Tag Archives: Murphy Method Banjo Camp

Casey and I are excited that our Intermediate Banjo Camp is coming up soon in Winchester, Va. We’ve been in the Banjo Camp Bid-ness (as we say in the South) only a few short years and we look forward to this cozy, intimate weekend, working closely with about 20 students. We are proud to say our students always learn a lot, and they certainly have taught us a thing or two!

One thing we learned pretty quickly is that students who survive our Beginning Camp…I mean students who LOVE our Beginning Camp in October often want to continue to feed their banjo euphoria by coming to our Intermediate Camp in March. I totally get that. In fact, I encourage students to strike while the banjo is hot, because life has a way of making other plans for you, as I’m sure you all know. To support these dedicated beginners, we’ve started offering a “I Just Barely Became An Intermediate Student By The Skin Of My Banjo Head” level. Which we shorten to “Newbie Intermediates.” You all are welcome at our Intermediate Camp!

Here’s what you Newbie Intermediates can expect:

First of all, our camps differ from other camps in that we have a list of prerequisites for each camp. These songs give us a foundation for our teaching and put all the students on the same page. For instance, to attend Beginning Camp you have to be able to play:

Banjo in the Hollow

Boil Them Cabbage Down

Cripple Creek

To move on up to the Intermediate Camp, Newbie Level, you simply add three songs. (And stir!)

I Saw the Light OR Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low break) Both songs teach, for the first time, the all-important “tag lick.”

Blue Ridge Cabin Home (“roly poly” version)

Bury Me Beneath the Willow (“roly poly” version)

These six songs plus the vamping will get you into the Newbie Intermediate class. Using those songs, which everybody in the class can play, Casey and I can then teach other Intermediate Skills such as:

How to Trade Breaks in a Jam (When do I come in?)

Improvising On the Fly At a Jam (How do I come up with break to a song I’ve never played before?)

Using a Capo (How the heck do I find the vamp chords when I’ve got a capo on! I’ve lost my markers!)

How to Interchange Licks in Songs You Already Play (Really? I can do this?) Yes, you can. We call these “upgrades.”

Our focus is never on speed. We focus on helping you develop the courage to play a break in a jam by giving you the tools you need. (Which are listed above.) Nowadays, we almost never focus on teaching new songs. You can get those off of our DVDs. Instead we focus on teaching you to actually play the songs you already know in a friendly jam setting. And that’s what we do with the Newbie Intermediates.

What do we offer our Advanced Intermediates?

First of all, the Advanced Intermediate class also includes you Intermediate Intermediates (which always reminds me of the character “Major Major” in the book Catch-22). The prereqs for our Advanced Intermediates are all of the above plus a few songs of your choice from this list:

Foggy Mountain Breakdown (low and high)

John Hardy

Old Joe Clark

Lonesome Road Blues

I Saw the Light

Worried Man

Two-Dollar Bill

Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (a must!)

The Advanced Intermediate class plays faster (but not too fast!) and we move through the new material faster. In this class we almost always work on whatever new thing I am currently gung-ho about in my banjo teaching. This year it is playing in three-quarter (¾) time. Working with my own Tip Jar Jammers this past year, I have come up with a great list of songs in ¾ time that work with ¾ time roly polys: Amazing Grace, Before I Met You, In The Pines, All The Good Times Are Past and Gone, and Angel Band. We will start out with the simplest way to play these and then, if the class is willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll move on to a more complicated way.

We will also be delving into my last year’s passion, playing in the key of C without using a capo. We’ll take one or two of the three-chord songs you already know in the key of G, and learn to play it in C. Doing this usually leads us into a discussion about playing in D, which opens that can of worms labeled “I hate to tell you this, but when you capo at the second fret you’re not always playing in A.” Huh? Really? Yep, really. You could be playing in the key of D! Casey and I will explain all. And then we’ll let YOU play in D—based on what we just learned to play in C.

Our goal in this camp and all our camps is to help you become better banjo players. We want you to walk in on Friday playing at one level and walk out on Sunday playing at a higher level. We do this by playing the songs—over and over and over—that you already know how to play. Sometimes we will play them at different capoed positions, usually A (two frets) or C (five frets). We also encourage you, gently, to play improvised breaks to simple, three-chord songs that you’ve never played before. But this is only after we show you how.

