Letters From Camp: Day 2

Jim Gabehart is journaling his time at the Pete Wernick Dr. Banjo Advanced Banjo Camp this week.

I’ll admit I was hoping I’d get a chance to say this honestly, but I awoke this morning and logged on to check the weather and thought it was perfect that the temperature was Ten Degrees in Boulder (sorry if you don’t get the reference).

When I entered the meeting space reserved for the week yesterday morning, I was immediately struck by all of the videos, books, recordings, posters and other materials lining the room for our reading, viewing, and listening pleasure. Accumulated by Pete Wernick during his long career as a student, performer, and teacher, this library of music and memorablia is a vast source of treasure waiting to be discovered.

The group is limited in size, with eight students, but that means more personal time with Pete (we’re on a first-name basis now), one of the primary reasons I wanted to come to this camp. One of the first aids I used when I was learning to play in the mid-1970’s was a Music Minus One album with an accompanying book of tablature which featured Pete on banjo (which is still available 35 years later and is a great learning tool), and I believe I own all of the recordings Hot Rize released, so it’s fair to say that I’m a fan and student of Pete’s work.

We started at 9:15 a.m. and with the exception of one 15 minute mid-morning break and our 70 minute lunch, we went straight through until quitting after 6:00 p.m.  In addition to being a great banjo player, Pete is intelligent, witty, and at no loss for words in describing, explaining, and illustrating the points and material he is trying to teach.

I was a little surprised by the number of times he spoke the word “Earl” (no less than 50, no exaggerating). I was surprised, not because I don’t agree that Earl Scruggs defined the basis that virtually everyone that plays bluegrass banjo builds upon, but because Pete developed his own style which did not reflect a huge emphasis on Scruggs and I guess I expected him to toot his own horn more.

While clearly stating his love for Earl’s style, and repeatedly using it in examples, he also stated that there seems to be a large trend toward imitation of the Scruggs-Crowe approach to the point that has created a homogenization of sorts where there seems to be less individuality and creativity. Personally, while I’ve always put Earl and J. D. at the top of my list, having learned in the 70’s I also loved and studied Eddie Adcock, Alan Munde, Sonny Osborne, Butch Robins, Allen Shelton, Ben Eldridge, Bill Emerson, James Bailey, Kenny Ingram (this generation benefitted from his re-emergence with Rhonda Vincent), and early BĂ©la Fleck (I don’t attempt current BĂ©la Fleck).

I was a little behind the rest in arriving, so I sat on the back row, giving the rest of the students the full force (not intentionally) of my Stelling Masterpiece. When we took our first break, quite of few of the students came back to look at what was generating all that volume. It’s a blonde (and my wife knows it’s the only blonde that gets special attention from me), gold-plated, engraved beauty that my mother (who died two years ago) bought me as graduation gift. It’s been my primary instrument for 26 years, and I don’t expect to ever let it go.

After a full day, we exited the meeting facility to find a late afternoon/early evening snow (just an inch or so) had fallen while we were inside. It made things a little slick yesterday evening, but we managed to get around while finding something good in the neighborhood (they have Applebees everywhere it seems). It didn’t appear there had been much if any treatment of the roads, but they probably get so much snow here they only send out the snow shovels and salt when there’s a serious snow.

For everyone that didn’t get enough during the day, including yours truly, we came back to the Boulder Inn and jammed until around 10:30 p.m. (it still felt like 12:30 to my body). It may not be quite the equivalent of IBMA (I’ve Been Mostly Awake), but it’s definitely IBMPB (I’ve Been Mostly Playing Banjo).

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I’ve been accompanied on this trip by my lovely wife and personal photographer, Valerie, along with a special guest, our son, Jimmy (Jr.). Let me take this opportunity to brag on my son, because he’s everything I wanted to be growing up but wasn’t — taller, athletic, good looking, and equally intelligent (I can’t say MORE intelligent since we both think we know everything), and I’m proud, make that thankful, to say he’s financially self-sufficient — Hooray!!

While I’m playing banjo, they’re scaling the Rocky Mountains, so we’ll be posting some photos in the days to come.  Stayed tuned.

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About the Author

James Gabehart

Jim has been playing the banjo, and other string instruments for nearly 40 years. Since joining the musicians union and becoming a performing musician at the age of 15, he won five West Virginia State Banjo Championships, as well as dozens of other competitions, and has taught hundreds of students. Jim was elected as Prosecuting Attorney for Lincoln County, WV in November 2012, and is an active touring performer with his wife and musical partner, Valerie. Learn more about their music at www.JimandValerieGabehart.com.