2018 Australian Bluegrass Conference

by | 19 Dec, 2018

As the rain clouds converged on Queensland’s south-east this weekend, a group of bluegrass musicians travelling by plane, train and car to converged on the mountain tourist town of Maleny for the 10th Australian Bluegrass Conference.

The venue for the 2018 conference is ironically named Tranquil Park Resort. It is nestled into the side of hills overlooking the famous glass house mountains some 20 kilometres inland from Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast. This year’s event was not marred by the endless rain of the weekend or the almost continuous cloud cover over the mountains, but buoyed by the enthusiasm and verve of an awaiting faculty and some 60 plus students.

The notion a bluegrass conference is not one that is easily explained to the uninitiated. In short it is the ultimate in personal bluegrass music development, allowing musicians to bathe in the overwhelming music, professional tuition, endless jamming and vital networking. It is the brainchild of Bellbird Banjo proprietor and luthier Peter Nahuysen of Brisbane. Some ten years ago now Peter saw the need to offer high level tuition to – initially – banjo players in Australia. Through evolution and demand, the mostly annual event has become a national celebration of all things bluegrass and features high quality tuition for not only banjos players but now includes mandolin, guitar, fiddle and double bass.

In terms of tuition this conference offers Australian bluegrass musicians the greatest opportunity to get along side and develop their craft through four days of intimate teaching contact with professional bluegrass musicians from not only Australia but from the USA, the origins of the music genre.

This years conference featured a faculty of high quality musicians and performers from Australia and the USA. The feature bands for this year included Mustered Courage from Melbourne, The Sonoran Dogs from Arizona, USA. Each of the band members also undertook to deliver workshops during the conference.

Mustered Courage:
Nick Keeling on 5-string banjo
Julian Abrahams on guitar
Josh Bennet on mandolin
Josh Bridges on bass.

The Sonoran Dogs:
Mark Miracle on mandolin
Tyler James on 5-string banjo
Peter McLaughlin on guitar
Bruce Packard* on bass

*Bruce is a Melbourne boy often recruited to play bass by local and international bands.

Russ Carson

Other individual tutors for the conference included Russ Carson, current banjo player with Ricks Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Russ’s father Glenn Carson and seasoned fiddle and old-timey banjo player. Peter Nahuysen and his twin brother Mark were also part of the teaching staff as well as Peter’s daughter Anita Nahuysen, a very competent old-time banjo player and excellent teacher and Brisbane banjo and fiddle master Gary Vann.

The weekend included 50 one-hour workshops/tutorials over the four days with class sizes limited to around six students in each of the one hour teaching sessions to ensure a level of intimacy and inclusiveness with instructors.

Thursday and Friday nights featured concerts from the teaching faculty. The Sonoran Dogs, Mustered Courage The Nahuysen Brothers band and Russ and Glenn Carson. The quality of musicianship in each of the concerts left little doubt as the the musicianship of the teaching staff for the weekend to come.

I have been to every bluegrass conference and I think this one has been the best yet. Peter (Nahuysen) never fails to bring the best of talent. To see and hear Russ Carson as well as the Sonoran Dogs has been fantastic – Greg Dunn.

As a frequent attendee to these events I can attest to the value of the four days to not just beginners but intermediate to advanced players of each bluegrass instrument. The artists’ personal anecdotes were also mesmerizing. Just listening to Russ Carson recount his experiences with Ricky Skaggs’s band Kentucky Thunder and his amazing ordeal leading up to his audition and eventual recruitment into the band left me in awe of this young man’s ability, determination and tenacity.

The two masterclasses gave us an insight into the inner workings, structure and discipline of a professional bluegrass band. While Mustered Courage recounted their eventual gravitation into bluegrass music having dabbled with jazz, hip hop and grunge ending the session with a demonstration of their highly disciplined approach to bluegrass harmony singing.

Regardless of your own level of competence with your instrument/s, you will be guaranteed to benefit from the next Australian Bluegrass Conference to be held at Tranquil Park in Maleny on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast from 12th to 15th December 2019.

Read for yourself what some of the attendees have said:

This has been a wonderful weekend and a great opportunity to catch up with friends and meet new people. The instruction has been really first-rate. While they are only one hours sessions there is so much packed in there and instructor have been happy have us record stuff to take home and apply later. A really wonderful weekend – Dave Hart.

I think it’s a weekend like no other. Great venue, great company and well worth coming to. It’s the highlight of the year for me. If you’re wondering if you are good enough to come or it sounds to frightening then you should come. You’ll feel included, you won’t regret it and you’ll have a great time – Therese Marty.

I love coming to the Bluegrass Conference in Maleny, the atmosphere is amazing, the venue is fabulous. We are ups in the mountains learning so much and jamming with people from around Australia and America, it has truly been a fantastic experience – Taylor Pfeiffer.

The highlight for me was the expert banjo pickers who were so gracious in sharing their wealth of knowledge and giving us tips that perhaps in any other industry would be considered trade secrets – Paul Mills.

I have really enjoyed learning the basics from the experts. How to strum, how to build chords and all of the theory has been a great help – Errold Bryant.

The highlight of the weekend has been seeing so many young musicians so passionate about bluegrass music learning and honing their skills on the spot as we teach. There aren’t enough of these events in Australia. It has meant a lot for us to be able to dig deeper into what we do and how we play our music – Julian Abrahams, Mustered Courage.

The Australian Bluegrass Conference has been one of the most positive musical experiences of my career. One of the best four days I have ever had. I have enjoyed, the (teaching) staff, the (conference) attendees, there has been such a tremendous outpouring of camaraderie. It has been wonderful to see people just so hungry to learn and to see their passion for the music – Russ Carson.

I am always delighted and surprised with the level of musicianship here in Australia when we come to teach at the Australian Bluegrass Conference. I find it just as enlightening for me as I get to learn from the students as well – Peter McLaughlin.

I have enjoyed the hospitality of the Nahyusen family and how welcoming all of the artists have been. I am all grateful that they have been so encouraging to my daughter Amy. For her to be able to get up and play with musicians of that calibre at such a young age (nine years old) has been something quite special – Andrew Ryan.

Mark it in your calendars for next year – Australian Bluegrass Conference 12th to 15th December 2019.