To support everything that you’ve learned during the day classes, we offer instructor-led jams at night in which everyone who wants to play breaks gets to play breaks. In these jams, we play slow for the Newbies and faster for the more advanced players. Kathy Hanson has been our jam leader for the last few years and we are excited to have her back again this year.

If spending a weekend actually playing the banjo, in company with like-minded people and under the tutelage of two seasoned, caring teachers (one more seasoned that the other!), sounds like your cup of tea, join us in Winchester, Va., home of Patsy Cline and Lynn Morris. All the details are here.

Murphy Henry

Casey and I are both getting excited about our upcoming Intermediate Banjo Camp (March 22-24). This will be our third Intermediate Camp and, following suggestions from last year’s attendees, we have a new location--the Courtyard Marriott in Winchester (so everyone can stay in the same place)—and we have asked a couple of our professional musician friends—Scott Brannon, guitar, and Steve Spence, bass--to be on hand for the late night jamming. (Something Casey and I can’t do and still be energetic enough to teach the next day!)


Scott and Steve will also be joining Casey and me to play in the Friday and Saturday night concerts. That should warm them up for the jamming! Scott and Steve won’t exactly be leading the jam but they will be present to provide excellent rhythm and sing or harmonize if necessary. And Steve did say he would be willing to “wheelhoss” the jam if the situation needed it. On the other hand, if the jam is flowing just fine, he and Scott will just sit back, play, and enjoy!
Now a word or two about the fellers:


Scott Brannon, from Martinsburg, West Virginia, has been leading his own Scott Brannon Band for years and has a number of recordings out. He has a wonderful, smooth, deep voice and loves to sing the old songs, especially those done by Charlie Moore and Reno and Smiley. He can also cut loose on some Stanley Brothers numbers, too, and Riding on That Midnight Train, How Mountain Girls Can Love, and If I Lose are several of my favorites. His rhythm guitar playing is impeccable and that means it’s G-O-O-D, good! He’s an easy-to-get-along with kind of guy and you will love picking with him. I had the opportunity to play with him lots of times when we were both members of Dalton Brill’s Wildcats. Scott was kind enough to put up with my fiddle playing (very rough and barely serviceable although I believe I did get a little better over the years) and in return I often served as his beer “getter.”


Steve Spence was managing editor at Bluegrass Unlimited for years, and made the phone call to me 25 years ago asking me to write the General Store column for the magazine. (Thanks, Steve!) Early on he played banjo in a band with his sibs and father, the Spence Kids, which later became the Grass Reflection. More recently he played bass with Cliff Waldron. He, too, is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and he loves, loves, loves bluegrass and playing bluegrass. He knows lots of the old songs and both he and Scott can tell many a story about the old days and the old players.


In the last couple of years, Red and I have played few local gigs with Steve and Scott and have thoroughly enjoyed it. These are the kind of guys who know all the songs in the “Deep Bluegrass Catalog” (as Eddie Stubbs calls it), know all the “pitiful” and “poor pitiful” songs that Red and I like to sing so well (Please, Papa, Don’t Whip Little Benny, Flood of 57, Rank Strangers, White Dove, etc etc etc), and aren’t afraid to tackle something they have never heard, either. Steve is awesome at adding a third harmony part below my lead, something that is a rare talent.


So, have I bragged on these guys enough? Can you tell I’m really looking forward to picking with them? I sure hope so!


And, for those of you who have already signed up and are arriving early, don’t forget the Tip Jar Jam Thursday night, from 7-9. That will be held in my teaching digs, and Casey will provide the address.


Also, both Casey and I are available for private lessons on the days before and after the camp. Contact us to get your slot!


And we still have a few slots open, if you haven’t signed up for the camp yet. Contact Casey about that. Looking forward to seeing you all real soon!

Murphy Henry

The students also got to do some quality listening. Friday night Casey’s new band, the Gooseneck Rockers (with Marshall Wilborn on bass and Tom Adams on guitar) performed. They were excellent, of course, with tight harmony, unusual song selection (not the SOS), and Casey’s inventive, playful banjo picking. The quirky emceeing of Tom Adams is also a plus. Casey, who was fighting a cold, had a coughing fit during one of the songs and mouthed to me from the stage, “Cough drop!” I sprang into action, ran to my table of “stuff,” poked a hole in a brand new, cellophane-wrapped box of Fisherman’s Friend cough drops, and extracted a lozenge. Then, approaching the band from behind, I sidled up to Casey and popped the cough drop into her open mouth. She didn’t miss a beat!

