The banjo reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!
6661 reviews in the archive.
I am a new banjo player in Oregon. I've had trouble finding a teacher. I tried some Murphy Method (learning by ear and example) instructional DVD's and they really worked for me. So when I saw that Murphy and Casey Henry were putting on a Women's Banjo Camp in Winchester VA I decided to go. I am so glad I did. I learned a lot, and the instruction was clear and easy to follow. They paid attention to each camper's skill and interest, and worked to help each of us make good strides. And it was so dang much fun! Great people, yummy food, awesome performances. I can't wait for next year. I highly recommend this camp.
Overall Rating: 10
I went to Pete's camp last to learn about being in a band. I had played for years and been jamming for several in addition to having attended excellent banjo camps for several years. I had not experienced the special skills of playing in a small group where everyone has a role.
Overall, I would rate it the best musical learning experience I have had with the greatest effect on my overall musical life. It surpassed all my goals. I came to camp barely able to sing a song, unable to harmonize predictably and with no idea of band mechanics, working together, moving on stage etc., with unformed ideas about kick offs, taking solos etc.
Using a highly structured format with daily harmony singing sessions, daily instrument sessions, daily band rehearsal, some general bluegrass learning, I became familiar with all these things. To put it simply, by continuing to use the things I learned at camp, (and practicing), within 4 months, I was transformed from the guy who sits at the back of the jam, never leading songs, shy about harmonizing, and an inconsistent solo and rhythm player, to someone who can lead the jam, sing lead, harmonize and fit in. In small group sessions, I now can play with semi-pros comfortably, help design or guide the harmony and have a better sense of how to make a small group work.
My wife who was initially a supportive disbeliever in how far I could go, now rates me higher than locals who have played out for years. I am truly amazed and inspired.
The staff at this camp were all excellent. I make special mention of Hereford Percy who spent lots of extra time with jams sharing great musical knowledge and inspiration. Doug Lindsay also spent lots of extra time in extended jam sessions. Another feature of the camp was the staff''s ability to take those who had not had band experience and turn them into functioning band members in such a short time. They were available to give special help in learning to do harmony arranging and addressing other special requests.
I plan to attend the upcoming camp Jan 2018 with a small group to further refine my individual and group skills.
One important thing, while all the staff are amazing and diverse musicians, camp activities focus entirely on bluegrass ( except very rarely at jams). While some ( including me initially) felt this was limiting, in the end I see that to achieve the goals in 1 week, such focus was needed. Once the skills are learned they can be transferred to other genres without a lot of difficulty.
Overall Rating: 10
I was fortunate to attend this workshop held this past Saturday at the Tree of Life Center in Clarksville, Tennesse. There were nine students, plus the two fine teachers, Don Wayne Reno and Jason Skinner. This was a half-day, four hour workshop, and the format was appropriately informal. Don Wayne and Jason demonstrated a variety of classic Don Reno tunes and techniques. Everyone was encouraged to ask their questions about specific tunes and techniques.
Cost: At $100.00, this was a bargain.
Quality of Teaching: Over-the-top! Don Wayne learned from the master himself, and Jason Skinner has devoted decades to a systematic study of Reno's catalog of technique. Both are excellent at explanation and demonstration.
The Crowd: Nice mix of folks, including some from faraway. Also, probably a 60 year age range from youngest-to-oldest, and all of them stalwart Reno fans.
Skill Level: You don't have to know any Reno banjo to benefit from this workshop, but, at the same time, this isn't for a complete beginner. While not all of Reno's material was necessarily hard to play, his approach was complex, and it could be intimidating for the novice.
If you get a chance to attend one of these workshops, go for it. You will not regret it.
