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Here we go with the now-obligatory Sore Fingers report. On Easter Sunday 2010, I set off to attend this bluegrass camp which takes place every year on the campus of Kingham Hill School here in the UK. This year I would be in Tony Furtado’s class, the other banjo teachers being Alan Munde, Richard Collins and Adam Hurt. Not to mention BHO's very own Guy Rogers teaching the beginners' class this year! I had booked my place almost 12 months ahead as I really wanted a place in Tony’s class – I enjoy his music and thought it would be great to see him play “up close and personal” in class.
Tony was a great tutor, full of enthusiasm for the subject and keen to make sure he took into account the varying levels of experience and ability in the class. He had even emailed us all several weeks before for our input and was constantly referring back to those elements which students had asked him to cover – including D, C (and B!) tuning, slide banjo, single string playing etc etc. With five days of around four hours' tuition a day there was far too much covered to mention here, but as one of the less experienced players I still took away loads of useful info and tools to use in the year/s ahead. We even had a composition lesson and wrote a new tune together, although I think Tony’s input made the most difference!! He even used his last tea break to tab it out for the class – what a guy. Tony was a great laugh and coped with our English sense of humour very well, and was to be seen in the bar most nights chatting and jamming.
As ever, lessons were just one element of the all-encompassing experience that is SF. I also enjoyed being able to immerse myself in bluegrass/old time music for the whole week. There were great concerts to attend in the evenings, including Tony’s gig with Brian Wicklund, Eric Thorin and John Reischman, the great Mike Compton with old time talents Adam Hurt and Stephanie Colman and guitar legend Dan Crary with an abridged version of his Twang! presentation/show.
Friday night’s tutor concert saw all the tutors performing in various guises and combinations and included Janet Beazley and Chris Stuart (the singing tutors). Unfortunately Janet didn’t bring her banjo with her this year! Highlights for me included Mike Compton singing a beautiful version of Dear Honey which brought tears to my eyes. Also Chris Newman playing Celtic tunes on guitar, Brian Wicklund’s amazing fiddling, a stomping version of Salt River from the old time bunch, Wheel Hoss by Richard Collins and his guests, John Reischman’s gorgeous playing – not to mention Tony Furtado’s fantastic banjo and slide guitar playing of course.
Thursday night saw the customary student concert featuring various scratch bands playing two songs each. For the first time I dared to have a go at this and was very fortunate in that my band mates were a great bunch with several experienced musicians among us who kept us on the right path! I really enjoyed the experience of rehearsing together – we had practice every day from 2pm-3:30pm and we were so keen that we added a couple of evening practice sessions too! I just vamped chords on the banjo but got to sing lead vocal (as part of a duet) and harmony on Before I Met You and harmony vocal on Sittin’ on Top of the World. On the night I started to get really nervous but all went well and lots of people kindly complimented me on my singing afterwards – including Tony! Mind you, it’s a pretty easy crowd – everyone is very supportive and you get an especially big cheer if you mess up! Next step, a banjo break?!
After the concerts (or if you chose not to go to the concerts) many students spent every evening jamming in the bar, dining hall and any other available space around the campus. This year I did far more jamming than last year, even if most of it was playing backup chords, and I sang a lot too. It was great! Friday night saw Brian Wicklund, Tony Furtado and John Reischman in the centre of the usual crazy fiddle-laden session in the centre bar. We also got to jam (and rehearse) outside quite a bit when we had some beautiful sunny spring weather in the second half of the week.
Most accommodation is in dorms and whilst sleeping in a dorm is not really my favourite thing, I was lucky to be in one of the re-furbished houses, with great showers and my five room-mates were all great gals around my age who were quiet and considerate about coming in and out at night. What with getting up at 7am and getting to bed at anywhere from 12am to 2am, I didn't spend a whole lot of time in the dorm anyway! The campus itself is beautiful with various old stone buildings set amongst sweeping acres of lawns and trees.
The food provided by the cafeteria is great, varied and plentiful, with three large meals dished out each day and lots of salad and fruit on hand for those who can resist the roast dinners and treacle sponge and custard (!!) type desserts. The only problem is getting back home and realising that you have to prepare your own food again.
So my third Sore Fingers week has been and gone once again, leaving me with priceless musical memories and experiences, friendships renewed and new ones forged, and lots more ideas as to how I can develop my playing (and singing). Bring on festival season!
Overall Rating: 9
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