THE TRI-STATE BLUEGRASS ORGANIZATION was the result of many "jam Sessions" at the home of Larry Peck, and many discussions and planning at the home of Delbert and Erma Spray's daughter, Patricia and Hollis Davidson, in Hannibal, Missouri.
It was decided that some sort of an organization should be formed and the organization was formalized at the home of Larry Peck in Hannibal, Missouri in 1978 by Delbert and Erma Spray, together with the following Charter Members: Larry Peck, Richard Bunch, Daryl Stephenson, Roy Brosi, Richard and Gertrude Bridgett, Dave Majors, Charlie Wade, Mary Jo Hamilton and Larry Dudding.
The Association was recognized and given a charter as a Non-Profit Organization in January 1983 by the State of Missouri.
In February of 1978, the Association held it’s first Indoor Bluegrass Festival at the Holiday Inn, Hannibal, Missouri. Four years later, the Association started a Fiddle Contest in November at the Holiday Inn. (Later the name was changed to the “Hannibal Inn”.
At the first contest in 1982, the first place winner was Randy Howard from Georgia. Randy was a young man then. He went on to become one of the best known and loved fiddlers in the nation. Randy passed away in 1999. The prize money for that year was $1,000 for first place. Fiddlers came from Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and all over the Midwest. In 1984, the contest was won by a young fiddler from Iowa, Kirk Brandenberger. He was a fine fiddler. His father Ernie Brandenberger was also a fiddle player and he and Delbert Spray were the best of friends. Kirk developed into a fine musician and went on to play with many notable bands. In later years, he and his wife, Becky developed and produced Prime Cuts of Bluegrass, a recorded CD which gave bands a tool for promoting their talent to radio stations and promoters.
Some other notable fiddlers who took part in the contests were: Alison Krauss ("Yes, the Alison Krauss who is so famous now!") from Illinois, Pete McMahan, Jake Hockemeyer, Gene Wells, Junior Marriott, Charlie Waldon, Johnny Bruce, Smokey McGuiness from Missouri. Charlie Butler of Elizabethtown, Kentucky brought four young fiddlers from that state—Jimmy Mattingly, Ed Carnes, Mark Ralph and Eric Peyton. Lonnie Pierce also attended from Kentucky. Dick Barrett and Ace Sewell and others came from Texas. Monte Gaylord came from Oklahoma.
The Fiddle contest was always an enjoyable time and it drew many notable fiddlers and musicians. After several years as a Fiddle Contest, it was decided to change the November event to a Bluegrass Festival. It was named the Land of Mark Twain Bluegrass Festival.