Overall Rating: 10
I have attended Pete Wernick's first 2 one week-long Bluegrass Band Camps (not to be confused with the Jam Camp, although there are similarities) in Boulder, Colorado. The first one was in January 2015 and the second was in January 2016. This review is a largely cut and pasted from a forum post I wrote shortly after the first camp in 2015. I have added additional comments about going as part of a gigging band at the 2016 camp versus going more-or-less solo (an old banjo camp buddy suggested we go as duo, which we did but we had not played together since the last banjo camp) as I did in the 2015 camp further on in the review (starting at the bolded area). The band camp is different than the jam camp and a new category for Pete. Many of you might be familiar with his "Wernick Jam Camp", mostly trying to get Novice players to learn the fundamentals of playing together. The Band camp was squarely aimed at getting actual performing bands and groups to polish their skills. If you had an actual performing professional band of 4 or more it was $300 per person. Partial groups were $450 per person and did not have to be gigging bands. Individuals were $600 each and Pete let people know up front that he had a limit since he did not want it to become unbalanced with too many of one or the other instrument. It took the place of the 3 one week long Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Banjo Camps that he had been doing every January in Boulder for decades. I had attended Intermediate Banjo the three consecutive years before this and to be honest was not planning on going back unless I was ready for Advanced, if I ever felt that confident. Pete not only had himself and his wife, Joan, but many other excellent musician/coaches to help with instrument skills not only groups of each instrument but also one on one attention; vocal skills especially harmony singing, the biggest challenge, and song arrangements, breaks and performance. I still got to sit in on two of Pete's Banjo classes and got to do two One-on-Ones with him as well as getting direction on Bass, my first ever mandolin lesson and two songwriting classes/forums. Even though there were only two solid full performing bands "Sugar Creek" and "The Hippie Buckaroos" and many partial bands, they did a good job of shoehorning the various different players and partial bands into groups. A friend of mine from Banjo camp had asked me back in October to join him as a partial band and I did, him on banjo me on bass. I did not think a two banjo band would fly. They paired us up with a guitar, fiddle, mandolin and another banjo player from Germany. After several days of picking, singing arranging and polishing we had a Friday night concert with paying attendees as well as campers packing the house. We spent Saturday reviewing the game film and doing various other last minute One-on-Ones, jams and classes. I got more from it than I have any other Bluegrass or instrument classes including 4 years at Rockygrass Academy and Pete's Banjo camps. In November 2015 I joined "The Hippie Buckaroos" as the banjo/lead guitar and one of the first things we did was sign up for the 2016 Band Camp. I have to say it was better and even more useful going with a performing band and probably speeded up our "gelling as a band" process. I would highly recommend it to anybody who wants to polish their picking and singing abilities and improve their Bluegrass band skills but I got more from it when I actually went with a band. I would say it ended up becoming a Band camp because the players who got put together became a band even though we did not start out that way.
I have also included a review I copied and pasted below (in italics) from Fiddle Hangout from the fiddle player in my group, Jack.
"Hello Everyone, I wanted to share with you Fiddler's my experience last week at Pete Wernick's Bluegrass Class in Boulder, CO.
The Camp started last Sunday evening with a Social get together but then the Camp started in earnest on Monday morning. Pete (Banjo of course) was assisted by his wife Joan, humorist and Guitar instructor, all around good guy and multi-instrumentalist, Hereford Percy, and a portion of Pete's fellow Long Road Home band members, Jordan Ramsey teaching Mandolin, Martin Gilmore teaching Guitar and Songwriting (man, can Martin sing) and Justin Hoffenberg teaching Fiddle (Boy was I lucky) . I believe Pete is temporarily out of Long Road Home due to his National and International Tour with Hot Rize. The Camp ran Sunday evening through the following Saturday. Each day began in the large group with pearls of wisdom from Pete. Pete would then teach the group a song, verse and melody, then we'd play it with Pete calling out breaks for each group of instruments. I was the only Fiddler at camp so that pretty well isolated me and forced me to pay attention and step up when the Fiddle break was called. After about an hour and a half in the big group with Pete, we broke into 5 different bands. Of the 5 bands, 2 or 3 were actual bands who came as a group to work on their stuff. The rest of us were freelancer but everyone found a good fit. After lunch we broke into groups by instruments for an hour with our respective instructors. The nice thing about being the only Fiddler was I got a private lesson from Justin every day. Justin is an excellent Fiddler and a great teacher and a really intelligent young Man. After our lesson we would meet again as a large group and work on singing three part harmonies. That was superb. Not only the singing but being taught by professional Bluegrass musicians how to structure a three part harmony. We did these things each day. I'm afraid I'm getting a little long winded so I'll close with a couple of other items. Friday night we had the student and faculty concert. The concert was publicized and we ended up playing before a full house which included paying customers. It was a great week and I learned a ton. I spent my first 4 plus years of learning Fiddle on nothing more than Fiddle tunes. Recently I've begun trying to put what I've learned with Fiddle tunes into Bluegrass songs which is my first love. I would encourage you Fiddlers to consider Pete's Bluegrass Camp. You can log on to Drbanjo.com and check out future camps. Look around the site while you are there. There's a ton of great information to go through. OK, stick a fork in me, I'm done."
