In December this year the Tranquil Park Resort hosted Australia’s first ever bluegrass music conference. 28 people from around Australia descended on the mountain town of Maleny to take part in the three days of intensive instruction in mandolin, guitar, fiddle, bass and 5-String Banjo.
The USA band X Train featuring Peter McLaughlin on guitar and vocals, Ross Nickerson on banjo and vocals, Mark Miracle on mandolin and vocals and Bob Denoncourt on bass and vocals were the principal instructors for the weekend along with locals George Jackson, Mark Nahyusen, Gary Vann and Peter Nahyusen
The weekend retreat was organised by Bellbird Banjo’s Peter Nahyusen. Peter also organises the Australia Banjo Conference which and is now entering its sixth year and took place the weekend prior to the Bluegrass Conference. Brisbane based band The Company also made an appearance on the weekend to support the event and perform in the Saturday evening concert.
Peter Nahyusen said “The highlight for him and indeed all the faculty was to see people respond to being placed in a band on day 1 to prepare items for the Saturday night concert. The 4 bands all performed magnificently and it was a thrill to see people grow in confidence and skill and develop their own unique sound and expression. The band concept was truly a highlight”.
I asked a few of the attendees to give me their thoughts on the weekend.
I enjoyed the fantastic social aspects, sharing music with friends who have become part of a big bluegrass family as well as meeting new folk. The transformation of the event into an all encompassing multi-instrument conference produced the opportunity for delegates to learn from and play with world class pros. It was a huge thrill for me to receive instruction from Peter MacLaughlin and then be able to play one of my original songs with him on stage – Rod Spence.
The first Bluegrass Conference was a fabulous weekend. Not only were we surrounded by fantastic Bluegrass music from X-Train (with a special show by The Company) for a long weekend, but had access to excellent musicians who instructed us in our various instruments and showed us how to work together as part of a ‘bluegrass band’.
The conference instructors all have different teaching styles and I picked up lots of different tips and techniques from each one. As a student I felt privileged to be taught by such high quality musicians. This was a great opportunity to learn to play with other instruments and I realized that the terror of performing was a shared emotion. The Bluegrass Conference helped to increase my confidence playing with others and to be ‘less afraid’ to try new things. It was also a great opportunity to hear beautiful tunes that I didn’t previously know and that I now wish to learn in time for jamming at next years Conference – Leanne Reid.
The Maleny Bluegrass Conference provided a wonderful platform for bluegrass musicians of all levels to meet, share their ideas and pick together. The tutors all had extensive bluegrass backgrounds and provided a fabulous window into the world of the professional bluegrass band. Being able to discuss all aspects of bluegrass music with such approachable and highly skilled musicians was a fabulous experience.
I thought that the structure was a good balance of instrument specific workshops with a focus on the complete band. For me the opportunity to work on band and performance skills with the members of X Train was a fabulous and rare experience. I think all the tutors provided everyone with an extremely beneficial experience, but for me, being able to sit down with Ross and have him help me with my playing has been invaluable – Dave Peters.
Next year will see the same event repeated with the Banjo Conference taking place in December 2013 while the Australian Bluegrass Conference will take place in July 2013.
Peter and his team are to be commended for their insight, daring and courage. Until the first banjo conference the only way to experience tuition of such intensity and depth was to travel overseas.