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Thread: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

  1. #1
    Registered User HaveMercy's Avatar
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    Default Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    After searching the forums for a bit I haven't found any threads that talk about bluegrass mandolin camps or symposia, and their respective good and bad points. If I've missed such a thread, please point me in the right direction.

    I've never attended a music camp before, but I'm thinking I'd like to go to one next summer, so I'm starting to look now. I would love to hear about your experiences, thoughts, and opinions regarding bluegrass camps that you've attended. Here are a few of my current ideas about what selection criteria:

    • Which camp offers the best cadre of instructors, not necessarily the most famous name(s) in music?
    • Which camp offers the broadest spectrum of mandolin topics to study?
    • Is a general bluegrass camp preferable to a mando specific camp? I play multiple instruments.
    • Which camp offers the most idyllic scenery, pleasant temps, and other sites and attractions that make the experience feel like a vacation?
    • Which camp offers the biggest bang for the buck?
    • Which camp best accommodates non-musical spouses?
    • What should I expected from camp: Take-home materials; new licks; new techniques; tons of stuff to work on mastering; etc?

    What other criteria should I add to this list? What should I remove from the list?

    I look forward to your thoughts to help me shape my plans.

    Cheers, Ken
    Cheers, Ken
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Kaufman Kamp has an excellent reputation for all instruments. I attended guitar kamp there a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I have friends that go every year.

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    Professional Cat Herder Phil Vinyard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Kaufman Kamp. Big time. I went for my first year last summer and am counting the days until the next camp. Got to rotate between 6 really good mandolin instructors: all great performers but also extraordinary teachers. Other folks with other instruments, you could jam as much or as little as you wanted. Extremely high quality, well organized. Not unusual to meet people who had been 8-10 years in a row. That should tell you something! Maryville College is a nice place, staff there very accommodating. Has a full program for Kamp Kompanions. And the $800 covers 6 nights in a dorm, all meals, all classes, concerts every night. Best money I ever spent. And gave my mando playing a big boost. Web site is http://www.acoustic-kamp.com/ Check it out!
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  4. #4

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    They're all the same in many respects, but you get/absorb/learn more from them as you improve as a player and as a learner. It is absurdly easy to experience information overload, even in the space of a few minutes. For my first few, I would go to nearby/less expensive/one day or weekend-long camps, and not take a spouse. Only after several years of experience would I go a long way, for a longer camp, and by then I would probably have a specific instructor in mind. Many camps have beginner tracks, and they are a great way to learn/relearn the basics, and perhaps more important, learn how you learn. There is nothing worse than being overwhelmed in the wrong workshop, when you cannot grasp anything and you're slowing down the process for everyone else.

    I have attended more than a dozen different mandolin camps since my first, 5 or so years ago, when I was a beginner. I now think its better to start slow and enjoy a lifetime of camps than to aim for the camp of a lifetime right out of the gate. Keep your mind open when you get to a camp, and be prepared to change your plans.

    Don't forget to bring a recorder that you have practiced using in noisy situations (and downloaded and listened carefully to afterward), and extra batteries. Olympus makes some simple voice recorders that work fine.

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    Registered User HaveMercy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Thanks everyone. Kaufman Kamp gets 2 enthusiastic thumbs up, and it is one that I've been aware of for some time. Glad to hear the endorsements.

    For the record I've been playing mandolin for some time as well as dobro, guitar, double bass, and a bit of banjo and fiddle. I play in a local bluegrass band so I don't consider myself a beginner. In fact I would have classified myself as intermediate-advanced, but the more I learn the more I become aware of how little I know and how much there still is to learn. The risk of playing many different instruments is not becoming deeply proficient at any one of them. So, I'm dedicated to immersing in mandolin for the next year. Perhaps the following year will be dobro immersion.