Overall Rating: 9
Dan Levenson does it again! Claw Camp East 2016 was wonderful! This was my second Claw Camp (my first was Claw Camp East 2015), and I have returned home feeling inspired and anxious to play more. I have truly never been so engaged by an instructor. Part of Camp’s success is that the number of attendees is limited, so Dan can give each camper his personal attention. Not only that, but Dan has the great ability to discern the best way for individuals to absorb information, and tailors his teaching style and the material he covers to match the individual. He frequently pushes you for feedback, so both you and he can stay in-line with your goals for the weekend. And the setting is perfect. Jamming on the front porch of the Homestead is just the way the old-timers would have done it. It’s definitely a great experience, and I look forward to doing it again.
Overall Rating: 10
An overall fun three day event. Great bands and workshops throughout the weekend. Fun events, fishing, and water park for the kids. Camping leads to great jam sessions. Typically hosted over the Father's Day weekend, but I believe the organizers are shifting to the weekend before or after to increase attendance.
For Californian's, the Huck Finn Jubilee is a real treat.
Overall Rating: 8
This was my first camp of any kind so my review may be different than someone else.
If you live in Texas or close and are looking for a good camp, I cannot recommend this more. I played in bands for 15 years but have been out of it for 25 years and needed to get comfortable before I ventured back into the jam scene and this was just the ticket.
Of course with Alan Munde there, how could you go wrong. Also Eddie Collins who is a great banjo teacher as well. Both were as down to earth as you could ask for and open to just about anything banjo.
An added treat was getting to jam with the likes of Billy Bright, Dale Morris and a real surprise, Jeff Plankenhorn on Dobro. What a great picker and just great guy, as they all were.
The registration process was a bit odd as I thought I was booking a private room then found out it was double occupancy so I would have had to pay double to have my wife with me. Once I figured it out, I just booked a room offsite and HCAMP refunded the money I paid for the room.
Basically it's instrument classes in the mornings, structured jams in the afternoons and wide open jamming in the evenings. If you are looking to become comfortable playing with other instruments, you'll be at the right place.
Got some nice little treats like stickers, a swiss army knife and some rags for cleaning your instrument. The facility is great, it's an old resort but built out of rocks like many things in Kerville Tx. Deer everywhere. They have camp spots but it's basically a parking lot with hookups. Okay for a self contained trailer or motorhome, not so much for a popup or tent, but is just fine if you don't want to pay for a higher priced room.
All in all, I would, and will, do it again and highly recommend it.
Overall Rating: 10
Really wonderful festival! Great lineup in 2015, great venue (beautiful scenery, shade (!)), EXCELLENT food at Graves Mountain Lodge on the grounds)! Camping if you want to camp. Also, not too crowded. Oddly, there is no other review yet for this festival, in its 23rd year in 2015. Check it out at gravesmountainlodge.com. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 10
I got a great birthday present yesterday, a chance to see this one man show at the Stackner Cabaret Theater, Milwaukee,WI where Stephan Wade was performing The Beautiful Music All Around Us.
This is how the Stackner Theater describes it: Legendary musician and 2013 Grammy-nominee Stephen Wade brings his near-lifetime exploration of Southern musical traditions to the Stackner. Best known for his long-running one-man show, Banjo Dancing, Stephen's newest piece is based on his award-winning recent book that uncovers the largely hidden but surprisingly influential makers of iconic American folksong. Drawn from the celebrated Library of Congress field recordings of the 1930s and '40s, this exhilarating theatrical concert features spoken word, projected images, and live music-making. The Beautiful Music All Around Us is guaranteed to be a performance unlike any you have ever seen.
