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This last week I went off to the National Guitar Workshop. (

It was amazing.

But first, last Friday, Kellie and I traversed down to the Kansas City metro area to go to Rhodri and Marie's wedding. It was a blast. I'm sorry I had to cut it short, but I still wasn't feeling the best and figured sleep would be good. It was.

Saturday morning I got up at some sort of ridiculous hour, and was driven to the airport. The flights were okay, I had no problems with my guitar going through security. I did have a small problem with my guitar. It is somewhat large, and absolutely couldn't fit on the first flight. So my guitar was gate-checked. (I was expecting this, and so put her into a flight case.) The stewardess was very nice and very helpful in ensuring that the baggage people treated her right, and they did. I got my guitar back right after the plane landed and all was right. Now, having said that, we were delayed 45 minutes due to the MASSIVE rainfall in Chicago, but all turned out right. I managed to get to the gate for the next flight in plenty of time.

I had to gate-check my guitar again, which was fine, because the baggage guy played as well. Now, having said that, gate-checking baggage into Hartford will involve the bag meeting you at the terminal baggage claim area. Which meant my guitar went on the baggage carousel. That was a little nerve-wracking but it was all good.

I found the guy who was driving me to the Workshop (it's in New Milford, about 1.5 hours drive from Hartford), and we were waiting for one more person. Driving with us was a kid from Mexico City, and Jody Fisher, a fantastic jazz guitarist who was an instructor. We finally got our stray passenger, Dave, a guy who looks like a death-metal guitarist (which he is), carrying an acoustic guitar.

We got to the camp, and we all checked in. Dave and I were put in one of the dorms, and thought we were the only people there. It was hot. 95 or so, and humid as hell, and the dorm did not have air-conditioning. My barracks-like single room had a window, but no breeze. Fans were acquired from the Workshop the next day (they had some to lend out), but that night was hot. After some separate exploring that took us until late, Dave and I met back in the dorm common's room. At that point, I discovered, by him showing me, that he is a fantastic acoustic fingerstyle guitarist. I found out later that he was a semi-finalist in the Six String Theory Acoustic Competition which means he came there on basically a scholarship, to compete with the other 7 semi-finalists in that competition. I wasn't really aware of current developments in fingerstyle acoustic playing, so watching someone fingerpicking, using hammer-ons and pull-offs, percussion and tap harmonics was really impressive to me.

Sunday was check in day, and since we checked in on Saturday, we were at liberty until 2 pm Sunday. (We did have to collect our fans, and I had to get the practice amp I was renting.) In that time, we met Martin, a Swede who was also a semi-finalist, and Aaron, yet another semi-finalist. These guys are excellent. This constituted the core crew for the week.

Orientation happened on Sunday, which was really somewhat boring. Our first class happened as well.

A note about classes. You pick a class that you will follow through the week. For example, I was in the “Blues Performance” class, which used to be the “Blues Core” class. The class was structured around a lot of theory, about a quarter of which I can use now, a quarter of which I sort of understand and about half of which makes my head spin. In addition, I was part of two ensembles, one of whom would play one and the other of whom would play 2 songs at the Thursday night concert. My acoustic friends were part of the “Acoustic Roots” class, which met longer than I did, but did not have the ensemble groups. They did a song as a class at the concert. (The next time I go, I will take one of the specialty classes. “The Chess Men” sounded good. As did “Atomic Blues”.)

My first class was actually very short, with basic introductions, and then evaluations. The class was split into two sections, Beginners and Not-Beginners. Some of that was "people who are passionate and serious" and "Kids and people who aren't".The evaluations were in private, so we spent a lot of time in the hall meeting people. I met Paul, Paul, Jeff and Laurie, who in various ways would make up my ensembles. They were also the people in the class around my age.

I walked into the evaluation and told the instructor (Kevin McNeal, a GOOD jazz and blues musician) that I was likely a beginner. He sat me down, and asked me to name some bluesmen. I got two out and he shut me up. (Albert King and Albert Collins seemed to satisfy him.) I was asked to play a minor pentatonic scale, which I did. We tried to get distracted talking about the good parts of the Gibson ES-339 v. the ES-335, but the intern/co-instructor kept us on track. I was asked to play some bar chords, and then riff or play a song. I played a riff that I always go back to, improving some of it. Long story short, I was told I was intermediate.

The rest of class was some theory, some more introductions, and some playing.

After dinner, there was the first of two Faculty Concerts. (Faculty Proving Grounds to quote Dave.) It was good, but not great. The faculty were very good, but all of them tended to slow, quiet stuff. Kevin did a Coltrane number.

