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Derby guitarist Jade Hopkins performs at the 48th annual Walnut Valley Festival and National Flat-picking Guitar Championship. This was his third year competing at the event.

A Derby resident showed off his flat-picking guitar skills in September at the 48th annual Walnut Valley Festival and National Flat-picking Guitar Championship.

Jade Hopkins started as a country singer-songwriter, with experience in country bands. Originally from Whitewater, Hopkins and his family moved to Derby in 2003 after a brief stint in Nashville.

“I’ve always loved music and still played, and I really got interested in these guys that could really play – Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis,” Hopkins said.

Listening to some of these guitar legends is what motivated Hopkins to try out finger-style guitar. 

“It’s something that I can do at home. I don’t have to be in a band,” said Hopkins, an entrepreneur who owns Hopkins Appraisals in Derby. “I can work a little bit, and then I can practice a little bit.”

Hopkins first came to the Walnut Valley Festival two years ago as a spectator, but he was convinced by someone working the event to enter in the playing contest.

This year marked his third competing at the festival, but he almost didn’t get to compete in any of the past three years.

He said the finger-style contest only accepts 40 competitors, and those spots usually fill up early in January. He was No. 19 on a list of alternates his first year, and managed to secure a spot after enough people dropped out.

The same thing happened last year and this year when he was No. 21 and No. 17 on the alternates list.

Walnut Valley is not the only contest in which Hopkins has competed. Last year, he placed second at the Kansas Finger-Style Contest in Lawrence.

He has also placed twice at playing contest in the Tulsa State Fair.

Hopkins shared some advice for anyone else interested in joining the competitive guitar-playing community.

“It’s a neat experience,” he said. “In this instance, there’s all of these incredible guitar players, sitting around, talking, … sharing life experiences.”

“And you really get to meet some awesome people.”

Pursuant to his dream of being a country singer-songwriter, Hopkins said he has been playing guitar since he was a kid, “but not well.”

“I was kind of a strummer and a songwriter, and the more I played, the better I got,” he said. “It really wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I feel like I was proud of what I had accomplished.”

One of Hopkins’ biggest gigs, he said, was opening for Jay Leno with a 30-minute set at the Kansas Star Casino.

“I met him and it was awesome,” Hopkins said. “I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool stuff for a real estate appraiser in Derby.”

Hopkins has an official Facebook page called “Jade Hopkins” that residents can check out if they’d like to hear some of his music. You can spot it by finding his picture with Jay Leno.

He also has a show at 5 p.m. Sunday at Mort’s in downtown Wichita.