Mr. Wade had a plethora of instruments on stage, all of which he used to tell his story, many of which were the actual instruments of the musicians he learned from and talked about in the show. He even had a mountain banjo that Frank Profitt made. Some of the songs that he played or were part of the production were, Bonaparte's Retreat, Shortenin' Bread, Coal Creek March, and Goodbye Old Paint. His skills on the banjo are second to none!
The way he weaved the history of the original performances and performers and how their music came to be, really brought the them to life and connected dots you never knew existed.
I suspect that many banjo players and builders are actually historians in a way and by building and playing their music and the music of others, it keeps tradition and a little bit of history alive. Something that gets passed down to a new generation. That is pretty much the focus of Stephan Wades work. By telling the stories of others in his show, he keeps past musicians and their songs alive for all to enjoy.
If you get a chance to see this show, I would definitely recommend it. The price may be a little steep at $65, but maybe a birthday present to yourself will rationalize that price away.
Overall Rating: 9
In October, I attended the 1st “Build an Appalachian Banjo with Pisgah Banjo Company” workshop at the Warren Wilson College Folk Shop in Asheville, NC. It was one of the most fun, challenging and educational weeks of my life, and I came home with a banjo that is not only beautiful and fantastic-sounding (comparable to Pisgah’s Ramber model), but one that I’m extremely proud to say that I built myself.
I have been restoring old banjos for a couple of years, but had limited knowledge. I had been wanting to learn enough to build my own banjo, so when I saw that this workshop was being offered, I immediately signed up. As it turns out, I learned everything I had wanted to know, and more.
Considering the workshop was only 6 days, I had expected that we would be using power shapers and jigs for things like carving necks. However, Patrick handed out rasps and cabinet scrapers, and taught us how to hand-shape a banjo neck. We steam-bent rim plies, did our own fret work, etc. It was a lot of ground to cover in 6 days, especially since some of us (10 of us took the workshop) had little or no woodworking experience. However, Patrick amazingly kept us all on track, so we had 11 completed banjos at the end of the 6 days, and I think everyone was very pleased with what we accomplished. Patrick and Adam (who also works with Pisgah Banjos) were extremely helpful and really gave away their banjo-building “secrets.”
The one aspect that I really appreciated about the workshop is that it wasn’t just a lesson in working in a banjo factory; we actually learned enough to go home and build a professional-quality banjo with very basic tools. I'm already planning out my next banjo.
I should also mention that Bill at Warren Wilson College was a great host, and he and his wife went above and beyond in providing us with lunches and snacks for the week.
WWC and Pisgah Banjos are offering the workshop again March 16-22, 2014. You can see some photos of the class on PBCO’s facebook page, and I’ll try to upload a few on my BHO homepage as well.
Overall Rating: 10
The 2014 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival was my first music festival.
I bought the early bird full festival/camping ticket but, not being a camper, I found a place to stay down the street. As I got to the festival the first night (open only to campers) I was intimidated. It was bigger than I had expected. It had rained the day before so it was a little soggy too.
The weather was PERFECT. I know they can't control the weather, but I really lucked out with the mild temps, sunshine and breeze (and lack of rain).
In no time, I found that the folks were just great. The booths, the concessions, the artists and volunteers all made me want to come back again in 2015.
The first day I tried to plan my entire day out, see every band, attend every banjo event, etc. I quickly learned how exhausting lugging around a 12 lb banjo up and down the hill would be. Once I relaxed and say the bands I really wanted to see, attended the banjo/slow picking events I really wanted to attend.... I was able to settle in, spend my funny money and enjoy it all.
The volunteers and workers and Grey Fox staff were top-notch. They answered my questions and gave advice.
The booths and food was great. I could get a deli sandwich or crepe or Thai. I could hydrate with water or grab a Gatorade or a Diet Coke.
The artists were wonderful too. I had not expected them to be so "down to earth" but I still keep in touch with a few of the pro banjo players. I really liked the bands, and the variety gave me a taste of main-stream bluegrass and some of the fringe.
I attended the banjo workshops and the slow jams (I'm a new picker) and people were so inviting and accepting over all different skill levels.
