I rolled into the drive at home last night at about 8:30 after a 6 hour drive back from the Midwest Banjo Camp in Olivet Michigan. Banjo camp is so much fun and such a great learning experience. It’s also a chance to meet loads of people who share similar musical interests.
Camp goes from Thursday after dinner to Sunday after lunch and it’s non-stop banjo action. There is a packed schedule of workshops and demos by some of the best old time and bluegrass players around. Add to that 2 faculty concerts and an opportunity to jam until you drop. This year there were students from as far away as Australia attending. It was fun to get re-aquainted with some people I met last camp and to make new friends.
There were many highlights for me at this camp. I attended two of John Herrman’s classes – one called Everything I know about playing the banjo in one session – and the other a class on how to play tunes you don’t know or how to function at jams. These were amazing classes, super-helpful, and for me the second one really increased my confidence in playing in jams so much. John is not a solo banjo player. He sees the banjo’s role as supporting the fiddle and it seems clear to me he sees the old time banjo/fiddle duet as a high art form. John talks about thinking about the banjo as a percussion instrument, and you can hear that in his playing. When he plays, the holy grail is that moment of magic known as The Groove.
To give you an idea of John Herrman’s playing, check out this video from YouTube I keep going back to again and again. It’s Chicken Train with John on banjo, playing at Clifftop a few years ago.
Cathy Barton Para’s classes were another highlight for me. She comes up with the best tunes and she has a positive and friendly teaching style I really enjoy. She and Dave are also delightful people to be around. I digress but I’d like to mention that Cathy is also in one of my fave videos on YouTube – backstage at the Opry with Bashful Brother Oswald.
I had an opportunity to jam with Cathy and Dave, John Herrman, Joe Newberry, Bob Carlin, Dan Walsh, Ken Perlman, Bertram Levy and more – not to mention lots of talented students.
My interest is specifically old time music, so I didn’t take any of the bluegrass classes. I did have a chance to hear some hot bluegrass though both in jams around camp and in the faculty concerts.
This was my third time at Midwest Banjo Camp. Once again I’ve come home loaded up with ideas and techniques and lots of tunes to play.