I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation about this camp … though it’s hard to worry too much about people will have a good time when they get together to play music for a weekend. But this camp was a little different.

Would the hotel be an agreeable enough place for the camp? Despite my best efforts, communications both before and during the camp were slow and uncertain. English is not readily spoken or understood in the Czech Republic, we found. But the friendliness of the owner and the staff made it work out fine. The hotel was homey, clean, and the beds were comfortable. Not much time was spent in the rooms!

Would the diversity of nationalities/languages amount to language problems that would slow up the teaching, learning and jamming to a crawl? No… thank goodness. Twenty-four of us, from seven countries (Czech Republic, Germany, France, England, Italy, Denmark, U.S.A.) had a common language — as the advertising said, the teaching was in English. I made a point to speak slowly, with ample pauses, and keep it as simple and brief as I could — good policy anyway! I asked regularly whether what I had just said was understood, or it needed to be repeated, and all said they understood me. Yay!

… Though it had to help that my two Czech assistants (Petr and Peter) could fill in what I said to the Czech students.

Chris Kealy, Europe’s first Jam Hero

Le Sac En Plastique shows their stuff

Jamming can be visual too

Peter Ruby coaching a jam

What about people singing in a language foreign to them? Well, that’s one of the interesting facts about European bluegrass… Almost everyone seems to assume that bluegrass is always sung in English. Even Radim, who had a difficult time making full sentences in English, and said he practiced Mountain Dew for weeks before the camp, sang all five verses (in a thick Czech accent of course) quite fluently while playing bass. I asked him if he’d like the words on a music stand in front of him and he declined, saying that would only confuse him. He got a big compliment from me and a Jam Hero badge for his effort!

Claude from France had been practicing with Dan Huckabee’s harmony singing instruction, and could sing the tenor part of I Don’t Want Your Rambling Letters. I supplied the melody, and the result was quite satisfying to both of us. We switched and that worked too. Claude’s particularly good on banjo, but I was impressed that he wanted to work on his singing skills, and did quite well.

One of the big events in every jam camp is the presentation of the first Jam Hero award. At this camp, it was Chris Kealy of Great Britain who stepped right up when the first jam group was assembled and did the first song, Worried Man Blues. His receipt of the badge was a hit. Throughout the weekend, he’d remind us of his status as Europe’s first Jam Hero, and thank goodness he continued to prove himself worthy. His Brit mates seemed equally proud of his accomplishment.

This camp gave me a chance to work with and certify two new Wernick Method teachers, Joff Lowson from Bristol, England, and Peter Ruby from Prague. Both are very skilled musicians with a lot of teaching experience. I think they’ll both make excellent jam teachers. Joff has already been asked to offer a jam class at a festival in June in Tamworth, England. It looks like that will happen.

The hotel included both a bar and a sort of nightclub-style small ballroom. Some interesting events went on there during the weekend (dog show, Easter pageant by handicapped kids for their families), and we got to take it over Sunday afternoon after the dog show was over. The jam groups — The Train Wrecks, Room 35, and Le Sac En Plastique featuring Mr. Chris Kealy, Europe’s First Jam Hero — did themselves proud, and three of the musicians were so picturesque as to warrant a photo-op encore of just them on stage in their best poses.

Here are comments from the jammers, from the surveys taken anonymously online:

  • It’s great to be instructed by Joan & Pete as they are so passionate about Bluegrass and want to make your experience as enjoyable and instructive as they possibly can.
  • My sincere thanks for taking the time and making the effort to make the Jam Camp a memorable experience and truly meaningful learning experience.
  • Thanks for putting on the first Wernick Method Jam Camp in Europe. I picked up so many great tidbits to improve not only my own playing, but most importantly, my whole approach to learning (and teaching) the banjo. And all this is such a great atmosphere. I haven’t been around so many great players in one place ever. I enjoyed every minute and I don’t think I stopped grinning the whole weekend. I look forward now to finding a jam group closer to home. I will recommend to any-and-everyone to take one of your Jam Camps.
  • Before I went to the camp, I was totally aware of the fact that I didn’t know anything about jamming. Now I know what I need to learn. My jam skills can hardly improve in just three days but I now know what I need to practice to improve those skills.
  • I made a big and much-needed step forward over the weekend. I’ve been to other workshops and taken quite a few one-on-one lessons with my mandolin. But I made more progress over the jam camp weekend than any other workshop I’ve been to in the past. I learned a lot about bluegrass at the other workshops, but at the jam camp I actually played it in earnest. I even managed to take solos for the first time (which I had pretty much given up on before the camp). I know what to do now and what I need to practice.
  • I got more out of these 3 days than any week at Sorefingers (I’ve been going for the last 7 years)
  • It was a pleasure to participate. What a fun way to play. Also a great experience to get to know the other musicians while playing with them.
  • It was a nice an interesting week, with good music and nice people, and of course enough beer.

My thanks to Tomas Kral, proprietor of the Hotel Svornost, who provided many of the photos in this report, and commented on his web site:

Čtyři dny se u nás hrálo na banjo a jinné strunné nástrojec jako o život .Byli u nás na návštěvě bajisti z celé Evropy. Hru na Banjo je učil

Dr. Banjo mistr Petr Wernick.Four days with us playing the banjo and other stringed instruments like hell. Were here visiting banjo player from across Europe. Game Banjo taught by Dr. Banjo Champion Peter Wernick