Gooseneck Rockers

The Gooseneck Rockers: Tom Adams, Marshall Wilborn, Casey Henry (Photo by Janet)


I joined the Rockers for their second set, which was really a Casey and Murphy set backed up by Tom and Marshall. Our pre-planning had consisted of Casey and me saying, ten minutes before we went on, “What shall we play?” We decided to open with a medley of Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, Cumberland Gap, and Foggy Mountain Breakdown. We also decided our other instrumentals would be Earl’s Breakdown and our twin version of Dixie Breakdown. The singing songs we would just wing! We ended up singing East Virginia Blues, I’ve Laid Around and Played Around in This Old Town Too Long, and I'll Fly Away. We ended with Will the Circle Be Unbroken and invited everyone to sing along. It was great!


Saturday night my newest crop of Misfits performed and I was so proud of them! Scott, who had been playing banjo only since January, played Lonesome Road Blues (low and high breaks), Dueling Banjos, and then kicked off and sang Long Gone, vamping while he was singing, and then coming back in for several breaks. I played guitar and sang tenor.

Murphy and Scott

Murphy and Scott


Bob Van was up next. He, along with Janet, was one of our rhythm guitar players for the weekend but the concert gave him a chance to show off his flatpicking and singing. With me playing second guitar and singing tenor we did Step Off on That Beautiful Shore, When the Roll is Call Up Yonder (instrumental), and Kneel at the Cross. We also entertained the crowd with some of our good-natured Bob and Murphy banter. Murphy: “What do you want to start with?” Bob: “Do I have a choice?” Murphy: “Yes, we can do one of these three songs.” Bob: “It doesn’t matter what I say, you’re going to do what you want.” Murphy: “Ok, how about starting with When the Roll?” Bob: “No, let’s do Step Off on that Beautiful Shore.” Murphy (rolling eyes): “Whatever.” And on and on and on....


Murphy and Bob

Murphy and Bob

Janet (guitar) and Kenney (on bass) and I (banjo) had worked up three songs. Janet and Kenney are my square dancing friends, and, as I told the students, Janet is sometimes my partner when we don’t have enough men to dance and I dance the man’s part. So, we’ve played together a few times to entertain our square dancing friends. (Not for the dancing, though!) Saturday night we started off with Janet and me singing Somebody Touched Me. Then we did the Boogie Woogie so we could feature Janet taking a lead guitar break! She took a total of three breaks and did a fantastic job! We closed out our portion of the show with Rocky Top, which has a lot of tricky chords. Kenney, who has only been playing bass for about 8 months, didn’t miss a one!


Murphy, Janet, Kenney

Murphy, Janet, Kenney

Then it was time for Zac. You’ve read about Zac before in this blog. Zac is now a senior in high school and I’m happy to say he has really kept up with his banjo playing. He can now play REALLY FAST. So, with Bob Van on bass and me on rhythm guitar, we burned through Crying Holy Unto the Lord, Down Yonder, Sally Goodwin, and Fireball Mail. The great thing about Zac’s playing is that, even when he’s playing fast, he plays really clean. And his vamping is right in the pocket (as we say) and never too loud.


Murphy, Zac, Bob

Murphy, Zac, Bob

That ended the first half of the concert. We took a short break and then regrouped with all the Misfits to demonstrate the fine art of jamming. Scott, Bob, Zac, Janet, and Kenney had never played together in a group before, so they were going to have to reply on all their “jamming” skills. Of course, since I was there to act a facilitator, I was able to make sure the songs were well known to all the players. We did some standards like I Saw the Light, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, John Hardy, Salty Dog, and Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms. We ended with Foggy Mountain Breakdown, played slow at first, and then we turned Zac loose! Again, I was so proud of my students. And I hoped that seeing them play would serve as an inspiration to all the students at the camp. That is certainly part of the pay off for me as a teacher, seeing my students playing and seeing them enjoying it so much!




Camp ended with lunch on Sunday. Some folks had had to leave early to deal with Hurricane Sandy. I’m happy to say that here in Shawneeland we survived with no loss of power and no trees down. Ditto for Casey in Winchester. Hope the rest of you were as lucky.


