The Museum of the Rhythm Bones Society

Rhythm Bones Society Contests

The National Traditional Country Music Association has an annual Festival in Iowa with several contests. Early on they had a Rhythm Bones Contest, but over the years with a declining interest in rhythm bones, they combined it with their Spoons contest. The title is World Bones and Spoons contest, and until the Abbeyfeale competition it was the only annual event. Typically the rhythm bones wins the contest in recent years. Judges for the contest are selected from non-players which reduces the significance of the contest. Click HERE for more information and a list of contest winners.
The All-Ireland Bones Competition is held in Abbeyfeale, West Limerick, Ireland as part of the Fleadh By the Feale music festival on the May Bank Holiday Week end. Fleadh By the Feale Festival began in the mid 90's through the hard work and determination of Dan Murphy and his wife Maureen, and a dedicated committee of local organizers. As many festivals were being established at the time, Dan wanted something to distinguish Fleadh By the Feale that would help it to stand out. Bone playing was well known in the area through the playing of Paddy "Sport" Murphy, and other locals and it was decided that the Fleadh would host the All Ireland Bone Playing Championship. The nation wide Fleadh Ceol Na Eirrian which hosts All Ireland Championships in many of the traditional instruments did not include the bones, which is generally an obscure instrument in Traditional Irish music, but well known in Abbeyfeale. Dan felt the establishment of a bone playing competition would bring national recognition and local enjoyment. Since that time 20 Championships have been held, and judged by such luminaries as Mel Mercier, Tommy Hayes, Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh , Ronnie McShane, Gino Lupari, Junior Davey, and Seamus O'Kane. Winners for the most part have been local, with Paddy "Sport" Murphy, Paddy Donnovan, and David Murphy receiving the bulk of first place prizes, however, have also included Junior Davey of County Sligo (twice) and Stephen Brown of the United States (twice).Competitors have traveled from all over Ireland, as well as Denmark, France, England, Scotland, and the United States. The structure of the rules has varied from year to year, but has usually included a mandatory reel set, with the participant choosing second or third tunes from a list of various tune types, such as: jig, polka, hornpipe, slide, slip jig, march, etc. An accompaniest is provided by the organizers, usually accordion and banjo. Steve Brown
Other Rhythm Bones Contests. There must have been many bones contests since the Virginia Minstrels with bones player Frank Brower started the minstrel era. Some of the larger minstrel companies had several rhythm bones players who must wanted to be known as the best. Need some research here. There is documentation of a rhythm bones contest in Seattle in the 1920s era. There are reports of other contests, but they did not continue for more than a year or two.