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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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pinter Festival at A.C.T.: Don't Expect a Map When You Travel Through "No Man's Land" — a review

Human nature includes the urge to make sense of things, an urge I suspected was felt by others who loitered in the lobby of A.C.T.A Contemporary Theatre after No Man's Land last Saturday night. We all stood in silence, heads tilted back to read a wall panel description of the play we had just seen, hoping to find in those words on the wall, if not a map to clear understanding, at least some signposts. None existed. But that did not invalidate the journey.
NO MAN'S LAND - Frank Corrado
              Photo: Chris Bennion

This first professional production in Seattle of No Man's Land is part of the Pinter Festival at A.C.T., honoring the English playwright Harold Pinter. I had already seen, and enjoyed, The Dumb Waiter and Celebration. I had no idea what to expect of No Man's Land. The theater's press release seemed vague and described it as "a profound (and boozy) meditation on life and death and what may or may not have taken place between the cradle and the grave."

It opens during the 1970s on a scene of two aging men, Hirst and Spooner—both of whom seem to be literary sorts—in the London home of the one named Hirst (Frank Corrado). He is apparently a wealthy man of some celebrity, although how he gained it we do not know. He is also a drunk. The room reflects Hirst's social status, as well as his own dullness and lack of personality.

It's late at night, and Hirst has invited the overly talkative, overly friendly Spooner (Randy Moore) home for more drinks after leaving a pub where they've just met. Or did they?
NO MAN'S LAND - Randy Moore, Peter Crook, Frank Corrado, Benjamin Harris
Photo: Chris Bennion

Hirst pours a whisky for his guest, and as he does so, he utters the play's first line: "As it is?"

Spooner cheerfully replies, "As it is, yes, please, absolutely as it is." Little did I know that I would need to accept the play "as it is" without satisfying my urge to uncover a clear message.

Just who is Spooner? Although he delivers impressively long and often humorous speeches, compared to Hirst's elegance and refinement (even as a drunk) Spooner comes across as slightly slimy, a mooch, a con man, a far less tastefully dressed hustler with dishonorable motives. And yet we feel for him because of the pathetic nature of his life. His cleverness stimulates Hirst into revealing more about himself—and the dream he keeps repeating—by nudging him with real or fabricated memories, sarcasm, and suggestion.

The two keep drinking and feeding off of each others' stories, exaggerations, imaginations, or just plain lies. Soon it seems Spooner is an old friend Hirst knew at Oxford, whose wife was one of Hirst's sexual conquests. Is any of it true? Or, are they just two lonely, pathetic men facing the end of their lives without any meaningful relationships, except with the bottle and their glorified pasts?

NO MAN'S LAND - Peter Crook
Photo: Chris Bennion

The only other characters are the insubordinate butler named Briggs (Peter Crooks), who reminded me more of thug on his best behavior, and a young man named Foster (Benjamin Harris). Both add an air of edginess, uncertainty, and possible danger. I swear that I heard Foster refer to Hirst as his father, but later he seems almost like Hirst's employee, a caregiver or handler for the old drunk. Hirst passes out repeatedly and must be fixed up to reappear before his guest Spooner the next morning, who has been locked in the room overnight by the others. 

The character of Foster adds to the confusion in a play that seems like a hundred mini-plays, moving from one speech to another without a lot of conversation. It feels like a tread mill, which could be the point; longings, circumstances, and regrets plod away in people's live and find no relief. Is anyone really listening? Do any of us truly know the person to whom we speak?

So how did No Man's Land, with its lack of much plot or any conclusions, make a crowd of people care enough to hang around afterward looking for insights? It appeals, in a dark way lightened by humor, to the secrets, yearnings, egos, vulnerabilities, and pasts we all carry inside ourselves, often as a burden.

For those of us who simply love words, it offers a symphony of eighth notes that dance on the air and keep us spellbound waiting for the final chord. It offers humor and sharp wit. The acting, and Penny Chern's directing, are superb. It makes us laugh. And it makes us squirm. Even the stage set makes the disconcerting circumstances visceral. There is only one comfortable looking chair and we wish for the actors, and the story, to settle, to allow us some relief from edginess, uncertainty, and subtle despair.

