Dr. Banjo » Notes From The Road » Back East May 2003

Back East May 2003

Notes From The Road: This is my “Pete’s-eye view” feature on this site, with reports on interesting people and events I encounter in my travels.

Banjo Camp North

Attending the third annual Banjo Camp North, outside of Boston, was a treat once again. Like the first two, it was held in Groton, Mass., with a stellar array of bluegrass and old-time banjo teachers offering high-quality instruction to 185 campers. Four class slots per day plus concerts and jamming at night, gave everyone a full palette of banjo experiences from novice to advanced.

This is one of the few events anywhere which successfully blends bluegrass and old-time music under the same roof. I rarely get to hear such great players as Walt Koken, Howie Bursen (both of whom I knew back in early 70s Ithaca, NY days), Mac Benford (met him in ‘69 in California), Michael Miles, Alan Jabbour and others. Still not enough opportunities to blend styles, but I did get to jam and perform with Alan, a supreme old-time fiddler. The techniques and grooves of old-time are related to bluegrass, but definitely from a different slant. I’ve appreciated that sound since my college years, as a member of the Old Hat Band with John Burke and Richard Blaustein, and watching a concert at my school by the New Lost City Ramblers. Banjo Camp North gives us a chance to cross-pollinate, and for that I thank Mike Homes, camp director.

This year I did extensive duty as instructor of beginning jammers. With good help from Joan, I had probably 50 folks who got to make various jamming breakthroughs such as:

  • Jamming for the first time
  • Playing many new songs at a jam without looking at paper
  • Taking non-tab solos “on the fly” by rolling though chord changes and being willing to play filler, licks, etc. rather than a tabbed arrangement
  • Singing while playing
  • Having more fun than anxiety.

I like the technique of asking for a show of hands of those who came to Banjo Camp North worrying whether they’d be the worst player there. “Only one of you is right,” I like to say. That gets some chuckles, and then I add, “But everyone is welcome, and you all will rise from wherever you happen to be on the learning ladder.”

It was great to hang out and play with various folks, especially my old banjo buddy Tony Trischka. We resolved to write a tune, and managed to get half of one written called tentatively called Banjo Hiccups. We hope to have it finished at some point in the future.

Special thanks to Mike Kropp, who organized the bluegrass classes, and to Sandy Sheehan, who kept good track of the big banjo merchandise mart.

Another excellent experience. I highly recommend Banjo Camp North.

DOROT Concert (New York City)

First of all, I should explain what DOROT is. It’s the largest volunteer organization in the country serving the needs of elderly people. Working in New York City, it was started in 1976 by students at Columbia University (my alma mater), originally with a focus on the Jewish elderly in the city. My dad, who died a year ago, was a major benefactor to DOROT, primarily because of his empathy for the people it serves, as well as its efficient use of volunteers.

DOROT recently decided to name a suite of rooms where volunteer work is directed, the William Wernick Suite. My family and my sister’s family made plans to attend the dedication, and I was also asked to do a concert in their small new auditorium. This would be the first performance there following recent building renovations.

We have several musicians in our two families, and the performers included Joan (“Nurse Banjo”) of course, with my nephew David Lockeretz (an exceptional bass player) and my brother-in-law Willie Lockeretz on sweet harmonica, the instrument my dad used to play. (Willie’s brother Joe Locker is a well-known old-time banjo player in England, and they both recorded with Roger Sprung and Doc Watson years ago.)

Playing to a full house of older folks plus DOROT staff, we did There’ll Always Be a Rocking Chair, Foggy Mt. Breakdown, Just Like You, Be Proud of the Gray in Your Hair, as well as two Jewish favorites my dad used to like to lead, Dona Dona and Tum Balalaika, led in Yiddish by several DOROT staff and clients. With much sing-along and clapping help from the audience, we had a great time.

I think my dad would have been proud.

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