    Any other camps I should consider?
    Cheers, Ken
    To be less wrong than yesterday

  6. #6

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I have not been to Kaufman Kamp, but have heard the same kind of positive feedback. As a westerner, you may want to consider the Mandolin Symposium (hopefully it will remain in the west). I have been to the last six, and I always learn a lot. I have made many dear friends there, and my playing has improved. The international flavor, with top mandolinists from Brazil and Europe as well as from the US and Canada, just adds to the sweetness. If mandolin is what you are diving into, a camp devoted to the mandolin may be just what you're after. It is nice to be with fellow mando-geeks, who can understand my love of the mandolin.
    Any one of the instructors could have a camp built around just their teaching (and some do)--having so many mando geniuses in one spot at the same time is a wonderful experience. There is so much more---the jams of course---the talented kids (who you can see get their grammy nominations a year or two later)---the amazing UC Santa Cruz campus. But above it all is the amazing generosity of Mike Marshall, David Grisman and their mandolin virtuoso buddies from around the globe. All are willing to talk with you privately, and offer guidance, advice, or just a cup of coffee. There is a feeling at the symposium that goes way beyond any commercial venture. Counting the days 'til next year.....

  7. #7
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Another great camp to consider would be Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Week in Elkins, West Virginia.

    Instead of short bits of time with many great players (like Kaufman Kamp), you spend a total of maybe 18 hours of the week with a single teacher. This year the choices were Sharon Gilchrist, Herschel Sizemore, or Mike Compton. 18 hours with Compton in 5 days; it was a blast. And the continuity seemed better to me for the way I learn.

    I've been to both Kaufman and to Augusta several times myself. It's hard to make a wrong choice between those two.

    Best answer: Go to BOTH!!! (Yeah, I know. Hard to do.)
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I've done RockyGrass Academy 3 times. It's really hard to get a mandolin spot, not all of the instructors are great but some are fantastic, it's hard to get a guest pass for a spouse, it's not for rank beginners. It's located in the foothills of the Rockies so the setting is really nice. The scene for jamming, making new friends and being immersed in Bluegrass is hard to beat. So some good, some bad on RGA.

  9. #9
    Phylum Octochordata Mike Bromley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    River of the West, near Portland Oregon. I went in 2009 (had to miss 2010). The setting was wonderful; the instruction was very informative and the jamming was a blast. I'm sorry I missed the expanded version this year. Both years featured a roster built around organizer Brian Oberlin and jazz mandolinist Don Stiernberg. I'll be going as many times as I can get off work to do so.
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  10. #10

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    The Monroe Style mandocamp in Owensboro, Ky., is great if you are interested in learning Monroe style. Directors are Mike Compton and Richie Brown. Great personable instructors and great jams. They are always searching for new ways to make the camp interesting. Again, it's mainly for devotees of that style, though the info is useful for most styles.

  11. #11
    Registered User Rick Crenshaw's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Any camp with Don Stiernberg would be a treat. What a genuinely fun, funny, learned, and gifted player he is. Although I don't play jazz and cannot read std. notation, I have learned a lot from his classes at Kamp. Mostly, he is just so fun to be around and to listen to you couldn't go wrong there.
    Rick in Memphis

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    Registered User Chris "Bucket" Thomas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I have been to Monroe Camp, Kaufman Kamp (twice), NashCamp & Roanoke Fiddle Fest. All were good but for different reasons.

    Based on your criteria I would recommend Kaufman Kamp (spouse, location, spouse and exposure to numerous styles)
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  13. #13

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I have never been big on camps myself. I always figured if I put the same time investment into just practicing, I would get the most bang for my buck. Maybe going to a camp is a good way to give yourself permission to play your mandolin all day for several days.

    On the other hand, I took my sons, 11 and 12, to Mark O'Connor's String Camp, and I have noticed a lot of improvement in their playing. Being exposed to so many great teachers seems to have opened up their ears, increased their sensitivity, and charged up their motivation. They are choosing to practice about twice as much as before, and experimenting with different techniques. It was also good for them to be in a big group where the "coolest" kids where the best players.

  14. #14
    Better late than never walt33's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    JonZ has a good point about a camp getting you "charged up." $700 or $800 spent at a camp would get you less instruction time than putting that much money into private lessons, but there's something about the group dynamic at a camp that will have a huge effect on your enthusiasm. The sessions, being surrounded by dozens of musicians of all ability levels, the new friendships . . . camps are great!

