Holly Sternberg first at Nevada State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest | NevadaAppeal.com

Holly Sternberg first at Nevada State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest

Kyler Klix
Holly Sternberg performs at the 2019 Nevada State Old-Time Fiddlers' Contest in in early may in Eureka, Nevada.
John Russell


Check out a video that summarizes the Nevada Old-Time Fiddlers contest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SmNdV8-sUM

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Holly Sternberg is known in the area for her talented fiddle playing in local band Cíana, while also performing in Fiddlers2 and the Soulstice Strings Quartet. In early May she traveled to Eureka to perform in the Nevada State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest. The 28-year-old is a familiar face at the event, and this year she brought home first place in the Adult Division, first in the Hot Fiddle category, and placed second in the Grand Championship.

“It’s great, I love it because it’s kind of a big musical family reunion,” Sternberg said about going to the event. “I felt like I knew almost everybody there.”

Sternberg teaches fiddle and violin lessons at It’s All About Music in Reno. Beyond the awards, she was proud to bring five of her students to the contest this year, ranging from ages 9-12, and a 15-year-old. She hopes to get more kids involved with fiddle and violin music.

“My goal is to get young kids interested in this music,” she said. “It’s not dying out, but it’s kept alive by playing it.”

“It’s so cool to see kids playing this music. A lot of them don’t even know this music exists.”

The Fiddle Contest organizer, Kim Russell, said in an email the contest was quite successful, with 23 participants, five more than last year. There were 13 fiddlers under age 18. The junior-junior division (12 and under) had eight contestants while the junior division (ages 13-17) had five, the most they ever had. She had the same thoughts as Sternberg regarding preserving the tradition.

“The art of old-time fiddling can only be preserved if there are young ones coming up to take the place of older fiddlers,” Russell said. “So, in that regard this year’s contest was the most successful of all the years that it had been held in Eureka.”

Sternberg said she’s seen how the event has grown in popularity over the years. In Sternberg’s first year, she said there were only 10 competitors. She was very happy to see the turnout of younger fiddlers.

“The youngest at the contest was six, and she was so adorable,” Sternberg said.


The contest is held at the Eureka Opera House. It’s an old opera house that has been fixed up in a town with a population of 610 about 240 miles from Carson City in Eastern Nevada.

“It really adds to the ambience of this little competition because you’re out in an old west town,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg broke out her cowboy boots and hat to fit the theme for the first day, but she wore a Celtic shirt the second day, to represent a majority of what she plays — which are Celtic tunes. She said the judges have been open-minded and support her and others bringing in different fiddling genres.

Sternberg also mentioned that the drive down U.S. 50 is gorgeous with plenty of places to see along the trip.

Teaching kids

Sternberg makes her living as a fiddle and violin instructor at It’s All About Music. About 40 students enroll in her classes, which range from private lessons to group lessons. Many adults are involved as well.

“That is the perfect amount,” she said. “I can make a living here in Reno, and I love what I do.”

She said her passion is with fiddling, and that is what she considers herself a professional at. She’ll teach new students a well-rounded technique. Her genres include Irish fiddle, Scottish fiddle, Swedish music, Appalachian music and more.

Connecting through music

The biggest lesson Sternberg wants to teach is how the ability to play music with other people opens them up to a new community. She said she could go to an Irish pub as a stranger, and begin to play music and connect with everyone.

Sternberg felt that way on Friday before the contest. Her students and others played a song together before meeting each other. She said there was a connection made between them all through the music.

“The competition is fun, but the community is what it’s all about,” she said.

Sternberg hopes the future brings more students to participate in the contest. Her goal is to continue bringing people into the music scene, and she said the contest is a fun way to do it.