There are only TWO things I would do to improve (in my mind) Grey Fox. First, I would start the parking in the Car Corral at the bottom of the hill instead of the top. But having everyone drive to the top of the hill, they're needlessly messing up the rest of the field (which makes it hard for sports cards on slippery/muddy grass). It also punished the early birds who have to walk up and down the hill (but no ticks on me!). Maybe there's a reason they do it they way they do, but I think starting the parking at the base of the hill will preserve the grass a little longer.
Second.... I should have won that Grey Fox custom Stelling banjo!!!! OK.... maybe it's just a dream, but I had a really good feeling I was going to win it!
Overall Rating: 10
Just got back from the Midwest Banjo Camp. This was my first camp. Everyone was encouraging and focused on helping newbies and experienced players alike grow and develop. The variety of class offerings was incredible. I wish some of the courses could have been repeated over the weekend as some choices were hard to make. The quality of instruction was spectacular and exactly what you would expect with world-class players and teachers. Although some classes were fairly large, instructors worked hard to provide individual attention. If anything, faculty downplayed their own teaching materials, which were available for purchase. A particular compliment goes out to Bill Evans who I saw help a "camper in need". The faculty concerts were amazing and it looked like they were having a blast. The accommodations were great and of course the cost is a bargain. Highly recommended.
Overall Rating: 10
I've been attending the Florida Fiddlers Convention (hosted by the Florida State Fiddlers Association - FSFA) for about 20 years now. It's one of our favorites to attend. Always a good, high caliber guest artist offering workshops, concerts, demonstrations, and usually playing for dances at night. This years guest artist will be Dan Gellert, a super-fine old time banjo and fiddle player. The Convention will be held October 24-26 in 2014, at O'Leno State Park in High Springs, FL. FSFA's website has all the details at www.floridafiddler.org. It's not just for fiddlers . . . banjo players will enjoy this festival, too. Plenty of jamming going on in the campground and around the festival events, plus you can put together a pick-up band (or bring your band) and enter the Stringband Contest. It's open to all ages, but requires a home-baked pie for entry fee. What a hoot. Ribbons are awarded to first, second and third place winners (and of course, a pie). Friday night features a pot-luck meet & greet dinner in the dining hall, and Saturday's meals are included (for a fee), or you can cook for yourself if staying in the campground. There are also some primitive bunkhouse accommodations if you prefer. Should be a great turnout this year considering the guest artist, and October is always the best weather for festivals in Florida!
Overall Rating: 10
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Overall Rating: 5
went to see Peter Rowan this weekend at a club in charleston s.c. It was great Keith Little played killer banjo .his new cd is very good.highly recommend seeing them and getting a cd if you get a chance.
Overall Rating: 10
My first camp. Superior experience. Very well organized and we were all well fed. Enough instructors so if one wasn't "right" for you, there were other choices. The instructors are all superstars and the most personable, likeable and approachable people you could want to meet. I learned more than just how to play better, I learned about music and the joy of playing. Very accepting of beginners, like me. I'm going again next year. Highly recommended.
Overall Rating: 10
I attended the Midwest Banjo Camp in Olivet Michigan at Oliver college, I had more fun than you expected, I had Janet Beazley and Casey Henry for instructors, they were nothing but superb, and they made me sing also, it was sooooo much fun I can hardly wait for nexr year
Overall Rating: 10
What impressed me overall was how well run the whole operation was. Who knows, maybe there was total chaos behind the scenes but from the con-goers perspective everything looked like it came off without a hitch. It takes a lot of planning to make it appear that smooth, so kudos to Ken & Stan for that.
Their program book included names and emails of the participants along with their city-- a nice feature to reconnect with people after the camp. Lots of Chicago people at MBC. Chicago seems like it's becoming quite the hub for old-time folk music, and the Old Town School of Folk Music is a big part of that, I think.
The overall vibe was nice and relaxed, at least with the people I was hanging out with. No cliques, sit anywhere with anyone and listen to their stories. I liked that. At least it was that way with the old-time folks-- god knows what the bluegrass people get up to. ;) I ran into a gentleman in his eighties who started to learn the banjo that weekend. I wanted to give him a hug.