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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Quote Originally Posted by Booie View Post
    I have not been to Kaufman Kamp, but have heard the same kind of positive feedback. As a westerner, you may want to consider the Mandolin Symposium (hopefully it will remain in the west). I have been to the last six, and I always learn a lot... If mandolin is what you are diving into, a camp devoted to the mandolin may be just what you're after. It is nice to be with fellow mando-geeks, who can understand my love of the mandolin...

    Any one of the instructors could have a camp built around just their teaching (and some do)--having so many mando geniuses in one spot at the same time is a wonderful experience... There is a feeling at the symposium that goes way beyond any commercial venture. Counting the days 'til next year.....
    I'll second all of the above, although I have only been to the last five.

    Although it might seem that the focus is narrow, considering it's all about one instrument family, the MandoSymp gives an incredibly broad musical experience. You get to hear and take classes from masters of bluegrass, jazz, choro, classical, and beyond. To get a sense, just check out the many videos of the ensembles that John Baxter has graciously posted on YouTube from the past few years.
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  16. #16

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I've come late to this thread which I somehow missed when it was active last week. Looking toward my 2011 vacation plans I'd really like to do something music oriented instead of my usual golf vacation.

    Of all the programs listed, the Mandolin Symposium is the one that piques my interest. Partly because I've been to Santa Cruz and the surrounding area once and it was wonderful. But mostly because the others seem wholly or partly bluegrass oriented and that is not where my main interest(s) lie. I like hearing good bluegrass music as much as anyone but as a participatory activity it's just not my thing at all.

    For those who've attended the Symposium, what would a typical day hold for a relatively beginner-level mandolin player? I hope by next summer to be a lot more of a player than I am right now but I'm pretty much at the level of playing single-line melodies in or near first position at modest tempos (for instance I play reels at quarter note equal 80-ish bpm, max. speed). So even projecting forward six months I'll be solidly in the beginner track I suspect.

    Is it the sort of thing where there one or two-hour sessions that you sign up for throughout the day? Are the sessions a mixture of watching and hands-on types? Just how much time in a typical Symposium day would I spend with a mandolin in my hand, versus listening to lecture/demonstrations versus attending performances?

  17. #17
    Registered User Coy Wylie's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I have been to several different camps including Kaufman's and enjoyed them all immensely. However, I found Camp Bluegrass at South Plains College in Levelland, TX to be most helpful to my advancement. At CB you stay with the same instructor throughout the week and he/she can build on what you learned in the previous session. The instructors get to spend a lot more time with the students and learn what they need to know in order to improve. I really like this approach.

    Be aware that at any camp, regardless of your level, in a class setting, you will often be held to level of the weakest students. You may find yourself waiting while the instructor goes over material that you already have mastered because others in your group need it.

    Camps are great for the atmosphere, comradery, jams and concerts. I look at them as musical vacations and reunions with old friends. If that's what you are looking for you will be pleased with almost any of these camps. However, if you are looking to seriously grow as a mandolin player through instruction, you may get more bang for your buck hiring a private teacher.

  18. #18
    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I've been to one camp (not Bluegrass) and enjoyed it a lot. But I would like to recommend a slightly different approach: go to festivals and jam with people. I learned quite a bit in the mandolin workshop/camp I attended, but honestly, sitting around with other players at festivals is more of a hands-on education in my experience. Just being there and trying to keep up will teach you things you'd not learn otherwise.

    Example: I went to an Old-Time festival (I'm not really a grasser) this past spring and found two fellows playing around their campsite; that invited me for a jam. I sat there for a couple hours and learned more about playing Old-Time mandolin than I ever have. They really had the old sounds down to a fine art, and I just watched, played a little, and asked questions. We all took turns playing each others' instruments, and I had a blast.

