Please Note: Fast Track Classes for 2018 will be announced as soon as possible, and this year we will be offering intermediate-level classes for this first time. These new intermediate-level classes will be called Mid-Course Development and will join our existing beginner classes (Fast Track) and advanced classes (Master Classes).

Fast Track classes are geared towards novices, beginners, and advancing beginners, or those looking for a review of the fundamentals. Fast Track Classes will take place on Friday, February 16, 2018, from 11 am until 4 pm with an hour-long lunch break at 1 pm. Class size is limited to 15 participants and preregistration is encouraged. Early-bird tuition (before January 15) is $60 for BBU members ($65 for non-members), and after the early-bird deadline is $70 for BBU members ($75 for non-members).

To sign up for a Fast Track Class, you must e-mail your instructor directly at:

  Class   Teacher   e-mail address
  Banjo   TBA
  Fiddle   TBA
  Mandolin   TBA
  Guitar   TBA
  Dobro   TBA
  Jamming   TBA
  Singing   TBA


The information below is for last year’s Fast Track Classes; this year’s information will be posted as soon as possible.


Fast Track Class Descriptions and Teacher Bios

Banjo publicity pic cropped

Banjo with Rich Stillman

Indulge your dreams of being a bluegrass banjo player with this one-day course. The fast track is designed for total beginners or people who have struggled to learn from a book. The course will include four 45-minute group lessons and supervised practices. By the end, you should have enough of a foundation in the bluegrass banjo style to play a simple tune and to continue learning on your own or with an instructor. I’ll be taking you through right and left-hand technique, chording and rolls, the basis for bluegrass banjo playing.

We’ll end by learning as much as we can of a simple but really good-sounding banjo tune. If you don’t have a banjo, let us know when you preregister at least a week in advance, and we’ll try to get you a loaner for the day. Sorry, we can’t do the same if you register later than that.

Rich’s Bio:

Rich has been a banjo player-about-town in the Boston area for many years. Among other acts, he founded and led the progressive bluegrass band WayStation and played and recorded for Adam Dewey and Crazy Creek, The Bogus Family and currently Southern Rail. His banjo playing has appeared on a number of studio releases by other bluegrass folk and acoustic artists as well. He is six-time winner of the bluegrass banjo category at the Lowell Fiddle and Banjo Contest, and winner of the 2002 and 2003 New England Banjo Championship held at Maine’s Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival. Rich is currently teaching at The Music Emporium, The Real School of Music and at his own studio, and at Tufts University as an Applied Faculty member. He also teaches Internet lessons through Skype, with students in four countries, and teaches private lessons at several New England bluegrass festivals. Rich is a regular faculty member at Banjo Camp North and contributed a chapter to the book Banjo Camp, along with Pete Seeger, Tony Trischka, Pete Wernick and others.

Ellen Carlson

Fiddle with Ellen Carlson

Ellen will guide you through the essentials to playing in a bluegrass band using the context of a tune like Long Journey Home, New River Train or Will the Circle Be Unbroken. She will cover introductory concepts like: What do you mean, “What key?”, How to play back up chords, Learning a basic melody by ear, Fancying up a melody, and Backing Up a Singer.

Ellen’s Bio:

Fiddler Ellen Carlson has a strong grasp on several musical genres, and has gained respect from her peers and students as an accomplished performer and teacher. Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine called her “an exceptionally talented musician” for her work with the acoustic roots group High Range and gave her a coveted highlight review for her solo album “People I Play With”. Fiddler magazine picked one of her tunes for publication in the annual tune contest. Pete Wernick of the bluegrass super group Hot Rize, picked Ellen to be his fiddle instructor at his first Northeast jam camp. She has played with bluegrass, swing, western swing, country, Irish and square dance bands. She leads the NH Fiddle Ensemble (featured on WMUR’s Chronicle) with over 60 members, runs Fiddleheads Acoustic Jam Camp (in it’s 18th year), and has played with numerous bands.


Mandolin with August Watters

Are you ready to jam? The Bluegrass Fast Track Mandolin class is designed to jump-start your playing with the skills needed to join the jam session, and also to identify paths of learning to help guide your future growth. We’ll cover basic technique: hand position, pick direction, and other crucial details to help you find the tone within your fingers. Next, we’ll talk about essential chords and melody patterns, fretboard layout, and easy ways to navigate the instrument and learn tunes quickly. Participants will leave the festival ready to jam, and with specific tools to organize future learning.

