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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!

6905 reviews in the archive.

Midwest Banjo Camp Event (Festival, Camp, etc) Reviews

Submitted by DrBillM (see all reviews from this person) on 6/12/2014

Overall Comments

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

Submitted by john622 (see all reviews from this person) on 8/6/2013

Overall Comments

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

Submitted by Mary Schons (see all reviews from this person) on 6/26/2013

Overall Comments

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

Submitted by LaurenLK (see all reviews from this person) on 12/6/2011

Overall Comments

I see that this event hasn't been reviewed for a couple of years, so I thought I might add an updated version.

I attended the 2011 Midwest Banjo Camp -- first of all, this was my very first banjo camp, so I had nothing to compare it to. Also, I'd never even picked up a banjo until about two months before this camp -- and I did that on a whim, taking a weekend workshop just for fun while on vacation in NC. I just fell in love. So when I saw a Camp in my own home state, I signed up right away.

Voyageur has pretty much everything right, in my opinion. Olivette is a very small college (all classes in one building! -- which makes it great for Camp), in a very small town. Dorms are dorms -- personally, were I sending a son/daughter to this school, I'd ask someone where all my $$ were going, as they aren't going to the dorms! But as Voyageur says, all you do is sleep and shower there. There is a good variety of food -- I was not so impressed with the quality (but I'm picky, being a gourmet chef myself). Pretty much everyone seemed to enjoy it.

This is an INTENSE camp -- you eat, breathe and sleep banjo! I woke up on Sunday morning, and the fingers of my right hand were picking rolls on the top of my sleeping bag! But this can be good -- after this very intensive weekend, I had my annual physical the very next day -- my BP was lower than its been in years! Playing the banjo is good for your health!

Clearly, I was a novice -- so novice I didn't even recognize some of the great names we had as teachers (I've learned since then). However, I've years and years in education/training, and I know a good instructor when I see one -- and these folks were the BEST. Good players, you bet -- Mike Sumner won the Banjo championship two times running -- but also the most wonderful teachers!

Our novice group became quite connected. In no time at all we welcomed our instructors to "the delinquent class"! Instruction was overwhelming at first, -- we thought Mr. Sumner was really dumping on us -- but by Sunday it all came together and made so much sense! We had classes too from Janet Beazley and Murphy Henry -- as a woman, I truly appreciated these fine female leaders in Banjoism. They were wonderful and gave us different ideas about what we could do.

I thought I might be quite an oddity -- female, and an older one too! I wasn't -- folks of all ages and abilities were there, and it was a great community. I think every single one of us walked away feeling like we were taking home precious and exciting learning and new friendships.

I expect to attend in 2012 and I'd urge anyone elsewhere to consider this Camp (we had banjoists from Germany, the D.C. area, the Pacific Northwest -- just about anywhere you can name).

Overall Rating: 10

Submitted by Voyageur (see all reviews from this person) on 6/7/2009

Overall Comments

Wow! It was a wonderful experience! It exceeded my expectations, and they were pretty high to begin with. Here are a few random comments:

1) Location: Olivet College is a beautiful little college. Huge old oak trees provide shade and a feeling of going back in time. There are very few giant old oaks left in Michigan; most were cut down for lumber a hundred years ago or more. Olivet was founded in the 1840's, and I'm sure many of the oaks on campus are as old or older than the college. The surroundings are green and peaceful, and a perfect setting for the camp.

2) Accommodations: Dorm rooms - what can I say? My room was clean; there was a semi-private bath, and the dorm I was in had air conditioning. Towels and bed linens were provided. The mattresses seemed designed to withstand a nuclear holocaust, which affected comfort somewhat. . . but I slept OK. The decor was early concrete block in a lovely shade of oatmeal. And nothing looks emptier than an empty dorm room. But I only went there to sleep and shower anyway.

3) Food: This ain't your Daddy's mess hall. The food was very good; there were a variety of choices at each meal, and everything was fresh and nicely-prepared. I'm sure I gained a pound or two, as I am not accustomed to three full meals a day! Banjo playing is hungry work!

Now, on to the important stuff: banjos!
4) Classes: The schedule was intensive. There wasn't much down time, and I felt totally immersed in the world o' banjo music. The instructors were top-notch; many of the best-known names in OT and bluegrass were there. I attended the old-time sessions and was privileged to take classes with Ken Perlman, Mac Benford, Bob Carlin, Adam Hurt, and Cathy Fink. Wow! They are not only great musicians and talented teachers, they are very nice, good-humored people, always ready with help and advice. The classes were categorized by level of playing experience. I stuck mostly with the lower intermediate classes, but I did attend an upper level course on Kyle Creed's Round Peak style, taught by Adam Hurt. I had some trouble keeping up with most of the others, but I actually got more out of the class than I expected to, and I think I can learn the tunes with a little practice at home. I brought a valuable lesson home with me from every class. I simply cannot express enough thanks for how much I learned.

5) Concerts: The faculty concerts were held Friday and Saturday night. There was a mix of Old Time and Bluegrass performers each night. The concerts alone were worth the price of the camp. Every performer was superb, but the most memorable moment for me was when Cathy Fink, Marcy Maxter, and Adam Hurt played banjo wearing finger puppets. You had to be there...

6) Jam sessions: the camp had more jams than Smucker's and Welch's combined. There were scheduled jams, open jams, little jams, big jams, lobby jams, park jams, doorway jams. Everything but dorm room jams - thanks to all for honoring the quiet rules!

7) Elderly Instruments on-site store: Stan Werbin and his able crew brought a variety of fine wares, including a mouth-watering array of about 50 banjos, all just sitting on their stands, waiting to be played. I loved trying out all the banjos, but the best part was realizing that I like my own banjo best of all! I did buy a banjo strap, clip-on tuner, a couple of bridges, two sets of strings, and one of Ken Perlman's books. And a T-shirt.

****NOTE TO CAMP PLANNERS: the 2009 camp T-shirt has a cartoon of a tornado and says "Pickin' up a storm!" This is biased toward bluegrass players!! Plus the color was odd. I would not be caught dead in it, frankly.

Overall, it was a challenging, exciting, intense, fun, rewarding time. I hope to attend next year. Well, I have to, or else I won't get to hear Cathy Fink's story about the kangaroo.

Overall Rating: 10

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