As the months roll by and we get closer to the next Australian Banjo Conference I thought it would be good to talk with Peter Nahuysen about where the conference has come from and where it’s likely to head. Peter started out with a relatively modest event around six years ago that has grown into a major undertaking that this year will attempt to cater to a range of bluegrass instruments as well as the 5-string banjo.
Editor: So Peter, 2012 sees you organising Australian Banjo Conference number 5? Congratulations for the ongoing success.
Peter: Thanks Greg. Yes number 5, or you could say numbers 5 and 6.
Editor: Of course, there are two separate events planned for December this year over consecutive weekends. Is that because the Banjo Conference has become so popular?
Peter: Yes, that’s a big part of the reason, but also due to increasing interest in the notion of expanding it to include instruction in other bluegrass instruments too. I have had a growing number of inquiries and emails asking if there could be camps for other instruments. So this year we have expanded the concept to include guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bass.
Yes, why should banjo players have all the fun. So can you expand a little here and tell us how will that work?
Peter: Conference 1, on December 6 – 9 will be the traditional Australian Banjo Conference that people have come to know and love. But conference 2 the following weekend, we are calling the Australian Bluegrass Conference. It will allow for instruction in virtually all the instruments, banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bass.
Will the format of the 2nd event be similar to the Banjo Conference?
Peter: Yes, quite similar in that it will run the same length of time from the Thursday lunch time until the Sunday lunch time and feature 8 training sessions, concerts, jams and of course the ever popular student concert. But this conference will cater not only for banjo, but importantly the other instruments.
Can a person have instruction on 2 instruments, say guitar and banjo, or do they have to choose just 1 instrument to specialise on?
Peter: Absolutely, they can have instruction in 2 or even 3 instruments if they wish. For example fiddle and mandolin might be popular I would imagine. We will structure the sessions so that people could do any combination of instruments they wanted to. All I suggest is that beginner banjo players choose conference 1 as it will cater better for them.
So, can you tell us how bookings have been going so far?
Peter: Really good. In fact I have slightly more bookings for conference 2 than 1, but the numbers of bookings for both have been very strong.
Numbers are capped i believe? Is it still 55 per conference?
Peter: Yes, capped at 55, so it will always retain that sense of cohesion and camaraderie that people have come to know with this comfortable size of group.
3 years ago you had the Canadian band Hungry Hill, last year you had Ross Nickerson’s new band X-Train who were just sensational. I understand you have X-Train coming again for 2012?
Peter: Yes, X Train are coming again for both conferences, and in fact will be instructing on their respective instruments, Peter McLaughlin on guitar, Mark Miracle on mandolin, Bob Denoncourt on bass and of course Ross on banjo.
That’s fantastic. A live-in bluegrass band has to be a great asset that will no doubt help add to the whole experience, especially when they are of the calibre of X-Train. These guys are absolutely superb musicians, I got to pick with them in Caloundra last year. What a fun time that was, they were just a friendly group of musicians. Beside X-Train you also have other instructors booked for the conference?
Peter: Correct. Conference 1 will feature 6 banjo instructors, Ross Nickerson, Gary Vann, Peter Somerville, Wendy Holman, George Jackson and myself. Conference 2 will have Peter McLaughlin and Mark Nahuysen on guitar, Mark Miracle and Gary Vann on mandolin, George Jackson on fiddle, Bob Denoncourt on bass, and Ross and myself on banjo. Wendy will be our jam host and coordinator.
Great to see you have George Jackson coming. I see Martin Louis is not coming this year?
Peter: No, sadly Martin was not able to come this year, but that has opened the space for George which I am thrilled about.
Tranquil Park Resort in Maleny has become a popular venue for this event?
Peter: Yes, absolutely. I can’t envisage a more magnificent venue for a banjo or bluegrass conference than Tranquil Park. It has incredible views and scenery, wonderful al-a-carte restaurant with an Irish Bar, and incredibly helpful and friendly staff. It is a winning formula all round, and I believe it helps cater for a world class event which is why people keep coming back, and we keep growing!
Well I’m coming again this year! Has anyone booked for both conferences?
Peter: Yes, 5 people have booked for both!
So how can people get in touch with you for information or to make bookings?
Peter: The best way is through my Bellbird Banjos website which has the conference pages on it. www.bellbirdbanjos.com or they can email me direct at pe***********@op******.au or simply just call me on 0416 113496.
Thanks Peter, having attended a few of these conferences now I can highly recommend them. This even remains the only opportunity in Australia for bluegrass enthusiasts to rapidly improve their playing and to be truly inspired by musicians of international calibre and to most importantly to meet other players.