The 86th annual Athens Old Fiddlers Reunion is just around the corner, May 26-27, but there will be a major change to this year’s event.
The carnival that has been held for more than 40 years in conjunction with the Reunion will not be in operation this year.
“It is a sad situation that we are not having the carnival,” event organizer Mary Ensign said. “This has never happened before, but I want to thank the City of Athens and the county for stepping up and making sure Fiddlers is still a go.”
Normally held in the city parking lot in front of the old Henderson County jail, the carnival was used as a major fundraiser for Fiddlers each year. In fact, the carnival helped offset $14,000 of expenses occurred during last year’s Fiddlers Reunion.
Athens police chief Buddy Hill said the carnival couldn’t set up this year because of the construction taking place at the Texan Theater that made the city parking lot unavailable for use.
The carnival usually hits town mid-week, and operates through the run of fiddlers.
For safety sake, the carnival needed a hard surface to set up the rides, and a suitable spot of that size was not available in Athens.
Hill said the Henderson County Regional Fairpark Complex was not an option due to the need for a hard surface for the carnival.
Other venues discussed included the county parking lots near the square and closure of various streets. The county needed its parking during the week while the carnival company could not fit its desired equipment on city streets near downtown.
“Fiddlers is 100 percent happening, just without the carnival this year,” Hill said. “We are unsure what will happen next year as it is too soon to tell.”
On May 1, the Athens City Council voted to pay the Old Fiddler’s Reunion up to $7,495 to offset any loss of revenue, due to the absence of the carnival. Money will come from Hotel Occupancy Tax funds.
As a result of this payment, the City of Athens if the presenting sponsor of the Old Fiddlers Reunion this year.
“Without the help from the city and the county we would not have been able to hold the Fiddlers Reunion this year,” Ensign said. “Hopefully everything will be back to normal next year. We are disappointed we will not have a carnival this year, but hope to bring it back in the future.”
The county is considering a $3,500 donation to the Reunion to help offset the costs of hosting the event while several businesses and individuals have stepped up with sponsorships to see that Fiddlers will be a success.
Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders said the commissioner’s court will meet Tuesday, May 23 to consider the donation.
“We want to see the Fiddler’s Reunion go on like it has for so many years,” Sanders said.
For information on sponsorship, or vendor opportunities, at the longest running festival in Athens, contact Mary Ensign at 903-681-2269.