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My adventures at Bela Camp!

Sunday, December 24, 2023

As I write this, it is only a day until I board the great silver bird and head into the horizon, bound for the Blue Ridge Banjo Camp in North Carolina. Holy shite! Now that it's so close, I'm feeling more jumpy than a cat in a cucumber patch. 

This is not just any old music camp; this is the one that Bela runs. Yeah, that guy—  Bela Fleck, the love guru of banjo.

I assume that if you're reading this you already know who he is, but just in case someone slipped in here who is banjo-illiterate, I'll take a minute to explain: Bela Fleck is a demi-god who has descended from the bluegrass heavens to awaken us to a new banjo Renaissance, a new age where stereotypes of large-foreheaded people making chicken noises are passé. He is the light and the lord of five strings, and if we renounce our sinful three-chord ways and welcome him into our hearts, we may be allowed into Bluegrass Heaven.

OK, now that you know who Bela Fleck is, we can move on. 

Luckily, I won't be going to this thing alone. My banjo student Mitt will be meeting me in Asheville, NC, and then we'll have a chance to go over some of the songs we were sent to learn. These are no typical banjo songs. Oh noooo, these are songs picked by the same guy who plays in a band with a dude named Future Man. 

Apparently we're going to be jamming on such hillbilly standards as "All Blues," "Dona Nobis Pacem," and the Star Wars Theme. Yep, I feel right at home already. As someone who has actually gotten evicted from a traditional bluegrass jam for yelling "sex, drugs, Flatt and Scruggs!", the fact that I'll be sitting around with a bunch of banjo players rocking Star Wars music is quite intriguing. 

However, there are some things that are causing me real jitters, and this involves my only real phobias: fear of flying and DJs. It's hard to say which one causes more angst, but I definitely have more nightmares about a guy playing a concert on his laptop. Blech.

However, climbing into a metal tube full of humans and then hurtling through the sky at 600 mph seems extremely unnatural, so I've been processing it the best I can. 

I chatted with my informal therapist yesterday about it (the old guy in the coffee shop who looks like Gandalf), and he sat me down and gazed into my soul. "Listen, son, I can see the future, and I can tell you that your time is not yet," he intoned.

"Okay, but what about the guy sitting next to me?" I asked.

"Huh? What guy?"

"The guy next to me. What if it's his time?"

A pained look came over Gandalf's face. "Yeah, okay, but it's not your time," he said haltingly. "Understand?"

I pressed on. "But if it's the fate of the guy next to me to die in a plane crash, and on this plane, then I'm going down with him... right?"

Gandalf shook his head. "I need another coffee," he sighed and shuffled off.

Well so much for therapy. It looks like I'll be becoming familiar with the drink menu aboard American Airlines instead. Now, if I can just remember which of my friends has some Xanax.

Packing. Yes, it was time to start packing, but I had a few more Zoom lessons to do before I could focus on that. However, I was looking forward to those because luckily both of the people I was seeing had been to the camp before, and I had questions.

First, I saw my new student June, who had been to several camps herself and was a glowing ball of positivity.

"You'll have a great time," she gushed, "no matter what group you end up in!"

"So, what are the different groups?" I asked. There was so much I didn’t know.

"Oh yeah, they have a system where they name the different ability groups after trees. I'm walnut!"

A lightbulb went off over my head.

So that’s why my sheet music has the word “maple” on it!

"Huh? You're a walnut?"

"Yes, I think it's the one right below maple!" She laughed. "I think the idea was to be vague so we don't understand how we are grouped, but the campers eventually figured it out."

"Oh," I said, "so what's the top level then?"  I didn't know why, but I needed to know.

"I think ebony is top, then mahogany and maple, and then maybe walnut, or birch. But I'm not sure that's the order."

"So I'm between mahogany and birch?" My head was starting to swim.

June giggled. "Wait, now I remember, it goes ebony, mahogany, maple, walnut, and birch... I think".

"So I'm in the middle? Like, intermediate?" I muddled, suddenly feeling resentful towards trees in general. 

"No, birch is the only intermediate group, everyone else is advanced."

I gave up. "Okay, thanks for explaining this." We finished our lesson with no more mention of arboreal matters. My next student was Joff, another veteran of the Blue Ridge Banjo Camp. I made a silent vow not to ask him about the tree system, but 15 minutes into the lesson I broke down.

"So hey, I have a question: is it true they group us according to tree names at the camp?"

Joff snorted. "Yep, they do. It's so the students don't know  what level they are assigned to."

"Oh, okay. My other student said it goes ebony, mahogany, maple, walnut, and birch."

Joff snorted again. "Ha! No, that's totally wrong. It goes birch, ebony, walnut, maple, mahogany!"

I began to feel a sharp pain in my left eye.

"I'm maple," I blurted, sounding like Groot saying "I am Groot!" in Guardians of the Galaxy.

"Maple, ha! I'm sure it's no accident you're the tree that looks the most like a pot leaf!"

"Not helpful," I growled. My resentment toward trees was growing. We managed to finish the lesson without further mention of this, but I was deeply unsettled. 

They're using a random assortment of trees to keep us in the dark, to divide and conquer. And somehow I'm maple—somewhere in the middle but maybe closer to the top, but maybe not. This stinks of conspiracy.

Later that day I finished packing, and then devoted the rest of the evening to hanging out with my girlfriend and not thinking about camp. Or trees!

... Episode Ii coming soon, stay tuned!

..........

If you liked this story, you can enjoy more madcap adventures in my book "Banjos in Babylon", which Banjo Newsletter calls "an amusing journey!" Click HERE to get your copy now.

And if you already have the book, then you can still send me some gas and coffee money HERE, thanks for supporting yer banjo coach!

Be sure to visit Braeden's various sites here:

JamAlong website

JamAlong on YouTube

JamAlong on Facebook


 

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https://jamalong.org/
Playing Since: 1968
Experience Level: Expert/Professional

Interests:
[Teaching] [Jamming] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Banjo teacher

Gender: Male
Age: 55

My Instruments:
Banjo, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, Dobro

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Bela Fleck

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Created 3/12/2016
Last Visit 12/24/2023

Braeden Lewis teaches banjo online and runs several well known music businesses, including: www.jamalong.org www.stealthstand.com www.jamalongtranscriptions.com www.youtube.com/@JamAlong www.facebook.com/jamalongmusicmethod He welcomes all calls, emails or texts, his cell # is 530-566-3629

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