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Argyle Jam Camp and Bluegrass Festival 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

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.
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Playing Since: 2005
Experience Level: Novice

[Jamming] [Socializing]

Occupation: Telecom Technician

Gender: Male
Age: 62

My Instruments:
Washburn B-17, Fender FB300, Supertone open back

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Too many to mention!

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Created 9/26/2006
Last Visit 2/22/2015

I have always liked the sound of Bluegrass music ever since I was a kid growing up in Southern Indiana, but never tried to play it until I got into my 40's. I grew up as a “band geek” starting in junior high school and all the way into my first year of college – my primary instruments being in the percussion family, but I also dabbled in brass and woodwinds. Also, in the mid-1970’s I taught myself to play electric bass by ear while listening to records and 8-track tapes of various bands I liked at the time. I progressed to 6 string electric and 12 string acoustic guitar. I played in several bands that met in garages and basements around my home town. Playing music was fun, but most of the guys I played with seemed to be more interested in mind-altering experiences and less about putting together a good sound. I didn’t want to do drugs since at the time I was interested in a career in law enforcement, so refusing to partake meant I didn’t get invited back to play very often. I sold all of my instruments in the mid-1980’s to help purchase my first motorcycle. But, I missed making music and after playing nothing for almost 20 years, I hinted to my wife that I would like to learn to play the banjo some day. For Christmas in 2005, my wife bought me my first banjo, a Fender FB300. I immediately went to work teaching myself to play Scruggs-style 3-finger picking and was a huge help to me. It has been a great place to locate tablature for the songs I want to learn. My wife surprised me on Christmas 2006 with a new Washburn B-17, which is now my primary banjo. I have also come into possession of an old Supertone, open back banjo, which I have personally restored and play from time to time. I play primarily for my own amusement and have no aspirations of playing professionally. I hope to find other Bluegrass enthusiasts to share knowledge and experience with on this site. I am employed in the electric utility business and I spend a lot of time on the road. I currently spend most of my drive time listening to Bluegrass Junction on SiriusXM channel 61. I get lots of ideas of songs I'd like to learn to play this way. Now, if I could only find enough practice time...

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