuoso Tim Reynolds on Saturday.
“They have never met before as far as I know,” McClanahan said. “They’re both so great. How would I explain it? It was like a spiritual uplift.”
It’s hard to gauge how much of an impact the street festival had on businesses in downtown Rome Saturday. The crowd grew steadily throughout the day under nearly ideal cool, slightly overcast conditions.
Most of the restaurants that had sidewalk cafes were packed throughout the afternoon and well into the evening. Blue Sky Outfitters embraced the event with a sidewalk sale to take advantage of the crowd that roamed the street from the Cotton Block all the way up to Fourth Avenue.
Two blocks were set aside for the Armuchee Ruritan Car Show, a major addition to Fiddlin’ Fest.
Vintage cars and customized jalopies lined the 300 and 400 blocks on both sides of the median.
Steve Timms, Summerville, brought his 1997 Toyota Tacoma that had been customized with a 1948 English Ford front and rear. He’s got four different vehicles that he’s customized in the same way. He saw something similar in a scary movie and said “I just thought I’d build one. “
Lynn Gill said he couldn’t get over the V6 engine in a 1932 Ford Deluxe Coupe owned by Charlie Brock.
Rome businessman Randy Land was among those walking the 300 and 400 blocks of Broad Street, taking in all of the vintage vehicles in the car show which has become a major part of the Fiddlin’ Fest event.
“This is awesome for downtown Rome, everybody gets together, especially with a nice old car show. It really brings back memories,” Land said. “There are a lot of people down here.”