NO MAN'S LAND - Benjamin Harris
Photo: Chris Bennion

No Man's Land gets into your bloodstream and stays there. I'm no drinker, but it gave me a kind of hangover that haunted. And probably because it would not release me, after this strange play came the strange coincidence of which I also tried to make sense.

Stunned, I looked at the clock on the car's dashboard on Sunday morning and noticed that it read "10:30" once again. Twelve hours earlier, I had noticed the exact same time while in the same car, headed in the same direction (south) on the same freeway (I-5) discussing the same play (No Man's Land) with the same person (my husband). The first situation happened on the way home to Tacoma after seeing No Man's Land Saturday night. The second, on Sunday morning, occurred as we headed to the Long Beach peninsula for the Jazz & Oysters Festival.

"Is there a hidden meaning in this?" I asked myself, meaning the coincidence. But it was the same question I'd asked about the play and I had no answer. Meanwhile, we came to the place where Hwy. 101 branches off the interstate to lead to more and more branching roads, just as the complex sentences in the script of No Man's Land branched again and again, promising another elusive destination.

along Willipa Bay       photo by Candace Brown

I wanted to see the ocean, the big picture, but I had to travel through hills hidden by forest that eased into the coastal lowlands before I eventually reached the Pacific Ocean. And ultimately it reminded me of the insignificance of our individual lives when compared to its size and power.

At first impatient to arrive at the trip's conclusion, I learned something along the way; it is often best to relax, listen, stay present and aware, and appreciate, rather than analyze, the scenery.

photo by Candace Brown
No Man's Land will be presented again on Thursday, Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 26, at 2 p.m. (Find complete schedule and ticket information for this and other features of the festival through this link.)

Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Blues & Seafood, Jazz & Oysters — Double Your Fun at Twin Events on the Washington Coast This Weekend

When the heat hits again this weekend, the best place to be is the beautiful Long Beach peninsula on the Washington coast, where you can enjoy much more than a fresh, cooling ocean breeze. Two exciting events make this area an even more tempting destination.

Photo by Chris Spence of Spence Photo Design.
How about some great food and great music? Book a room and settle in for three days of fun, starting with the Blues and Seafood festival in Ilwaco on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 17-18 and then Jazz and Oysters just a few miles north at Ocean Park, on Sunday Aug. 19. A perfect place to stay would be the town of Long Beach, where I spend three days at the Adrift Hotel last May.

Reggie Houston                                                        photo by Diana Thompson

"Jazz & Oysters is a great summer party," says Diana Thompson, the coordinator for this event. "It was started as a fund raiser for Water Music Festival, but has become an event of it's own. It has given those of us in our small beach community the opportunity to hear some great jazz performances while enjoying locally grown oysters and other delectable treats." This event takes place at Wilson Field, 25815 Sandridge Rd. in Ocean Park, between noon and 7 p.m.

Zona Calda band in 2011                                       Photo by Chris Spence

After 27 years of hosting, you can be sure that the organizers of these events know exactly how to please the crowds who come to hear some of the Northwest's best musicians and enjoy Northwest seafood. The outdoor festival site serves as a jazz club alfresco offering those delectable freshly harvested local oysters plus sausages, desserts, beverages, and "an array of other tasty tidbits," according to their web site.

Enjoy the Latin and jazz music of singer/songwriter Jesse Marquez at noon, opening the show with her exceptional vocal style and lyrics. Click on her name to read about her and listen to a sample. Don't miss this chance to experience her live performance. 

Seattle's own First Thursday Jazz Band, a favorite at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Pioneer Square, will be among the stars at Jazz & Oysters, playing two sets of music starting at 2:30 p.m. This band features the talents of Ray Skjelbred on piano, Steve Wright on reeds and trumpet, Dave Brown on bass and Mike Daugherty on drums and vocals.

