Letters from Camp: Day 6

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

After a morning touching on several subjects, including tuning, use of capos, movable chords and chord substitutions, most of the day was spent in preparation for the evening concert. Selection of material, preparing a set list to maximize variety, rehearsal, setting up a small sound system, arranging the room, and last minute tips on mic technique and stage presence filled the afternoon.

Given that none of the campers (to my knowledge) had played together before this camp, it was quite an undertaking to put together an hour-plus program, with full instrumentation and vocals, particularly considering that a lot of the material was original (no breakdowns — Foggy Mountain, Earl’s, Shenandoah, etc.). Pete Wernick and his wife Joan, otherwise known as Dr. Banjo and Nurse Banjo, opened the program, and closed the program with several numbers after all the campers performed.

The grand finale was a nine-banjo rendition (is that like a 21-gun salute?) of Old Joe Clark, with each one taking a solo, concluding with a melody-tenor harmony arrangement Pete had taught during camp. There was a good turnout from the local community for the show, and raucus applause followed each performance, but particularly the final number. It was a great evening of fun for everyone.

Worthy of special mention was one of the campers, Vera Vann-Wilson. While some ladies shy away from giving their age, Vera proclaims her 76 years proudly, and with good reason. She pumps iron, runs marathons (she didn’t start running until after turning 60), plays multiple instruments, and is living life to its fullest. She accompanied other campers on guitar, fiddle, banjo, and dobro (I also heard her mention she has a mandolin and bass, so I guess she plays them all) and was the hardest working performer in the show.

Only one day remains before camp concludes and Valerie, Jimmy and I return to the MOUNTAIN STATE of West Virginia, where the highest point in the state (Spruce Knob, elevation 4863 feet) is lower than where we are in the city of Boulder. As much as I’ve enjoyed this experience, there’s no place like home (it sure would be nice if I could click my heels and avoid the trip).

Pete has been hosting these camps (beginner, intermediate and advanced) since the mid-1980’s, an amazing stretch which shows devotion to his mission of teaching the instrument and the music he loves. Tomorrow I’ll conclude my reports and include a photo of the 2012 graduating class.

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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.