The 2017 Maryland Folk Retreat was an amazing experience.

My goal when I started teaching music was to fill up the empty spaces left by the old-timers who taught me.

I learned my craft from musicians who had learned their craft when old-time music was just music. This was something of a double-edge sword in that I got to taste the real stuff and then saw it fade away.

It is natural to see the old replaced by the new. What sucks is that there was no new generation of frailing banjo players.

A lot of people own banjos, but they can’t jam outside of a list of memorized songs. They know tunes, but it is all monkey-see and monkey-do. Follow the tab without even trying to understand how the fretboard works.

How did this happen? A lot of people tried to go professional in the 70’s and 80’s and for various reasons it did not work out. Rather than play music for fun they made teaching a business.

If your student is paying you weekly or monthly you don’t want them to grow out of lessons. They would stop paying you! That logic is a huge part of the melodic clawhammer movement. Students never progress. Students memorize songs note by note so they are always frustrated. Use several tunings and cut out chords so that the student never learns the fretboard. Discourage improvisation so that the student needs the teacher to play new songs.

Look at music workshops today. Twenty years ago a workshop was a group lesson. Today a workshop is a performance.

Performing is a big part of fake teaching. Videos that leak out of banjo camps rarely feature the students making music. It’s always the instructors and it isn’t always good.

The 2017 Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat did have an open mic for the student. They were amazing! Our instructors got up for a song, but the focus of the open stage was the students. One guy had only been playing for six months, but got up and blew everybody away with The MTA Song!

The 2017 Retreat introduced new instructors to the lineup. This was crucial because we want the event to grow beyond our own work. There were a lot of banjo players, but we also had groups of fiddle, guitar and dulcimer players. In other words, the Retreat is growing. Best of all, folks were jamming. I heard everything from string band tunes to rock and roll and beyond. People shared with each other. There were no stylistic boundaries. Music was music and people were kind. The vibe that I experienced in the 1980’s was back.

No . . .  That vibe is not back. This was better than the 80’s. Now we can improvise and frail bottleneck blues and bluegrass! My slide banjo workshop wound up going from blues to frailing bluegrass, back to slide, to chord progressions, using a tuner to understand the fretboard, the Nashville Number System, rhythm exercises and back to blues. I needed to take a nap after that workshop.

For the 2018 Maryland Folk Retreat we are adding tent camping and dormitory rates. This will make the event more affordable, and increase the number of participants. More people will have a chance to learn, jam, discover, create and take part.

My father and I have a lot of work to do before we post official details.

I hope to make music with you in 2018! Until then, I hope you all make wonderful music.

God bless,

One thought on “2017”

  1. Thanks to you and your father for a wonderful retreat. This was my first ever retreat and I think it has spoiled me for any others I might find. I have come home with renewed confidence in learning to play my mountain dulcimer and after listening to the jams at the retreat I have brought out my mandolin and begun working on my skills again. Thanks again for one of the best weekends of my life.

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