Chris and I attended Pete Wernick’s Merlefest Jam Camp last week, our seventh camp in Wilkesboro and eight overall (we also attended one in Morehead, Ky. back in 2003). People sometime ask us why we continue to attend, i.e. don’t we know how to jam yet? Pete is also puzzled sometimes about why people return, since each camp covers roughly the same ground. But return they do—at each camp about half the attendees are repeat students.
For us, the answer is simple: we continue to attend because we continue to benefit. At our first three Merlefest camps (2003-2005) Chris played a different instrument each time, guitar, then bluegrass banjo, then fiddle. We skipped 2006, but in 2007 Pete moved the camp to a very nice YMCA facility just outside of town, and added an intermediate track—that was enough to lure us back. And by then we realized that, even though we didn’t know in advance exactly how attending the camp would bless us, it always did. If nothing else, we had the opportunity to watch a master teacher at work, and Pete never teaches the material the same way twice. So now we automatically sign up, knowing it will be worth our time.
While at the camp Chris and I tried to be a help in any way we can. Mostly that meant working with those intermediate-level campers who want to work on their performing skills, rehearsing songs several times, working out harmonies and solos, identifying trouble spots and fixing them. We also offered an informal after-hours workshop on introductory stagecraft—how to stand at microphones, how to behave on stage, and so on.
This was the second time we’ve tried that, and we wanted it to be hands-on, but both times the direction has veered off into a demonstration with the Ridgewood Boys performing abbreviated versions of songs to illustrate different points. We don’t mind that, but I don’t think it’s ideal, and we certainly don’t crave opportunities to show off. In any case, I hope it helped some of the campers to see that two students figured out how to give a credible performance by sticking with it for seven years.
One treat for us this year was the after-hours jamming. Generally our participation in that is limited, because we’re tired after the day and have had our fill of the usual repertoire. But this year we gathered together with some friends who were also long-time attenders—Bob, Dan, and Tex—and the music ended up going places we rarely get to go, making it very satisfying and worth staying up late for.
(Cross-posted to the Ridgewood Chronicles, our band weblog.)