If you ask 12-year-old Granbury fiddle prodigy, Ridge Roberts, the difference between a violin and a fiddle, he smiles and says: “Well, with a violin, you have strings; with a fiddle, you have strangs.” But make no mistake about it; Ridge is a fiddle historian, from the different types of wood and strings and how they are made to famous fiddle players and their music. He collects old fiddles, Bibles, coins and cowboy hats, and he loves Lego building and cooking, to name a few of his interests. He will talk all day about music, but when it comes to his talent, he is humble.
At age 7, Ridge picked up a fiddle and began playing by ear. He’s following in the footsteps of his dad, John Roberts, as well as an uncle and a family friend. Ridge loves vintage music and some of the traditional fiddle tunes that are well more than a century old. He likes older country music and Western swing, tunes you might hear on a Bob Wills’ recording. Ridge is a Texas state champion and has won fiddle competitions all over the U.S.
Joey McKenzie, a renowned, Grammy award-winning world champion fiddle player, is Ridge’s teacher. He describes his protégé as an old soul. “He is outstanding, one of the best students I’ve ever had, and I’ve taught nine national champions,” McKenzie says. “The key to that is his absolute love of the music. He does the work with a smile on this face. As he keeps progressing, the door will open for him to play professionally.”
In addition to fiddle playing and writing music, Ridge also is developing his guitar playing and singing. He plays old music that hasn’t been written down. “It’s taught by ear when a student and teacher sit toe-to-toe and work this stuff out,” McKenzie explains.
Ridge is preparing for the 63rd National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest & Festival, being held June 22 – June 27 this year in Weiser, Idaho. The contest is sequestered. The judges do not hear the names announced or see the players. They only hear the music. For Ridge’s age division, the limit is 55 contestants, which usually fills up, says Ridge’s mother, Cindy Roberts. “This competition is stressful, with new music, constant fiddling and strict time limits throughout the day,” she says.
Ridge isn’t nervous. He seems to thrive under pressure, whether in formal competition or performing at nursing homes or charitable fundraising events in his hometown. Which does he enjoy more? “I like getting on stage and being able to talk and play whatever I want,” Ridge says. “But, I like going to contests and talking to other fiddlers and listening to them play. I like learning from them.”
His future goals include winning three national championships and teaching others to play.
Ridge has two brothers, Aedan, 15, and Rio, 10, who is a special needs child.
To contribute to the family’s travel fund to Idaho, visit gofundme.com/FriendsofRidge.