Blues Week at Augusta/Elkins WV By Monica L. Yasher Pittsburgh, PA

Posted on 7/03/2009 by Monica Yasher

For those of you that want to get better at playing the blues, I have just the place for you. For one solid week there is a small campus in Elkins, West Virginia where the blues goes on 24 x 7 for one solid week. This year blues week takes place from July 12 to July 17. I sorta hesitate to tell you all about camp at Augusta at Davis and Elkins College because I haven’t decided if I’m going this year. If you read it, all the slots could get filled and then I am out. Ouch!

This camp is primarily an acoustic blues camp. Potential blues artists can hone on their skills of harmonica, vocals, fiddle/mandolin, piano, and song writing. Guitarists can hone in on numerous styles such as Chicago Blues, Piedmont Blues Guitar, Bottleneck Slide, Fingerstyle Blues, and Texas Acoustic Blues. And while there, the history of blues has various forums to attend.

I went to Blues camp two years ago. I was sad to miss it last year, but went to Nashville instead for some country music initiatives. You have no idea what a die hard blues intensive work week this is. Let’s talk about it.

You check in and get your room assignment. Unload your car-beer included if you have packed some. If you forgot something, there is the infamous Walmart up the road. It seems the first night is pretty tame.

Your day typically starts early. You stay in a college dorm-co ed. I now have the experience of walking down a dorm hallway and looking like I do when I wake up in the morning. The whole time I'm praying absolutely no one will walk down the hallway the same time as me! Pretty scary-for them. You have to get dressed and ready for breakfast and head off for the college main dining hall. I think they finish serving breakfast pretty early. I can remember I had to be there by 9. If you arrive late, you are SOL. Very SOL. Breakfast is a requirement after the night. You don’t want coffee. You NEED coffee. You then attend classes of your choosing in the morning. I attended a blues vocal class taught by Gaye Adegbalola. Gaye is an honored teacher turned blues singer. She tells you the history of the blues and how to go about singing them. How you really don’t have to be a great vox but sing with feeling. I learned a lot from Gaye. I recommend it.

Before you know it. It’s time for a dining room lunch. It really was pretty good to eat. Of course, you can opt out and go somewhere to eat off campus. But, then you miss connecting with fellow blues artists, as well as the staff. I still write to some of my friends in the Buffalo Harmonica Club two years later. They were a very intriguing bunch of guys I met and I looked forward to my dinners and lunches with them. (I always find people intriguing who water slide naked at high noon down college campus hills. Gooooo Larrrryyyyy ). Alright. Usually the hour after lunch is when the instructors do their solo mini performances, which is cool. The room is small so you are up close and personal with the performer. All the instructors are approachable. One night I hung out with Daryl Davis and talked songwriting with him. He gave me a lot of tips on determining if you song could be worthwhile. I hope I get to talk to Daryl again

Afternoon yields more classes. For me it was a critiquing vocal performance class. This is a great opportunity for all blues artists to get real feedback on their performance, vocals, sale of the song, etc.. It’s sorta of a mini American Idol for blues. How did I do, you ask? OK. I fell on my face. I decided to do an Eva Cassidy version of Ain’t No Sunshine. Decided to work it for the first time as I performed it. So, everyone pretty much thought (knew) I -do I really say it?-sucked. But, for those of you that have had a day like that, you just tell yourself I had a bad PERFORMANCE. Yeah. That’s the ticket. I have since conquered the song. Don't underestimate that I know I know part!

Then there is dining room dinner. After dinner, here is where you can take a mini class. I took a class with Annie Raines on harmonica. She is truly a great personality. But don’t take a class. Here is where you sleep. This is the only time you sleep. You get a couple of hours. That’s it. People told me this on about Wednesday. I guess I was looking like I needed some beauty sleep?

Evening comes on and there are things to do. When I went, Swing week was combined with blues week. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. At that time all the blues artists did a show for the community one night and then the swing artists did another show on a different night. What was cool about swing week is there was swing dancing instruction. This meant a swing dance every night in the pavilion with the bands being the swing/blues instructors merging. The nights were way cool!

Then after the “formal” evenings don’t plan on going to sleep. On every porch within the campus there are pickup sessions. What I noticed about the pickup sessions, is there is a hierarchy to them. The more years you have in blues camp, the more to the inner circle you sit. If you are new that year, plan on sitting on the outskirts. Still playing, just the outskirts.

There is the icehouse of the college which literally held the ice for the campus in it’s day. There’s a piano there and it is a really cool (I’m so witty ) place to be. I remember I was at the ice house early in the evening with Terry Bean. Terry’s famous saying is “You know I can go all night long”. And, he would! I don't think the man slept. One night Terry and I did one of those versions of bantering with verses and answering each other. I had a lot of fun with Terry at the ice house with those people listening. Terry where are you this year? I have your card, I’ll have to find out. Usually the icehouse belongs to Gaye with various other instructors popping in and out to play with the crowd. It’s truly a great night-every night! I typically hung out at the ice house. It offered more vocals there. Porches are players.

Now for those of you that like the electric blues, the boiler house is hot and the place to be. I spent time at the furnace too. It is an electric blues open mic. It’s neat to play with all the players across the country. Come to think of it, I had fun there too. Probably as much fun as the ice house.

On Friday it is open mic where all the campers get to perform among their peers. You will never have a more loving audience than this group. So if you go and want to perform, this is the time to give yourself the shot. If you are truly scared, go later in the performance. The crowd seems to dwindle down as the day goes on. If you are a performer, go early so people see your stuff. For my performance, it required some stalking on my part. I don’t play so I had to hunt up a guitarist. I was walking down the lane at the college and happened to see Pud (didn’t know his name then) carrying a guitar case. I said, hey you want to back me on the show on Friday? Pud and I worked on a song I wrote. He was able to hone in on the slide guitar tricks he was learning and I sang. We did pretty well for the, what pud? 3 rehearsals we put in? I received positive feedback on the song. It’s these little moments you conquer that let you know you should be doing your music. Thanks Augusta! Thanks Pud!

The first night I was there, I went to bed normal time. Monday 1:00 am, Tuesday 2:00 am Wednesday 3:00 am and Thursday 4:00 am. Friday I couldn’t take it and went to bed at midnight knowing I was leaving the next morning and probably had laundry to do after I drove my 3 hours to get home. It was truly an experience. This is why you want a dorm room and do not want to stay off campus. It’s late (or should I say early?) and all you have to do is walk to your bed and collapse until breakfast and then you do it again, except later than the night before. I love Blues Camp!

You might enjoy reading about a blues cruise here.

Copyright © 2009 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.

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