Our next Winchester camp will be our Intermediate Camp March 22-24. This will be held at the Marriott Hotel in Winchester. Plenty of room for night-time jamming! Hope you will join us there!


And for you folks in the Portland, Oregon, area, I’ll be out there for a Banjo Workshop January 11-13. We had a great time last year, and I’m looking forward to working with all y’all (as we say here) again!

**All photos courtesy of Janet. She took most of them except, obviously, the ones that have her in them!**

Murphy Henry

Our second Beginning Banjo Camp, held this past weekend (October 26-28, 2012) was, indeed, a rousing success! Sixteen students gathered together in Winchester to pick and pick and pick. And vamp and vamp and vamp. And ask questions. Our motto, “Less taking, more picking,” was in full force as students played the Big Three—Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down—more times than they ever thought possible!

At the start of camp on Friday, I shared something that Student Gary had told me during his one-on-one lessons with me before the camp. He said, “You know, all my life I’ve been pretty good at whatever I tried to do. But this banjo is kicking my ass!” The resounding laughter and head nodding from all the students indicated that they, too, knew what Gary was talking about!

The biggest desire of almost all the students was to learn to play with other people. Student Steve put it so well when he said he had realized “What is the point of me continuing to learn break after break after break when I can’t play any of my songs with other people?”

Beginning Banjo Campers

Beginning Banjo campers playing with other people! (Photo by Janet)

So, Casey and I went to work to try to pull together the pieces necessary and provide the tools for playing with other people. You have to be able to:

Play your break in time, without stopping
Vamp to the break (hear your chord changes!)
Come into your break on time after the vamping

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, of course, it’s not simple. Or as Student Tim said, “If it was simple, everybody would be doing it.” And Casey and I would be out of jobs!

In addition to playing the Big Three, on Saturday we did a lot of work on basic improvising using the song Bury Me Beneath the Willow in the Key of G. (Heads up Portland students! You’ll probably be playing this in January!) After learning the chord changes, we added a simple forward/backward roll in all the chords. Then, piece-by-piece we began to add “flourishes.” Scruggs-style flourishes. I mean, if you’re going to go to all the trouble to add flourishes, they might as well be excellent ones! We worked these in one by one. In the G chord, we added a slide in the forward roll, Then we added a pull-off in the backward roll. We completed the G measure by adding pinches. By this time, the students’ eyes were beginning to glaze over, but we did mention using the tag lick at the end of the break. We reviewed this all again on Sunday, and I think some of it was starting to stick! Perhaps some of you students could chime in here and let me know.

I could go on and I will go on, but it will be in another blog! Next time a rundown of the camp concerts! Stay tuned!

Murphy Henry

You’ve probably noticed that I don’t blog much anymore. Standard excuses apply (grandson, book, teaching, square dancing, dealing with my dad’s estate, and cataract surgery!) But, truth to tell, now that everybody’s doing it, I don’t feel as compelled. Nevertheless, sometimes things happen that just have to be blogged about. This is one of them!


This past weekend Red and Casey and Dalton and I went up to Davis, West Virginia, for the wedding of my first-cousin-once-removed. (My cousin’s son. I’m from the South. I like all that “once-removed” stuff!) We played A LOT of music the night before, just jamming, at the chicken barbecue. I played mostly banjo but also some fiddle (!) because Red and Mike (my bro-in-law and banjo-neck builder) and I were playing a triple-fiddle version of “Maiden’s Prayer” at the wedding the next day. (We sounded wonderful!)


Anyhow, while Red was doing his grandfatherly duties and holding Dalton, Mike and I were playing fiddles as someone we had just met accompanied us on guitar. We did a couple of easy fiddle tunes, “Soldier’s Joy” and “Liberty,” and then were asked to play “Whiskey Before Breakfast” (a fairly complex fiddle tune both chord-wise and melody-wise.) Being the affable people that we are, Mike and I were game. We had a couple of false starts, but we finally got the tune off the ground. At the end of our rendition, the guitar player, bless his heart, says to me, “Have you just learned that tune?” I said, “No, I just play it badly!”


Bada bing! And, yes, I did fumble, grumble, and stumble, but in true Murphy Method fashion, I KEPT GOING!


