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. This is about my tenth annual appearance at this great festival, and the outstanding “academy” week before the festival.
This outstanding event happens only 20 minutes from my home, and I feel privileged to have been part of all ten RockyGrass festivals to date. The Academy preceding the festival is now the largest event of its kind and this year sold out its 220 places months in advance. Very well-organized by Steve Szymanski of Planet Bluegrass, it manages to maintain a laid-back and friendly atmonsphere in spite of its size. The Del McCoury Band and Nickel Creek were all in attendance, and folks like Peter Rowan, Jim Hurst, and Missy Raines added to a stellar cast of teachers. With a beautiful setting, cozy camping and good food, this event covers all its bases and then some. My favorite part of the week is when I get to play “Donahue”
My job at the RockyGrass festival this year was playing “tweener” music. During band setups I would play solo for up to 15 or 20 minutes, a cross between active presentation and unobtrusive background music. I enjoy fitting solo banjo to a social setting, sometimes quite low-key, sometimes more lively. I like to improvise in a fully-open way, where I don’t base my playing on any theme but I create the music moment to moment. I’ve done this kind of music over the years, sometimes in restuarants (like the Moosewood back in Ithaca in the 70s), but never before a crowd this large. Even into the fall months I’ve continued to get nice comments from people who enjoyed the tweeners at RockyGrass. I appreciate that and am encouraged to try it again sometime.
Just as the Academy sold out well in advance in 2001, so did the festival itself. You can count on a great lineup every year, with that gorgeous mountain setting and excellent production. Don’t wait too long to get your tickets for 2002.