Building musical knowledge

Folk Fest workshops help fine-tune musical skills

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009

Folk Festival fans who have been sitting and tapping their toes to the music on stage this past week can take one or more opportunities this weekend to learn a new skill, broaden their existing musical knowledge or just shake a leg.

The festival kicks into high gear Saturday and Sunday, with 34 workshops and 13 dances planned for various spots in and around Centennial Hall, many happening concurrently with the 15-minute performances on the main stage.

Workshops have been around since the festival's second year, and highlight the event's focus on active participation, sharing of knowledge and community.

"I think (the workshops) make a serious contribution," said Pat Henry, this year's workshop organizer. "Most people can go to one that sounds interesting and pick up a few pointers - something to work on in the time between now and the next festival."

Even those who are just getting started with an instrument should feel comfortable participating in most of them, Henry said.

"There's lots of action for beginners because one of the main ideas of the Folk Fest is to promote people playing music, and they have to start to before they can continue," he said.

Interested kids are generally welcome, Henry said, as their involvement has long been a part of the folk tradition.

"For the most part people want to encourage kids to get into music," he said. "In some ways this is an easier entry point than if they go take piano lessons. Maybe it has a better chance of working, because it can be more fun."

In a few cases, however, participants are expected to have some previous musical knowledge. Henry's workshop, for example, Finger-Picking Acoustic Blues Guitar, is an intermediate-level event.

"It's fairly difficult to accommodate somebody that doesn't know how to play a chord with somebody that's trying to learn a hot lick," he said. "In a crowd like that somebody is going to be bored."

Workshop topics change from year to year, and are based partly on the expertise of that year's guest artists, who are required as part of their contract to participate. Guest artists became part of the Folk Fest tradition in 1977 primarily so locals could broaden their musical knowledge.

Folk Festival president Greg McLaughlin said one of his favorite parts of the workshops is listening to the guest artists' stories about their lives and connection to the music.

Andre Brunet, of this year's guest band De Temps Antan, said the group is excited to share their music with the Juneau community.

"We have a lot of stuff to show and to talk about because Québec music is very strong in (its roots)," he said.

De Temps Antan, which has three members, will participate in six different workshops, including:

• Foot Percussion in French Canadian Music, 12-1 p.m. Saturday with Andre Brunet.

• Archival Recordings: Song and Tune Collections, 1:30-3 p.m. Saturday with Eric Beaudry.

• Harmonica and Accordion Music of Quebec, 3-4:30 p.m. Saturday with Pierre-Luc Dupuis

• Quebec Fiddle, 1:30 -3 p.m. Sunday with Brunet

The guest artists will also be involved in two showcase-style workshops geared toward exposing participants to different styles of playing the same instrument.

McLaughlin said the showcase workshops are a little different because they don't involve as much active participation.

"Those are demonstration workshops rather than real hands-on," he said. "It's a learning experience."

A fiddler's showcase, scheduled from 1:30-3 p.m. Saturday, will feature a variety of styles of fiddle-playing: Cajun, with Ray Garrity and Jason Noris; old-time, with Scott Meyer; bluegrass, with Angela Oudean; Irish, with Caitlin Warbelow; and Quebecois, with De Temps Antan's Brunet.

A harmonica summit also is planned. McLaughlin said the idea for that particular workshop was generated by Grant Dermody of the Improbabillies.

"I saw his name on the schedule and I thought, this is the perfect opportunity to see if he wants to follow through with that, since one of our guest artists is a harmonica player as well."

He said both Dermody and local musician Sean Tracey play mostly old-time, but that their approach is very different. The third harmonica player, guest artist Dupuis, will bring in the French-Canadian style.

Musicians and fans can learn more than techniques, however. Two workshops scheduled for Sunday deal with the business end of things. Tyler Preston will lead "Songwriting to Stage," a workshops on career development, and Ken Waldeman will lead "Music Business 101." Another workshop, led by Sam Bartlett, promises to teach participants how to perform stunts.

"He apparently does tricks and pranks and teaches people how to do 'em," Henry said. "I'm not really sure what he'll do but I expect it might be interesting."

And for those who are just tired of the genre -and the venue - John Ingalls has planned a "Folk Free Zone" from 2-4 p.m. Saturday at Valentines Coffee House, a jam-session that will focus on jazz and Latin music.

"He wanted a place where they could have coffee," Henry said of the choice to hold it at Valentines. "I guess coffee's important for jazz players."

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