    I do like the idea of workshops, but I think in the future I'm just going to seek out other players that sound like what I want to sound like, and see if I can jam with them. Of course, you cannot always do that; but if the occasion presents itself, do it.
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  19. #19

    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    I would absolutely jump at the chance to play with anyone, especially anyone who isn't (always) blasting along at a couple hundred notes per minute. Given that the range of mandolin music I enjoy covers a lot of ground you'd think opportunities would come up from time to time. That said, in my neck of the woods there is a challenge finding non-bluegrass events offering such chances.

    Whatever kind of festival, workshop, camp, gathering or extravaganza I do manage to attend, I'd hope to have it at least a little of both ways. Chances to play with like-minded individuals and exposure to some really accomplished teachers or performers, although at my level the latter is as much for inspirational purposes as for my ability to actually absorb much information in real time.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Quote Originally Posted by Brent Hutto View Post
    For those who've attended the Symposium, what would a typical day hold for a relatively beginner-level mandolin player? I hope by next summer to be a lot more of a player than I am right now but I'm pretty much at the level of playing single-line melodies in or near first position at modest tempos (for instance I play reels at quarter note equal 80-ish bpm, max. speed). So even projecting forward six months I'll be solidly in the beginner track I suspect.

    Is it the sort of thing where there one or two-hour sessions that you sign up for throughout the day? Are the sessions a mixture of watching and hands-on types? Just how much time in a typical Symposium day would I spend with a mandolin in my hand, versus listening to lecture/demonstrations versus attending performances?
    Most of the workshop sessions are hands-on. Some are specifically designed for beginners, some specifically for advanced, but most are for everyone. There is no such thing as a stupid question except in the advanced classes.

    Seriously, the instructors this year were all phenomenal teachers. They really want to make sure that you get something out of their classes, regardless of your level. Also, the instructors lead ensembles (one for each genre) that have parts for players of all levels, so everyone who wants to participate in them can have a great time doing so.
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Kaufman Kamp is good for all the previously mentioned remarks. If you want to play fiddle tunes etc. this is the place for you. However, if you play Monroe style and do not read tab, you won't be happy there and should choose a Monroe style camp instead. I should have realized that a camp with the Kaufman name would be about fiddle tunes but I didn't think it through before going. The instructors were great, the students were (for the most part) a fine bunch and the facility was wonderful. I was disappointed but it was my own fault.

  22. #22
    Registered User Rick Crenshaw's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    To me Caleb has the right idea. I learn a ton at Kaufman Kamp. Usually an instructor or two will plant a seminal idea in my head and I have an 'aha' moment. Being exposed to all the instructors is a ton of info... probably info overload, but so would being with one instructor for hours on end in the week. Where I really advance is playing all the jams at Kaufman Kamp. Other camps may have the same opportunities.

    Usually what happens is that I experience this 'aha' moment, then I get to apply it in the numerous jams each day/night. I rarely sleep more than 3 hours at a time during this week, but man, do I get my chops in that week.

    I'm not a disciplined student. The Kaufman Kamps have had the greatest effect on my advancement in my years of playing.
    Rick in Memphis

  23. #23
    Picker and Grinner John Gass's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Bunting View Post
    The Monroe Style mandocamp in Owensboro, Ky., is great if you are interested in learning Monroe style. Directors are Mike Compton and Richie Brown. Great personable instructors and great jams. They are always searching for new ways to make the camp interesting. Again, it's mainly for devotees of that style, though the info is useful for most styles.
    I second this opinion. I attending the 2010 camp and will definitely be going again and again....
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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    Any suggestions for an advanced intermediate who will be going for the first time?

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    Default Re: Which Mandolin Camp is Best?

    MANDOLIN SYMPOSIUM!!! Incredible instructors, classes at every level. Do a search, there will be reviews here on the Cafe from previous years. Costs a bit more, but it is more days, over half of the money goes to the University for room & board. UC Santa Cruz is an incredibly beautiful location, in a redwood forest with the ocean in the distance. They don't teach licks or tunes, they teach you how to think like a musician. The instructor jams & concerts every night are jaw dropping amazing. Everyone should go at least once! Highly recommended.

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