Why Workshops Work (25 Kent State Folk Fest Sessions are Different)

Years ago as a kid I heard Al Bartholet talking about the Kent State Folk Festival on the radio. Ready for something different I decided to go. Much to my disappointment the concerts were sold out, so I went to the free workshops. To many, a workshop means you bring your instrument and sit in on a group lesson. Not at Kent State. These workshops are more discussion/illustration and often focus on themes. Stage/audience barriers are gone and it’s easy for a surface interest in folk music to become infatuation.

There are 5 per hour covering 5 hours. You cannot get to all of them, though I tried.

Rio Neon offered “Re-arrangements.” The five piece band showed how they take an existing song and change it to fit their group. They played a recording of the earliest version of the song and then they performed it their way. It was fascinating and there were lots of questions. The Rhondas demonstrated harmony as Jen Maurer coaxed the audience into singing the three parts.

Several from the Folk Alley music library led sessions. Jann Klose and Adam Klein held a discussion about “Performing Abroad.” Jann is from Germany and Adam has lived in Mali and worked with the Peace Corp. Chris Castle joined Matt & Shannon Heaton for “Folk Alley Networking.” The three explained how they used Folk Alley’s Open Mic website feature to gain exposure and then to find work around the country. Matt & Shannon also presented “Anatomy of an Irish Session” and filled in for Alex Bevan with “Making Your Own CD”

There WERE some opportunities for beginning players. Woodsy’s Music guitar instructor Kerry Kean talked about “Effective Practice.” Another Woodsy’s teacher, Dale Galgozy, offered “Instructor/Student Dynamics,” cleverly presenting two teachers and two students allowing the audience to witness the interaction. Despite what I said earlier about these workshops being mostly demonstrational, I see the festival presenting more opportunities for attendees to actually play, likely in an organized jam setting.

One of the best sessions was “Bluegrass and Old Time, What’s the Difference?” Hillbilly IDOL guitarist, Paul Kovac, had a bluegrass banjo player and a bluegrass fiddler standing to his left and an old timey fiddler and banjo player seated to his right. He played with both sets of players. Paul compared the differences and similarities to Democracy and Socialism: “Old Time music is like socialism. Everyone plays in unison, and takes pride in the group effort. There is no required beginning or end to the tune and often no one sings. Bluegrass is like a democracy. The songs are very structured but individuals can show their own personality through improvisation.” Paul then added, slightly tongue in cheek: “The problem with Bluegrass as a democracy is that everyone gets their chance at a solo whether or not they have anything brilliant to add.”

The Kent State Folk Festival workshops are an introduction. They are a means for anyone to develop more of an interest, plus they are loads of fun. Since they are free, there is no barrier to entry.

See you there next November!

Workshop Day at the Kent State Student Center:

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