As part of its mission to support and promote the bluegrass music scene and bluegrass aficionados and musicians across Colorado, every year the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society awards a scholarship that covers the cost of attending the ever-popular RockyGrass Academy held each summer in Lyons.
CBMS is pleased to announcement that this year we'll be sending Jennifer Archer to study bluegrass vocals at the Academy. Jen's essay described her work as an educator and performer. She is entering her sixth season of founding, establishing and nurturing a bilingual arts education school called Ascential Language & Arts School (ALAS), which was founded December 2012 in Ometepe, Nicaragua.
Jen has been a part of the local jam scene and worked to incorporate bluegrass into her work with schools both here and in Nicaragua so we're happy to help her on her bluegrass journey.
Here is her winning essay:
It is with hope, excitement and gratitude that I write you this application letter for a RockyGrass 2019 Scholarship. I would like to be considered as a vocal student candidate, representing our diverse, creative and gifted Colorado community.
In May 2010, I was invited to be a part of a concert series with my professional dance company called Ascential Dance Theatre Colorado (ADTC). We were asked to collaborate, opening for Taarka during Elephant Revival’s CD release, with the GypsyGrass Fusion band, The Gristle Gals. At the time, I was heavily into creating World Fusion choreographic works using Celtic, Folk and African contemporary and traditional songs. In the first concert in the series, we were partnered with a local, 5-piece band called Noodle Soup led by Adrian Bradford Alexander. That night was the first time I had ever seen BlueGrass music performed live. I was instantly enchanted. A few months later, and after mentioning how much I have always wanted to sing, I found myself in the studio with Mitchell Ryan rehearsing my very first vocal tune, “There Ain’t No Easy Way” by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott (Real Time/2000). As if the challenge were not daunting and intimidating enough, I continued on to play my very first, ten-song live show as a vocalist on New Year’s Day 2011 at The Skylark Lounge in Denver. Mitch has become a long-term artistic collaborator, and eventually my band mate, in BabyWood HatBox, Dust Stompers and El Huracan y Los Ojos. All of these projects are working regularly in Denver and Boulder, featuring our beloved BlueGrass influence in some form.
I started attending open BlueGrass jams (Int/Adv) in 2011 and cut my teeth under the supervision, direction and subtle criticism of the Littleton pickers (Majestic Dental meetups, eventually manifesting into the Jake’s Jam). While running two businesses and homeschooling my son Jeylin, I managed to quickly learn almost 100 songs in one year. Because I began working as a professional choreographer at age 12 in 1985, I have a unique gift for being able to swiftly memorize song structures. In the short eight years I have been hustling my vocal/musical desires and skill set, I have had the privilege of playing songs on stage with the likes of The Sweet Lillies, Chris Thompson/Coral Creek, Bill McKay/True Blue Band, Tyler Grant/Grant Farm, Dust Stompers, Mountain Strange, The Gristle Gals, Dee Dee & the Shakers, Last Sheets on the Roll, Evolucion, El Huracan y Los Ojos and my own band BabyWood HatBox, to name a few.
I am a graduate of Florida State University (Interdisciplinary Social Science, 1997) and I am an arts anthropologist, researcher, lecturer, producer, writer, director and career educator with experience in developing programming specifically designed to suit the needs of any community that calls on my services. For most of my life and career, I have been known as a dancer, choreographer and school director.
Currently, I am entering my sixth season of founding, establishing and nurturing a bilingual arts education school called Ascential Language & Arts School (ALAS), which I founded in December 2012 on Ometepe, Nicaragua - a dual volcano island located in the middle of Lago Cocibola/Lake Nicaragua. Even Mark Twain has visited and written about the island! Commencing with eleven Kindergarten students in the village of Merida, ALAS now serves over 250 students in six different villages annually. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the world and our classes are tuition-free to anyone who attends. Our students learn English and Spanish through Dance, Art, Music, Yoga, Martial and/or Theater. ALAS is the only program of its kind to ever operate on Ometepe and now features programs in the US. All of these blessings combined are beyond what I ever imagined for my life and work.
While building this dream, my family of three has lived without power, internet, running water, flooring, beds, cars and even a refrigerator in order to provide these vital services to our “Isleno” friends and family. Local schools have now started offering us positions as full-time developers and collaborators, featuring specific focus on American arts traditions. Now embraced as members of the local community, our return is anticipated annually. It is widely known that we represent the great state of Colorado and we are frequently referred to as “NicaRados.” Our next tour we plan to venture further into the process of building teacher housing intended to host our growing annual roster of Colorado and Florida guest professors.
One of the most colorful truths about this experience is that my husband bought me a washboard for my birthday in 2012 and I ended up washing clothes on it for six months while living a half mile up a volcano! Living “off-grid” is not easy, but our family has highly developed survival and construction skills. Because of our commitment to our school and lives on Ometepe, and the fact that we cannot yet legally work in Nicaragua, we have to be extremely vigilant about saving and raising money while in the United States. ALAS is a humbled, triple recipient of Burners Without Borders competitive grant award, this year receiving one of twenty four grants out of 340 global applicants. All fundraising monies go toward ALAS construction projects.
My husband Jamey, our son Jeylin and I are focused and committed to continuing to enrich ourselves through artistic education experiences that we can bring back to our beloved Nicaraguan communities. BlueGrass culture has enveloped us and we are hungry for a deeper understanding and study. There are only two professional bands on Ometepe and I am a guest artist (vocalist/percussion) in both of them, performing traditional and popular cover songs in both English and Spanish. I am often asked to share my BlueGrass talents. These treasured opportunities have provided ALAS a vehicle to reach more families, students and potential venues for classes and performances. I am a native English speaker who chose to learn Spanish fluently in order to better serve my students in Nicaragua.
I believe I am a strong candidate for a 2019 RockyGrass Scholarship because the unique, priceless training I will receive will be implemented into my diverse outreach, educational and professional performing opportunities. Thank you for your time and consideration.