Beginning at 5:00, ease into your summer evening with the Jovino Santos Neto Quintet This amazing Brazilian pianist and composer and band mates, some of the best talents in the region, will transport you into the perfect mood to watch the sun set in the west.

photo by Candace Brown

Jazz & Oysters Coordinator Diana Thompson invites you to take advantage of the combined offerings of coastal communities that have worked together to bring you a package well worth the trip.

"Working in conjunction with the Ilwaco merchants has given us the opportunity to create an amazing weekend of terrific music and wonderful food for our community and for those who come to visit," she said.

You won't find any place in the Northwest more welcoming, so plan your weekend getaway now. Tickets for will be available on site but online sales end at noon on Thursday, August 16. Buy tickets for both events and SAVE. (Jazz & Oysters on Facebook)

(from their website)
PLEASE NOTE: To honor those serving our country, we are offering free admission to active duty military and their families for Jazz & Oysters, as well as the Friday and Saturday evening performances for Water Music Festival. Thank you
Now you can "like" Good Life Northwest on Facebook, so I hope you will. Thanks for reading my blog!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

PROCTOR ARTS FEST in TACOMA AUG. 4 Offers More FREE Music Than Ever

The Proctor Arts Fest, in the Proctor business district in Tacoma, just keeps getting bigger and better each year. This year's event, on Saturday Aug. 4, tops them all with the addition of the new CHALET BOWL STAGE and many more arts and crafts vendors.

As you wander through the many attractions, be sure to head east on 26th to Washington Street, near the Wheelock Branch of the Tacoma Public Library where the new extension of the festival will be set up for your enjoyment. 
The entertainers booked for the CHALET BOWL STAGE  will make it the place to be, the hot spot of the day. And speaking of HOT, the weather forecast sounds pretty toasty, making the COVERED SEATING even more appealing.

Here are the acts for this new stage:

11:00 - 12:00

LOS FLACOS is a quartet performing traditional acoustic music from Mexico and Latin America on a variety of instruments. Among them are harp, violin, guitar, flute, and hand percussion. They will also sing. This is something truly special and different that you don't get to hear every day. Add to this delightful mix, the talents of a lovely dancer for an experience you won't forget. Violinist Tim Wetmiller is also well known for his band Hot Club Sandwich.

12:15 - 1:15

TOBY HANSON, Leader of the popular and extremely busy Smilin' Scandinavians band, master of the accordion and vocals, and an all around great entertainer, treats us to a special solo performance here. He skillfully presents traditional Scandinavian and European music, including polkas, as well as some great American Western Swing! Fun, funny, and super talented, he'll turn you into an accordion fan for sure.

1:30 - 2:30

LANCE BULLER TRIO  Lance began playing the trumpet at age 13 in Los Angeles and just kept getting better! He excelled at music all through high school and college and was playing with the best rock and jazz bands in L.A.before making a splash in Las Vegas. He played, toured, and recorded with the Beach Boys for years and formed his own band, the Monarchs. Buller has done about 25 albums and continues to grow in popularity as a jazz master all up and down the West Coast and in Canada. But the best part is, he's a proud citizen of Tacoma and lives in the Proctor District. Catch his act at Maxwell's in downtown Tacoma every Friday night!

photo by Dave Prill
2:45 - 3:45

KIMBALL AND THE FUGITIVES  This trio seems to do it all and do it extremely well, offering the truely American music you love and bringing back all those good memories of summers past. With classic rock, rhythm and blues, jazz, swing, rockabilly, country and more, Kimball Conant and the crew keep the good times rolling. Come hear why this band has been so popular throughout the Northwest for years. Don't miss them!

4:00 - 5:00

MORGAN AND GRAVES This amazing duo from Seattle is known far and wide for their performances of a variety of tunes played on guitar and fiddle, plus great vocals. Ranging from traditional mountain music to modern folk tunes, rock, jazz and captivating originals, their sound is one you will fall in love with. Be sure you take advantage of this chance to hear Morgan and Graves so you can learn why they are so much in demand.

See you at the Proctor Arts Fest, Saturday Aug. 4, in Tacoma.