Monday, March 9, 2009 @3:14:39 PM
I have just returned from the most exciting four days I have spent so far this year. I took part in Pete Wernick’s Bluegrass Jam Camp in Argyle, TX. The camp preceeded the Argyle Bluegrass Festival, which I also attended. Pete and his wife, Joan, plus a local instructor from Hutchins, Dennis Bailey, taught us how to be effective “jammers” at the camp. On the last day of the camp, we all got to get up and perform for each other. It was a great experience. This was my second year at the camp and it was just as much fun this time as it was last time.
This year, I brought along my banjo, guitar, bass and my new resonator guitar. People joked with me that I needed a “roadie” to help me bring all my stuff in and out each day. Several of my fellow campers helped me and I appreciate that. I had hoped to work more with the banjo and guitar this time around, but we were lacking in bass players for the small group jams, so I ended up playing bass most of the time, but that’s OK. I have played bass since I was a teenager, so I didn’t have to struggle too much. I did get plenty of guitar and resonator guitar time when all the campers were together in the same room. My banjo didn’t see much action except during a couple of coffee breaks. I guess I’ll have to work on the banjo stuff more on my own time.
When I was not at camp, some of my fellow campers and I could be found back at the hotel jamming in the lobby. On the first night, it was just us campers playing and singing. The second night, many of the professional performers who were booked to play at the Argyle Bluegrass Festival were arriving at the hotel. Some of them came down and joined in our jam. That added a whole new level of energy and excitement to the experience. By the third night, the hotel lobby was filled with performers, both amateur and professional.
One of the groups to come down and play along with us was the “Carolina Chocolate Drops.” They are an African-American group of three who are multi-instrumentalists and amazingly talented. Prior to coming to Argyle, I had researched them to see what I might expect of their performances. My initial discoveries led me to believe they didn’t play much that sounded like Bluegrass, so I was prepared to give them a pass and find something else to do at the festival when they took the stage. However, when they came down and jammed with us at the hotel, my whole opinion of them turned completely around. The first of the CCD to show up was “Dom” and he is an unpredictable ball of energy. You never know what he’s going to do next, but you can be sure it will sound really good. Dom started by playing “the bones” to one of our songs. Next, he pulled out a harmonica and took some solos and sang along with us. Dom also plays banjo, many types of guitars and other noise-making instruments. He also plays one mean jug! Next to join us was “Rhiannon” who is the only female member of the group. She is an experienced opera singer who plays fiddle, banjo, kazoo plus many things, but my goodness can that lady sing! Rhiannon was pregnant and showing a bit and we could see that she was tired, but she spent a lot of quality time with us and enhanced our whole jamming experience far beyond my expectations. She sang and played many traditional Bluegrass and Gospel tunes with us and on the tunes she didn’t seem to know, she still offered up some very nice fiddle solos.
The next day, I got to see them perform live at the Argyle Bluegrass Festival and their performance was absolutely amazing. I encourage anyone who is willing to take the time to “Google” or search “YouTube” for anything about the “Carolina Chocolate Drops” and see what this group of really nice and talented musicians can do. If you get a chance to see them in person like I did, I think you will be just as amazed as I was by their energy and style.
The remainder of my time at Argyle was spent visiting with my fellow campers and some of the famous people staying at the hotel and watching all the wonderful performances at the festival. I did manage to spend about an hour in one of the “jamming rooms” at the festival and got to play some songs with total strangers. Many of the guys in the room were much more talented than me, but that only helps me to discover what else I am capable of doing as I try to keep up with them. I hope to have more experiences like these in the future.