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Monday, August 27, 2012

AMERICAN BANJO CAMP Returns to the Shores of Puget Sound

As vacation destinations go, you might not have considered staying in old barracks at historic Fort Flagler State Park, near Nordland, WA, but I'm counting the days until I pack up my beloved Ome 5-string banjo and head in that direction to attend the American Banjo Camp once again. It takes place there Sept. 7-9 this year, with an optional extra day available on Sept. 6.

ABC 2011   L to R: Mac Benford, Jere Canote, Tom Sauber, Greg Canote
photo by Candace J. Brown
As soon as cars roll into the graveled parking lot, doors open, out come the banjos, and the camp chairs hit the grass. The music begins even before the hands-on classes, concerts, and organized jam sessions — even before the gourmet food. I'll hear a mixture of Bluegrass and Old Time. The two styles and their enthusiasts might differ in some ways, but you'll never find a more congenial bunch of musicians, all thrilled to play music together. Banjos dominate the scene, but this camp also features guitar and fiddle tracks.

ABC 2011  Mac Benford                                     photo by Candace J. Brown

The American Banjo Camp came about because masterful musicians and instructors Peter Langston and Ken Perlman wanted their shared vision of musical bliss to manifest. This is the same Peter Langston behind the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, now nearly four decades old and so popular that anyone interested in attending had better get on the waiting list, now. And Ken Perlman is famous as a pioneer of the 5-string banjo style called melodic clawhammer. You can listen to a sample here. Both are involved with running several camps and are hired to teach at others.

Professional banjoist and folk singer Barry Luft from Calgary, Alberta, Canada
photo by Candace J. Brown

Langston told me in an e-mail, "In part, the camp began because Ken and I saw an opportunity to try out wild ideas for one-of-a kind banjo classes in a 51-hour format, including 75 classes, 26 jams, six gourmet meals, two all-star concerts, and two optional sleep periods...all in one weekend!" 

Notice that sleep is optional. Even though I can't imagine a more peaceful and serene setting in which to get some rest, when banjo players get together they want to make the most of the opportunity to jam, learn new tunes and skills, share licks and tricks, and socialize. Attendees at all skill levels can find classes just right for them.

Sunrise at Fort Flaggler Sept. 2011 photo by Candace J. Brown

Considering that people come from far and wide, even foreign countries, I feel so lucky that I can drive less than two hours from home and find myself in another world, studying under a faculty of amazing teachers from all over the nation, including Seattle's most famous twin brothers, Jere and Greg Canote. I'm delighted to know that this year, David Keenan is one of the instructors on guitar.

What a rare opportunity the American Banjo Camp offers, and the idea of bringing together such a high quality staff helped motivate Langston and Perlman to start this event.

Exquisite inlay work on this banjo
photo by Candace J. Brown

"We also noticed that nowhere in the Pacific Northwest could one find banjo classes taught by world-renowned banjo artists," Langston added, "so we set about remedying that situation."

I'm so glad they did. I'll report back in a future blog post with photos and video. Meanwhile, if you've ever thought about learning blue grass or clawhammer banjo, consider coming to camp. I'd love to meet you there. 

And remember...

"The ability to play the banjo soon places one in a position to pick and choose among scores of social invitations. Everywhere, the banjoist is assured of a hearty welcome."
-1927 Gibson catalogue

Here are some testimonials from others, courtesy of the American Banjo Camp.

I am a first time attendee and an absolutely raw beginner banjo player. I
have always loved bluegrass and decided with my work schedule slowing down it was time to transition from loving to playing. I thought the camp would be a
good way to 'kick start' my learning and I was right. As such a raw beginner
I struggled to keep up at times in the class with all the quick learnings
coming my way, but when I got home and picked up the banjo to practice those
lessons I had a sudden breakthrough and could put 'all the elements' together.
Next year I hope I won't scare off the wildlife at camp while practicing on
the bluff!

Thanks to everyone for such an easy and fun time.
Linda Cheever
Mercer Island
Imagine being able to choose from a smorgasbord of workshops on every
conceivable topic. I found myself changing my selections depending upon what I
learned at the workshops I had taken and thinking ahead to what I wanted to
take home. I found all the workshops very helpful - even when I was skilled in
the basic techniques being taught, it was the subtleties of the style or the
approach taken in the class that was enlightening. There were times when I
wanted to go to two or more workshops at the same time - I just made a choice
and told myself that I would just have to come back next year!

Del Meidinger
Victoria BC
The American Banjo Camp? Sure, you're on an island off the tip of the
Olympic Peninsula, but you're removed in space and time, maybe to the hills of
Kentucky, on the front porch of a cabin, maybe, the sun going down, a fiddle
and a banjo . . .
It's the music. Playing the banjo under the watchful eye of instructors
like Mac Benford, learning "That's My Rabbit, My Dog Caught It." Bob Carlin
asking "Jane, why'd you lift your third finger off that string?" Ken Perlman
pointing out the place on the tab when I'd wandered off course. If you want
attentive instruction, you really get your money's worth at this camp.
Then there's the opportunity to hear these banjo legends perform, and if
you're lucky you can do so from the front row of the old wooden auditorium in
the company of a hundred-thirty other enthralled campers. I'm sorry for
anyone who didn't get to hear Mac's narrative about the time he undertook to
raise chickens.
I'm just saying. Go there next year! You'll see.

Jane Viehl
Portland, OR
It's often been said that if one wants to learn a foreign language effectively
you should travel to that country for a full immersion experience. With
regard to the banjo, that's exactly what I found at the American Banjo Camp.
The quality of instruction/instructors and the full immersion experience
helped me overcome long standing obstacles and move my playing to the next
level. I'll be back next year!

Denny Huffman
Ridgefield, WA
I've just returned home from my very first American Banjo Camp
experience, and as someone who has attended both art and music camps for over
twenty years now, I can say with authority, ABC was a top-of-the-line
experience! Just reading the brochure, I was amazed at the line up of
instructors, people who are world class players and influential in the music
world. I couldn't wait to hear them in person. Over the weekend of concerts,
classes, jams and just hanging around playing, I was amazed at everyone's
level of professionalism, skill, talent, and teaching ability. In addition,
everyone was friendly and accessible...and just plain fun to hang out with.
Now I'm a guitar player, not a banjo player, but I love hearing banjo
music, particularly hard-driving bluegrass style, so I signed up for camp
hoping just to play rhythm for anyone who wanted to practice their banjo
skills. But this year a guitar strand had been added, and the classes were
excellent. So I couldn't be a rhythm slave for the weekend. I was too busy
expanding my guitar skills!

My absolute favorite activities...of the whole weekend
were the 8 or 9 different jams scheduled in the evenings after the concerts.
These jams were cleverly organized by genre (old time, bluegrass, vocalists)
and skill level (beginning, advanced, open) and each jam was led by an
instructor . We could all pick the perfect jam for our interests and skills,
and the instructors were, of course, terrific at facilitating the music. I had
some of the best jamming I've ever had, and boy, is that a fun thing to

The choice of being able to arrive at camp a day early was also an added
attraction for me. I was glad the extra day was available and that I could
take advantage of it. Fort Flagler is a good site, and while we had perfect
weather, I could see that if that northwest rain had blown in, we'd still have
good spots to get inside and play to our hearts content.

ABC is a great camp and I recommend it highly! It is definitely on my
calendar for next year. I look forward to being surrounded by 130 plus banjo
players... Really! I do!

Carolyn Terry
Vashon, WA

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