The topsoil was a bit parched or maybe the earthworms have wised up to what it meant when the ground started vibrating and that signature grunting noise filled the air at Caryville’s 12th Annual Worm Fiddlin’ Festival May 6.
There is certainly a technique to worm grunting, the old school method of charming earthworms out of the ground and onto the end of a fishing hook.
“We’ll beat these stakes in the ground real deep, and we’ll take these rough things we left in the weather for a while to get them rusted, then we’ll run it across the top of the stake like you’re playing a fiddle and it grunts the worms up out of the dirt,” Randy Hill said while demonstrating with a hand float normally used to level concrete that was no longer smooth from exposure and rust.
The festival makes a competition out of who can coax the most worms out of the soil with the old tried and true method. The rules were clear. Caryville Town Council Chairman Larry Palmer let the crowd know that only two people were allowed inside the 10-foot by 10-foot square, digging in the soil was prohibited and they would have 15 minutes to grunt out as many worms as possible to be collected in a cup for the judges to count. Only whole worms would count.
Hill and his step-daughter, Emily Turk, 9, won second place in last year’s Worm Fiddlin’ contest. This year’s event had 15 teams that would drive a wooden stake into the ground and grate the top of it with an object to create friction that vibrates the ground.
Hill was prepared. They brought a hammer to drive their stake into the dirt and had the hand float and a knobby piece of rebar to strum the top of it. Others fiddled to exhaustion using bricks, chisels, sticks and the flat side of a handsaw to grind on the stake.
Even though the ground beneath a massive mossy oak tree providing plenty of shade felt like it would have registered on the Richter scale, the worms were simply not coming up. Team 3 and Team 16 each had one small worm to produce for the judges. Most others met ants and other insects, but not worms.
Hill and Emily were handed the second place trophies once again after numbers were drawn from a cup to break the tie and declare brothers William Bradley, 13, and Gordon Bradley, 14, the winners. A third winner was drawn making Thunderbyrd and Sara Johnson the third place team. Those trophies had to go home with someone despite the worms not coming out to play this year.
The festivities continued with live music by The Voice, Billy Lipford, as hundreds of guests milled around the grounds at Hodges Park browsing vendor booths and eating food truck fare while the kids enjoyed games and pony rides.