Mandolin Camp North & Banjo Camp North

An introduction

Are you a picker? A picker & singer? Perhaps you sit and practice at home with CDs
or YouTube or mp3s – maybe you study tab books and instructional DVDs. Maybe you’ve found an instructor, maybe you haven’t. But when we’re “learning” our instrument, we’re always hoping to advance, advance, advance. We want to pick to our own satisfaction; we want to pick with a friend; we’d love to go to a jam session and hold our own. We always want to learn more, more more!

Have you heard of language immersion training? Go to Quebec to learn French, for instance. Well a Mandolin Camp and a Banjo Camp are short, intense opportunities to immerse in an environment dedicated to your instrument. A weekend of jamming, learning, listening, and jamming some more will surely get you energized.

Mandolin Camp North and Banjo Camp North are operated under the umbrella of non-profit Music Camps North. The Camps are held in Charlton Massachusetts (just off I-84 and the Mass Pike near Sturbridge Mass and the Connecticut line). Each is a 3 day weekend devoted to just one instrument. There are LOTS of mandolin or banjo instructors, with a musical support staff of guitars, fiddles and bass fiddles to fill out jams. Students range from teen (accompanied by parents) to 80 – raw novices who don’t yet know how to hold or tune their instrument – up through beginners, intermediates and advanced. There are scheduled, organized classes, designed by the instructors during 75 minute class periods all weekend long and “guided” jam sessions at every skill level. Students can select classes at whatever level they feel they can absorb, and they’re free to change their schedule on the fly if they find they’ve aimed too high or too low. If a student doesn’t know what level he/she is, the faculty politely can guide them after a quick hearing on Friday during check-in.

Students, faculty and musical support staff mix and mingle, jam, ask questions, take private coaching by appointment where schedules permit, and dine together in a college-type cafeteria. The venue is Prindle Pond Conference Center, which on weekdays is a sort of sleepaway nature school for grade school kids. Students bring their own bedding/linens. The dorm rooms are clean, comfortable, warm and, well,
“college-like” with bunk beds. The food is good, and plentiful with special dietary needs accommodated. Coffee is plentiful (and included in the price).

After the day’s classes, you can jam informally. Then comes dinner, at which campers and faculty share tables. After dinner, there’s a faculty concert, and then guided jams for all levels in a number of different genres. After the formal jams end, you can stay up and continue to jam as late as you’d like in some of the lesson/communal rooms. For the rest of the weekend, there are many more class periods, jams, another faculty concert, meals, and even a catnap if you can tear yourself away from the activities. We also welcome commuters — people who live locally or are staying in a local motel. We also have dry camping for RVs and tents.

There is an informal mercantile area for CDs, instruction books and videos, instruments, strings, etc. Usually a local luthier is on hand for quick instrument adjustments.

When the weather cooperates, faculty and students take advantage of the nice country setting to hold their lessons and jams outdoors. Pickers of the various styles of music have a way of finding each other and getting together for impromptu tech talk, jams and fellowship.

Mandolin Camp North takes place April 12, 13 and 14 this year. It’s for campers who share a passion for playing the mandolin. The instructional staff includes: Sharon Gilchrist • Alan Bibey • Carl Jones • Mike Compton • Matt Flinner • Barry Mitterhoff • Don Stiernberg • Joe Walsh • Jim Richter • Laura Orshaw • David Benedict • Akira Otsuka • Skip Gorman • David Surette • Ben Pearce • Lorraine Hammond • Tony Watt.

Banjo Camp North takes place May 17, 18 and 19 at the same location, with the same format. Bluegrass and Old time instructors : Mike Munford • Bill Evans • John Herrmann • Joe Newberry • Janet Beazley • Bruce Molsky • Adam Hurt • Casey Henry • Tom Adams • Michael Miles • Jane Rothfield • Gabe Hirshfeld • Eli Gilbert • Allison de Groot • Tim Rowell • Rich Stillman • Bob Altschuler • Lorraine Hammond • Craig
Edwards • Bruce Stockwell • Pete Kelly • Will Seeders • Frank Solivan (mandolin track).

There are over 80 classes offered during each weekend. In addition to classes for intermediate and advanced players, there are a Novice/Beginner and Beginner/Advancing Beginner “track” of 4 linked classes plus study hall and a guest instructor. There is usually at least one class on singing with your instrument, too. All the while you are meeting fellow campers and getting to know local, regional and nationally ranked instructors who all share your love of mandolin, or banjo.

Music Camps North has been holding Camps of various types since 2001. The Board of Directors know how to pull this off! They have an EXCELLENT network of instructors from all over the country. In fact there are so many instructors that they are able to mix them up every year. If you have a favorite professional mandolin or banjo player who is also an instructor, sooner or later they’re likely to be on staff at Music Camps North.

When asked what their “most memorable moment at camp” was 90% of the time the campers mention some jamming experience- either something they accomplished, or group they were in, or something they learned. The single most common comment heard from students as they head home Sunday afternoon is “My head is spinning with all the stuff I’ve learned that I’ll never remember”. Then two weeks later, the next most common feedback is “all of a sudden something just came to me that I learned at Camp that I can play now!” An astounding percentage of students return to Camp over several years.

So if you want to SOAK in an atmosphere of mandolins, bluegrass banjos or old time banjos and spend 3 days jamming until your fingers are sore, get in touch with Music Camps North Kelly Stockwell and sign up while there’s still room this year. You will be amazed at Music Camps North, and what they do for your pickin’.

Music Camps North, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For more information, visit the website, call 203-362-8807, or email
Music Camps North.

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

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