Mark O'Connor, who two weeks ago joined the Southern fusion rock band the Dregs, insists he's thrilled since he "used to listen to them in high school." That was actually just a year ago, but the extraordinary 19-year-old fiddler and guitar player has been making a name for himself since the age of 13 when he first won the Grand Masters Fiddling Championship in Nashville . . . and he went on to repeat as champion last year, "which they said could never be done." "I'd placed second a few times in between and when I won, one of the Opry stars said, 'You ought to just give that boy a gold plate and send him home.'"

The world of fiddle and guitar championships is a familiar one to O'Connor, who has also released seven albums featuring his sterling picking and bowing. "Sometimes all I can remember is the jamming and the partying at those concerts; they all run together in my mind." The native of Seattle, Wash., has a record that's not been matched in this century: besides the two Grand Masters, he's also won two Grand National Fiddling Championships in Idaho and two National Flatpicking Championships in Kansas. In June, O'Connor will return to Idaho for a try at an unprecedented third straight National Fiddling title. "Of course, if I win, they say I can't enter the next year," O'Connor laughs. Next summer, he'll probably be tied up with the Dregs anyway, playing some more of that electric music that he somehow managed to fit in with his high school rock band. The Dregs appear at the Bayou on Thursday. w