And, hey, while I’m here (I know, I know, blogs are supposed to be short but...)


Casey and I are getting excited about our Beginning Banjo Camp, October 26-28. We are hoping for excellent weather—last year it snowed and we lost electricity for seven hours! Our camps are becoming known for the amount of time the students spend PLAYING THE BANJO! You will play and play and play! It will always be in a group setting so you will be surrounded by other beginning banjo players. We stick to three main tunes: Cripple Creek, Banjo in the Hollow, and Boil Them Cabbage Down. And we play VERY SLOWLY.


Once again, we are very near downtown Winchester, this time with a Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins right around the corner. Literally. (Coffee and donuts for the teachers always appreciated!)


We keep our camps small so you get lots of individual attention from Casey and me. And we do have a few more slots open [4, as of this writing]. So email Casey at themurphymethod@gmail.com if you want to join in the fun!


Bonus activities: There is that concert Friday night by Casey’s new band, the Gooseneck Rockers, with Tom Adams on guitar and Marshall Wilborn (2012 IBMA Bass Player of the Year!!) on bass. They are tight!


Then Saturday night Murphy’s Misfits (current crop!) will perform and then they will all join together for a “demo” jam session. We want you to see that “real” jamming can happen even at the beginner level. These are all students--just like you--who have learned to play the Murphy Method way and are now enjoying the pleasures of jamming!


Hope to see you there!

Dalton Henry

I see that my mama Casey and my Grandma Murphy had a fine time teaching people good things at Banjo Camp. While they were doing that, my Granddaddy and I spent three whole days together, and I had a fine time teaching him good things too. Here are some of them:

1. Always keep a baby-towel around to wipe up incidents. ALWAYS! It is most inconvenient for me to need one, and then find out that Granddaddy does not have one handy.

2. Some people just don't want to take their nap. This shows developing attributes of personal pride, determination, and independence of thought. (Especially in future banjo players!)

3. Keep things well out of my reach while the grownups are having their own supper! (A whole bowl of soup all over the kitchen floor-- along with the broken soup bowl-- was my most impressive accomplishment for the whole weekend! And it was fun to see Granddaddy scrambling around to clean it up.)

I was going to list some more things, but I have forgotten what they were. They will just have to wait until next time. Anyway, my Granddaddy and I had a fine time and we are looking forward to the next one. And I would write more, but 'scuse me now because it's time for my bottle.

Best regards,

Dalton Henry

Murphy Henry

Just a quickie here, folks, to let you know that our second Murphy Method Intermediate Banjo Camp was a rousing success! Sixteen students gathered in Winchester under the watchful eyes of Casey and me to play and play and play! They also did some learning, but I think the playing was the big hit of the weekend. After all, our motto is “Less talk, more playing!”


Intermediate Banjo Campers

Intermediate Banjo Campers

One of the surprise hits of the weekend was the singing of Barry, one of our LA students. (And I don’t mean Lower Alabama!) I’ve known Barry from meeting him at many camps over the years and I had no idea he knew so many songs and could sing so well. And since I caught a cold and could not sing (arrrgh!), he stepped into the breach and really helped out. His song choices were excellent—just plain old three-chord songs, but ones that were a bit unusual. The ones I remember are:

Let Those Brown Eyes Smile At Me
Long Black Veil
Your Love Is Like a Flower
Little Cabin Home on the Hill
Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane

(Help me out, Barry! There was another one about drinking and the one you sang Sunday that had the word “Wander” in it....my brain is muzzy today!)

Barry also played the banjo as he sang and did the kickoffs to all these songs! The rest of the class then had the opportunity to improvise breaks to the songs, on the spot, and play them solo while everyone else vamped. (But only if they wanted to.)

Jim also came through with some good sing-along songs like Worried Man and I Saw the Light. And on Saturday and Sunday Zac came in to be our guitar man. Nothing like playing Blue Ridge Cabin Home fifty times at a very slow pace, is there Zac? He also played banjo on our Saturday night concert and did a bang up job. Bob Van Metre came in to play bass and provide some comic relief with his off-the-cuff remarks...he also provided the medicinal Jack Daniels and I am forever in his debt for that. I still couldn’t sing but I didn’t feel so bad about it!

