American Banjo Camp (ABC) 2014: “Stories” and “passing notes” from a weekend in the “sound”

ABC 2014 Trio

Paul Eliot on fiddle with Peter Langston on guitar playing the original tune, “Bluebonnet” by banjo picker Mike Stahlman – Photo courtesy of Matt Jenson

ABC 2014 – Fort Flaggler, Washington

The sounds of bluegrass music and the stories told in the lyrics draw me to this genre like no other.  At American Banjo Camp, the sound and stories stretch the imagination and emotions beyond a single genre.

Serendipity is the word that sums up my experience at this year’s ABC. This was my second foray into the immersive experience at a music camp. My first was last year at California’s Walker Creek Music Camp (Anyone interested can read my article about Walker Creek here).

The retreat center at Washington’s Fort Flagler State Park, located in the northern region of the Puget Sound is the perfect setting for harmonizing with nature, especially over a sunny fall weekend.  Along with over 130 participants at the camp, including professional performers and teachers, I found everything about the weekend to be fulfilling and memorable.  From the exquisite food, to the instruction, performances, and the new friendships, I’ve come away with undefined emotions that continue to linger.

It has been almost a week since returning from ABC and I finally realized why my jaw and facial muscles feel like my legs and quads tend to do after a daylong hike in the high country. It occurred to me that nearly everyone I ran across at ABC was smiling – all the time. I finally had to relax from the mile wide grin I’d been carrying around all week.  I’m just glad I know why it was there. Like the other folks at ABC, I’ll be planning to return.

There was one story I’ll share and it has to do with the sound that draws some of us to the music we love.  On Friday morning for those who attended the extra day, there were several demonstration sessions put on by the instructional staff.  The one I attended was “Singing with the Banjo.” The three artist/teachers who shared their talent with us I won’t name – everyone who was there will know who I’m referring to.  I’ll just say that their music, lyrics, and life stories were the launch pad for what turned out to be a transformational weekend for many of us.

What emerged from that intimate session follows:  One of the students sitting across from me was wearing a badge with the name, “Gilles” printed at the top.  Beneath it was a color drawing of a Swiss flag. When Gilles (his name is pronounced zjeel) introduced himself in a Swiss-French accent, he told us he was from Geneva. He said that he loved the sound of American old time banjo but had never heard anyone play it live – only recordings.

I spoke with Gilles after the session and he confirmed what I’d already guessed, that he came to the United States specifically to attend ABC.  He arrived on Wednesday evening and was to return directly to Switzerland on Sunday afternoon. If there were an award for being the most committed student at ABC, Gilles would be the hands down winner. I’m glad Gilles returned to Geneva having heard and listened to his favorite music played by some of the best musicians in the world.

To list all the specific experiences that left a mark on me personally doesn’t seem appropriate as I would likely leave something out or forget to mention a person who made my experience complete. Instead, I’ll just say that I left inspired and will pass on to others who are on music journeys of their own, that for those wishing to live the dream on 5 Strings, ABC is definitely one to add to the list.

For more information on American Banjo Camp, visit them on the web at:

ABC is also on Facebook:

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