My summer vacation Keith Summers talks about his experience at RockyGrass Academy thanks to the Buckner Scholarship
RockyGrass Academy 2017 was yet another incredible week of camaraderie, food and music. People from all over the world came together with the common goal to submerse themselves in bluegrass music for a week. This submersion comes in the form of studying with some of the professional musicians performing at RockyGrass Festival, and through day and night long picks with friends. I loved walking around and hearing the sounds of all the pickers’ tunes floating through the air. I felt like a kid in a candy store with all the people I was able to play with. Never a shortage of fine pickers to connect with. For me, RockyGrass Academy is starting to turn into a family reunion. I get a chance to reconnect with friends that I have not seen for the year, and we seamlessly pick up where we left off. Friendships are just as much of the bluegrass culture as the music. One of the highlights for me was the song sessions. The first two mornings, you form a band with friends and find a place to pick some tunes. At some point, one of the instructors will come by and offer some pointers on how to make the song sound tighter. Rob Ickes, Dobro player extraordinaire, came by our session and gave us some great pointers around how to tighten our arrangement of the tune and to bring the harmonies out. Another highlight was the early morning performance by Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen. Each morning, a group will perform and do a Q & A in the Wildflower Pavilion. Dirty Kitchen started their set around 9:00 a.m. and played with intense groove and drive. Jeremy Middleton, their new bass player, added a lot of groove to their hard driving sound. Of course, having the opportunity to study bass with Jeremy Middleton, Greg Garrison and Joel Landsberg was also an incredible part of the week. All the instructors offered a unique approach to teaching. Greg taught us a Mark Schatz’s slap intro to Claire Lynch’s “Crazy Train.” Jeremy Middleton shared with us some exercises for improving intonation and dexterity. And Joel shared a lot of his philosophies for being a bass player and shared stories about his musical adventures with the Kruger Brothers. Overall, I had a great experience studying with all the instructors. All participants are also able to take a one-on-one with an instructor of their instrument. I took an informative lesson with Greg. The band scramble is also an incredible opportunity for people to come together to play some tunes on the Wildflower Pavilion stage. I was fortunate to be a judge this year and listen to the acts. I was blown away by the creative arrangements and original tunes each band displayed. The best part of the band scramble is no one is excluded. You have players whose first time playing an instrument was two days earlier, to more accomplished players. Everyone comes together for a good time and to create music. You can tell by watching how much fun everyone has on stage. This year, a square dance was put on by Bruce Molsky and called by Tatiana Silver Hargreaves. What a great time to listen to old-time tunes and participate in the dance. The square dance was a nice change of pace. I listen to a fair amount of old-time but never participated in a square dance. I enjoyed the cultural context this offered. Just a great time. The late night jams offer a wide variety of levels to play with and listen too. If you are a beginner player, you can connect with others during the day and get together throughout the week to play and hone your chops. Even more intermediate and advanced players can find a comfortable pick to hang in for a while. Speaking of late night jams, it is not uncommon to find yourself in a pick with some of the instructors. I had a few 3:00 a.m. jams with Mike Munford, from Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, during the academy. While I get a lot of playing in each day and night, I also try to make time to walk around and check out the other jams that are going. I like to hear what people are getting into and how they approach playing their instruments. While most jams are focused on bluegrass, you can also wander around and find some swing jams, country tunes and other musical interests. Planet Bluegrass Ranch is an incredible place to spend a week too. The St. Vrain River adds a calmness to the academy. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit by the river and zone out. Life doesn’t get much better than that. I should also mention how incredible the staff at Planet Bluegrass are. They are all very helpful and make the academy run so smoothly. You can tell they are working hard to make the academy go smoothly and to prep for the festival that weekend. Cheers to the incredible staff and to Craig Ferguson for allowing us to camp out and come together for an amazing experience. If you have been to the Academy before then I hope this article brings a smile to your face. If you have not been to the Academy and always wanted to then I hope this review encourages you to apply to the RockyGrass Academy Lottery in November. You will not regret it. On a closing note, I was able to attend the RockyGrass Academy on the CBMS Buck Buckner Scholarship this year. I am eternally grateful for being chosen and want to thank all those that made it possible. Cheers and I hope to see some of you at the 2018 academy.