If I had to describe what we did during the weekend with one word it would be “improvise.” We divided the class into Beginning Intermediates and more Advanced Intermediates and both sections worked hard on improvising. The BI’s learned about it from the ground up—finding basic licks to use in simple three-chord songs and then using those same licks over and over to play more songs. The AI’s improvised to Barry’s and Jim’s songs and to the version of East Va. Blues I managed to croak out. (Not pretty!) Everyone did fantastic, and no one’s break was the same. The AI’s also improvised a break, on the spot, to Bluegrass Breakdown, altho Roy (back again from England) later said he was just copying me. Hey, that still counts! You were doing it on the fly.

There is much more to tell, but I’m out of time. I’d love it if some of you students would chime in with your impressions.

We are already looking forward to next year’s camp which will be this same weekend in March (we hope). Mark your calendars! We picked up great ideas from the students for improvements we can make for next year and we are already laying the groundwork to implement some of them.

Thanks to everyone for making our second Intermediate Banjo Camp such a great one. And don’t forget about our Murphy Method Beginner Camp this October!!!! See you there.

Murphy Henry

So, I’ve done all I can right now to help Casey get ready to leave. Which gives me a few minutes to tell you more about the camp and what we taught.


As you know, our teaching is always hands on and our banjo camp motto is “less talk, more playing.” I think we definitely achieved that goal this weekend.


We asked the students to come prepared to play the first three Murphy Method tunes: Banjo in the Hollow, Cripple Creek, and/or Boil Them Cabbage Down. If they were able to vamp any, that was a plus, but not a requirement. I think I can safely say we played those songs to death!


At our “Meet and Greet” which was the first thing on our agenda Friday afternoon, it became clear that the students really wanted to be able to play with other people but did not have jamming situations available and—this was a biggie for almost everyone—when they tried to play in front of anybody (including their teachers) they were so nervous that they could not play well. Some of them would freeze up and weren’t able to play at all.


I am proud to say that by the end of the weekend almost everyone had played one of those songs by themselves in front of the other students. And they played them VERY WELL. They played IN TIME and they PLAYED THROUGH THEIR MISTAKES. And most of them were also able to do the vamping to the song they played. I received such a charge from witnessing that that I was buzzing around long after camp was over. And I’m still euphoric over their progress. And their courage. Because, by their own admissions, most of them were extremely nervous when they were playing. Terrified is actually the word that comes to mind!


One of the reasons they were able to do this is that we had played through those songs so many times all together. S-L-O-W-L-Y. And they were playing them correctly and in time. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to play slow and steady and to do many, many, many repetitions every time you play. As we keep saying, lots of practice will clear up most playing problems. You also need to listen to what you are playing and to listen to the tune on the DVD. Do they sound the same?


After the Meet and Greet, we got out the banjos, and in one big group, we played through our three tunes. Slowly. My local students Susan and Zac had volunteered to play rhythm guitar which helped the students hear the tunes—and the chord changes—better. But, you know what? Since these were Murphy Method students to begin with, they were already playing pretty well—with good timing. And since they knew how to use their ears, as we played together, students were able to tweak their own timing. Somebody said, “I thought I could play Cripple Creek till we started playing it!” That is why playing with others is so important!


For our second session Friday we divided the class roughly in half (dividing along the lines of those who could already vamp some and those who could not) and began working on vamping and hearing chord changes. As always, hearing those chord changes is difficult. And, even though we do it by ear, in the beginning it’s almost impossible to get away from learning the patterns by rote, especially on the instrumentals. I was working with the vampers, so I told the students, “For now, just memorize the pattern: GGCG, GGDG.” (That’s the A part of Cripple Creek.) Then as they played the pattern, I believe most of them began to hear the changes. We worked on the vamping to all three songs, so that by itself was a lot of vamping!


Meanwhile Casey was busy with the non-vampers, showing them the F position chords and having them vamp to one of the easiest singing songs, Blue Ridge Cabin Home. They later moved on to Boil Them Cabbage Down.
Thus ended the first day of teaching. We broke for supper at 5 and met back at the Barber Shop that evening at 7 for our evening concert. Some of my local students joined Red and me in sitting down and playing casually for a couple of hours. Susan, Zac, and Mark played banjo, Bob Van and Janet played guitars, and Bill played bass. Some of the songs we played were:


Blue Ridge Cabin Home

Mary Dear

I Saw the Light

Train 45

Head Over Heels

Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms

Salt Creek

Sally Goodwin

Down The Road (which Zac sang)

Will the Circle

You Are My Sunshine

Lonesome Road Blues

Old Joe Clark

John Hardy

Foggy Mountain Breakdown


We ended with When the Roll is Called Up Yonder as we had ended so many of our Wednesday night concerts years ago. Everyone played so well. And improvising was definitely happening. I think and hope the students at the workshop got an idea of what can be achieved on the banjo when you work your butt off, you learn by ear, and you play often with other people. It can be done, folks!