After that concert, we four decided that a trip to the local bar was in order. Aaron had driven so we had wheels. 59 Bank is the name of the bar. Nice place, had some IPA microbrews on tap, but since I dislike IPAs, I stuck with Guiness. Needless to say, it became a late night. We closed the bar at 1 am, then stayed up a little later.

Monday started the real workout. First, class, which deep dove into theory. Then the first ensemble. It was all adults, and based around playing a blues song or two. It was me, two Pauls, and Laurie (all of us on guitars). Our “instructors/facilitators” for this was a Workshop instructor named Tim Ferguson, who taught me a lot about improv-ing leads, and a drummer named Yuichi Hirakawa, who again was fantastic.

At the end of the ensemble session, we had decided, with Yuichi's help, that we would play “Cross-Cut Saw” as an instrumental. We weren't sure at that point if there was anything else we wanted to do.

After lunch, class again, then the afternoon ensemble. That added another guitarist named Jeff. By the end of the week, I could do with this Jeff what I can do with my usual Jeff, namely make an interesting “huh” noise, and have him know what I was on about. That and ask the question he was about to.

That ensemble was the blues rock one, so we decided to play “People Get Ready”, we also later that week decided on a version of Crossroads. (Clapton lyrics, modified guitar parts).

After all that, it was 4 pm. There were various small hour long classes that day. I was going to take one but decided a nap was in order. After playing a bit, I slept until dinner at 6. (We had a free hour from 5-6, and another from 7-8 or so. I usually practiced during the 7 pm hour.)

The second faculty concert started at 8. It started with Jody Fisher playing a jazz number, solo, that was just simply incredible, and I don't like jazz. There were a couple rock numbers done amazingly well. The teacher of the "Chess Men" class did some Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. The Acoustic Roots teacher did a Blind Lemon Jefferson number. In the end, it was just fantastic.

That night, we all crashed out reasonably early.

Tuesday was much the same as Monday, but the concert started with the Acoustic Competition. These guys were damned good. All of them were fantastic and if I were a judge I would have had a hard time picking who won. As it turned out it was a guy named David, an Irishman from Boston. After that it was an open mike night of concerts.

After all that concert, we left to go to the bar. We in this case essentially comprised my core four (including me), two older gentlemen, and the rest of the acoustic competition. Now, we knew there was an acoustic open mike night at the bar as well, but everyone deliberately left their guitars at home. Unfortunately for the good intentions, there was a bar guitar. So all the acoustic players went up to play. All were good, but my favorite highlight was the death metal acoustic version of “Dust in the Wind”. We closed the bar and then some, and went back. There was a run for soda, which resulted in free donuts.

Wednesday was much the same, except that Ronnie Earl taught a masterclass on blues anyone who wanted to show up. He is an incredible guitarist, and a very nice man. I like Ronnie a lot, and not the least of which is that he invited me to call him that. I would have loved to go on stage and play like some people did, but alas no.
Also Wednesday night was the Six String Theory Blues competition. All the guys were good, but the winner was very clear. The first two guys were technically proficient, but kind of lost the feel of the blues. The third guy was amazing, but did not show that he could bring his own feeling to the table. The fourth guy had the feel, but not quite the chops. The last guy had it all and clearly should have, and did win.

Thursday was more of the same, but our concert was that night. Thursday night, all the various ensembles showed off their talent by playing a piece or two live. Long story short? I need some work on the guitar, and don't completely suck as a singer. (Yes, I said singer. For a number of reasons I agreed/wanted to sing half of Crossroads. However, I got nervous about it, so I took an hour voice lesson from the voice instructor Sonja. She was really good at showing me some exercises to train my voice, and we worked out a way of singing Crossroads that I could do. She was great to work with!) But it was a lot of fun. Thursday night we went back to the bar, and avoided (mostly) the karaoke. There were a lot of people staying up late to extend the week.

And Friday we packed up, had a last class, and myself and three of the guys I had been spending time with were driven to the airport by the transport company. After saying bye to one, the other two (Dave and Colin) and I sat and talked for a few hours, whereupon they had to go through security.

I found my way to the hotel connected to the airport, where they stuck me in a very comfy room, and I awaited the next morning and my 6 am flight back to reality.

In the end, will I go again? Hell yes. It was amazing. I learned a lot and learned what I don't know and how to fix it. I badly want to go next year, although I think I can't afford it. (I wish I could.) I also want to do Pennsic. Definitely the year after.


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August 2011


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