Bobby Osborne Mandolin Roundup

Last week in Hyden, KY, Hazard Community and Technical College held the second of hopefully many editions of the Bobby Osborne Mandolin Roundup. Host and organizer Scott Napier of Lost and Found and The Price Sisters shared this overview of how things went.

The Mandolin Roundup Is a one-day mandolin camp held at the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music (KSBTM) building in Hyden, Kentucky, and runs in conjunction with the Osborne Brothers’ Hometown Bluegrass Festival. Students are divided into three groups, according to their playing ability, and among other things, learn one of three harmony parts to the same ‘camp song.’ Even students who have never played a mandolin prior to camp can join in as rhythm strummers. The goal of the camp is for all students to learn one song, which will then be performed, in three-part harmony, on stage with Bobby Osborne at the end of the day.

The idea of a one-day camp arose following requests from fans and viewers after watching Bobby Osborne, Lauren Price, and myself perform a three-part number we would share each on social media each Tuesday evening from the KSBTM in a segment dubbed Tremolo Tuesday. Viewers expressed interest in coming to our school for the opportunity to play with us and Bobby in person, which then fostered the idea of a camp. From there we set the wheels in motion to make the camp a reality. We came up with the name and concept and pitched it to Bobby. He was willing to make a go of it, so I begin advertising. Last year was the first year for the camp and we had 12 students. This year we nearly doubled with 21 registered to attend.

The core instructors are myself, Lauren Price, and Bobby Osborne. Because of interest from total beginners, we decided to add a “strummer section” this year to learn the chords and play the rhythm to this camp song on stage at the festival. This group was led by guest instructor and newest faculty member of the KSBTM, Virgil Bowlin. We also have a breakout session for the more advanced students who jammed together on Bobby’s signature tune Cherokee Lady at the end of the stage performance.

The camp fee is $150 per student, and includes a ‘goodie bag’ containing two festival tickets, Bobby‘s signature GHS Strings, a CD, stickers, Bobby‘s personal custom-made mandolin picks, autographed posters printed only in small quantities, and mandolin roundup T-shirts. This year Bobby realized he was running low on his personal picks and was concerned with the growing number of students, so we had a bit of a dilemma. I contacted a couple of pick companies to try to get replica picks made, and in the process Allen Goins of Blue-Chip picks sent me a last-minute message informing me that Blue-Chip was making a Bobby Osborne replica pick for each of the students. Blue-Chip made one batch of 25 Bobby Osborne Roundup picks and overnighted them to us, making for a very special gift to the students.

I also contacted Fred Bartenstein for permission to bring the Southwest Ohio Bluegrass Heritage Banners to be put on display at the school during the Roundup. The banners showcase the migration of musicians from Eastern Kentucky north to Ohio, which in turn made a huge impact on the bluegrass music scene. The Osborne Brothers were of course one of these heavy-hitters, so I thought it would be fitting to bring the banners down to Eastern Kentucky for a great sort of “full circle” moment.

The camp has been a huge success with nearly doubling size in only two years and showing no signs of slowing down as we gear up to start our new semester here at the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music. Our goal is to see 50 mandolin players invade the school and the festival over the weekend. We welcome all ages and playing levels, and have had students from eight different states and all walks of life join us thus far. It is a unique opportunity for students to come to the hometown of the Osborne Brothers, have access to KSBTM’s wonderful facility, spend the day learning first hand from an iconic first generation bluegrass music legend and 50 plus year Grand Ole Opry member, and then to perform on stage to a standing room only crowd at the bluegrass festival that bears his name.