Our Intermediate Camp is scheduled for March. Hope to see some of you there!


Murphy Henry

[And of course the title is a take-off on the song title The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.]

Cutting right to the chase: The Saturday morning of our Beginning Banjo Camp we woke up to find two inches of snow on the ground and more falling! Casey and I made the ten-mile trip into Winchester very slowly since even the main road, Route 50, had not been pre-treated nor plowed. What were they thinking?

We arrived at the venue—the basement of Dalton Brill’s old barber shop—to find a few students waiting patiently under the overhang of the shop next door. Down the steep outside stairs we went and I unlocked the door. The room, where we played music every Wednesday night for years, is below ground with old stone walls. When the lights are out it is pitch black. (Remember that part!) Wondering why I hadn’t remembered to bring a flashlight, I groped my way to the light switches (in the back of the room) and turned the lights on. Casey started coffee and I went upstairs to unlock the back door (which was our emergency exit) as the rest of the students were arriving. Just as I finished that task, the lights went out.

Thanks to the upstairs skylight, I could still see but downstairs it was, as I said earlier, pitch black. Making this long story shorter, we discovered there was a major power outage all across town. Luckily there were LOTS of candles on hand. So for starters we lit those, which helped. But even as we were doing that I’m thinking, “What are we going to do?”

Luckily, my friend Adam Phelps was on hand, as his son Riley was there for the morning session. I asked him to go somewhere and get some battery-powered lanterns. I knew he would come back with something! He is one of those “can do” kind of guys.

Still, I’m thinking, “What in the world are we gonna do?” Luckily, heat was not a problem. Yes, it was chilly, but with that many people (around 20) in that small space, body heat—and coats!--were doing the trick. Even with the candles, however, it was still dark. So I got out my guitar, Casey got out her banjo, and we had an old-fashioned sing-a-long! I can’t quite call it a hootenanny because we didn’t sing any “folk” songs (no Cum By Yah, no Where Have All The Flowers Gone, no The Cruel War, no If I Had A Hammer). But we did sing!

“Guess what we are going to start with?” I said. After a few misses, someone guessed, “I Saw The Light.” “You got it,” I replied. And off we went. We probably sang for close to an hour, doing everything from Will The Circle Be Unbroken to Little White Washed Chimney and Life’s Railway To Heaven. Then—bless his heart!—Adam came back with three lanterns. “You would not believe the lines in Wal-Mart,” he said. “I practically had to knock down two old ladies to get these!” At that point, I did not care!

Adam fired them up and by hanging them on nails already positioned in the middle of both sections of the basement (I’d divided it in two by hanging canvases between—makeshift but functional...sorta!) we could actually see. We decided to go on with the classes.

Shortening the story even more, the electricity stayed off until 4 p.m. Almost SEVEN HOURS! The only thing we had to cancel was the sing-a-long scheduled for that night from 7-9. I was worried the roads would freeze and we’d be driving in the dark on black ice. Been there, done that. Not fun! So, we added an hour-long slow jam to the end of the day’s activities and everyone seemed to be okay with that.

I can’t say enough about how gracious all the students were in a trying situation. Everyone was easy to get along with and no one complained about anything (even the lack of coffee!). And Dave’s wife remedied that later on by stopping by Dunkin’ Donuts and bringing two boxes of steaming Java into our midst. It was most welcome!

I’ve not said anything about the teaching but will blog more about that later. It was WONDERFUL! I was so proud of every student there. But I needed to get this snow stuff out of the way first!

And now I need to go help Casey and Dalton pack up. They are flying back to Nashville today. Boo hoo! Dalton was two months old yesterday and is as cute as a bug in a rug. I will miss them so much!

I’ll be back....with more about the camp! Stay tuned!