Friday I attended The Three Basic Rolls with Casey Henry and Singing With Your Banjo: Make Your Instrument a Duet Partner with Joe Newberry. The roll class was nice, some of it was review, but that's okay, too. Loved Joe Newberry's class so much. What a nice man. Even though I got permission first, I think I weirded him out a little when I started to record with my phone but all turned out fine in the end. We sang a bit together and I met people there that I ran into over and over at the con.
Impressed by the variety of banjos people possess-- some of the participants have some *serious* hardware!
Friday and Saturday night the faculty puts on a concert-- two songs each, although some people "cheat" a little by doing a medley. Both nights were terrific, but by the second hour both days your brain starts to fry a little bit ("Oh, another banjo master at the top of their game. Hooray.") And it wasn't just banjos either. Lots of fiddles, guitar, upright bass, some dobro and an ekonting. Mike Compton got a good workout on the mandolin as well.
Since I had such a good time singing with Joe, so I went to the faculty-led jam co-hosted by him. Joe Newberry acted like he couldn't be happier to hear Angeline the Baker one more time, his co-presenter a little less so. Whatever. I guess there's only so many times you can hear Fly Away My Pretty Little Miss before you snap.
Saturday's jam hosted by Cathy Barton Para, Dave Para and Alan Jabbour was so much fun. Jabbour is a walking encyclopedia of old-time knowledge, and Dave did a thing where we would play Arkansas Traveler, stop after the A part and someone would tell a banjo joke, then we'd go right into the B part. ("How do you know the stage is level? The banjo player has drool coming out of both sides of his mouth.") It's really hard to play and laugh at the same time!
Drum circles and old-time jams have things in common. Some people just like to go as fast as they can and other like to play fast and slow, and stop to sing or tell jokes. I can't play fast, but even if I could I'd still like to hang out with the second group more, they're more fun.
My favorite instructors were Cathy Barton Para, Riley Baugus and Joe Newberry. Riley Baugus is a Round Peak enthusiast who doesn't tab anything (to the consternation of some) preferring you record him instead. Trying my hand on some Dock Boggs tunes now. It's amazing how tuning the 5th string down a half step to f# can make what you play sound almost wistful.
I especially loved taking classes with Cathy. In contrast to Riley, she tabs out everything. I love her enthusiasm for Grandpa Jones, Lilly Mae Ledford, Uncle Dave Macon and the rest. So many new ideas and songs to explore!
Cathy Barton Para plays clawhammer on a resonator banjo and it sounds great. Just a cursory scratching of the surface reveals just how many old-time musicians played on resonator banjos. Simple idea, big revelation for me.
So just a great con all around. I learned so much that'll take me ages to unpack. About the only thing I'd do differently would be to bring my own set of sheets. The college's were not great. Oh, and bring your own blankets if you're a delicate flower like me and require more than a tiny scratchy wool scrap to cover yourself.
Overall Rating: 9
I have attended the Ghost Ranch Bluegrass Camp for three of the four years it has been in existence. As a chronic low intermediate banjo player, I wanted to increase my speed, improve my singing, and get to be a better ensemble player, and the faculty has been a great help to me in these endeavors. Ghost Ranch (the home of Georgia O'Keeffe) is an incredibly beautiful, serene place in Northern New Mexico about 2 1/2 hours from Albuquerque.
The faculty has done an incredible job in bringing a "family feeling" to this camp. Mike Finders (guitar), Erin Youngberg (bass and vocals), Aaron Youngberg (banjo) and Ryan Drickey (fiddle) play in the Fort Collins, CO band Finders and Youngberg. Gregg Daigle (guitar) heads the Gregg Daigle Band in Albuquerque. Matt Flinner (mandolin) is a Grammy Award Nominee from Nashville TN. I cannot say enough about how warm, friendly and encouraging they all are. Campers feel that they are not only instructors but friends.
Ghost Ranch Bluegrass Camp will be an annual event each May (the weekend before Memorial Day weekend). If you are a "closet picker" or someone who wants to become a better jam player, I strongly recommend this camp.
Overall Rating: 10
Once again, the Banjo Camp Munich was a great success! Great teachers like Bill Evans and Jürgen Biller, John Dowling and Rüdiger Helbig and the organization by super Adiaha contributed to the success!
It is highly recommended and I'm looking forward to the camp 2013!
Overall Rating: 10