August’s Bio:

August Watters grew up in the bluegrass culture surrounding Beanblossom, Indiana. Deeply influenced by Bill Monroe, Watters moved in 1981 to San Francisco to join the burgeoning New Acoustic music scene. His study of bluegrass traditions led to examining the roots of the American mandolin, meanwhile studying jazz at Indiana University and Berklee. As a Professor of Ear Training at Berklee, he trained jazz and bluegrass improvisers for fifteen years (2000-2014) through his roots-designated ensemble, originally known as the Acoustic String Project.

As a clinician and soloist, August has performed in Italy, Germany, England, the Czech Republic, England, Canada, Holland and the United States. His work as an interpreter, improviser, composer and arranger bridges contemporary classical music, bluegrass, jazz, folk music traditions, and the historical concert mandolin repertoire. Watters founded the Festival of Mandolin Chamber Music and Cape Cod Mandolin Camp. He is the founder of Boston Mandolins and the New England Mandolin Ensemble, and holds a Masters of Music Education from Boston University, and a Bachelor’s of Music from Berklee College, majoring in Jazz Composition and Arranging, summa cum laude.


Guitar with Betsy Rome

Whether you are just starting out on guitar, or would like to improve your playing, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll go over right hand and left hand basics: open chords for rhythm; proper grip and attack for the flatpick; how to get a great sound out of your guitar. Break out of your rhythm rut! Learn where to keep it simple, and where to add connective bass runs, slides, hammer-on’s. Keep the focus on the lower frets, learn how to play supportive rhythm without overplaying. Develop a dependable right-hand strum. Create confidence: learn to count-off and start a song. Jamming etiquette: know what to do when it’s your turn.

Betsy’s bio:

Betsy Rome is a well-known guitarist in the Northeast bluegrass scene.  Her swing-grass band “Too Blue” performed at Grey Fox 2012, has played at the Joe Val and Podunk bluegrass festivals, and recently opened for Claire Lynch. Betsy’s playing blends bluegrass, old-time, Celtic and swing, and she has been featured in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. Noted for her rock-solid rhythm and inventive leads, she has won or placed in contests including Roxbury, CT and the Pizza Hut International Bluegrass Showdown. Betsy teaches from her home in Woodbury, CT and can be contacted through her band’s website,

“Betsy plays with a direct, highly effective approach. She’s not flashy, but that’s her strength. Clever, insightful intros, outros, solos and backup parts flow from her guitar like a blue mountain brook rollicking downstream. Everything about her playing is catchy and infectious, the sign of a total pro.” (Flatpicking Guitar Magazine).
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Dobro (a.k.a. resophonic guitar) with Andy Katz

Andy will lead this intensive workshop designed to get beginners up and running, playing along to bluegrass standards, and propel intermediate pickers into playing more varied styles and tempos, and with more confidence. This is stuff that will enhance your Joe Val weekend, and keep you progressing for months. Among the areas we’ll cover are:

  • Getting it right from the start: making the most of your equipment, body and hand positions
  • The best instructional materials to use
  • Effective approaches to get you up and running…and playing fast!
  • Practice routines to improve tone, speed and flexibility
  • Specific skills: rolls, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, chords, rakes and harmonics
  • Efficient hand techniques to make your playing faster and stronger.
  • Licks and kicks
  • Rhythm playing
  • Fiddle tunes and instrumentals
  • Backing a singer
  • Playing in a variety of keys, with and without a capo

There will be plenty of time to play and practice these new techniques, lots of feedback to help you improve, as well as handouts to keep you going long after your Joe Val weekend is over.

Andy’s Bio:

When Andy Katz first heard the dobro (played by Jerry Douglas, on Tony Rice’s Native American album) he was stunned, hooked by the plaintive vocal sound of the instrument. When he finally saw one played live, it was Roger Williams who got him started with an instrument and some pointers. Andy soon discovered Josh Graves, “Uncle” of the bluegrass dobro, and studied with Mike Auldridge, Andy Hall, Sally van Meter and Rob Ickes. He enjoys working out and picking fiddle tunes, though he feels that the “voice” of the dobro is particularly suited to supporting a singer. He’s been fortunate to have picked with nearly every bluegrass picker in New England, and was a founding member of the Boston-based band Flatt Rabbit.


Bluegrass Jamming: Basics and Beyond with Tony Watt

Have you ever wanted to join one of the many jams at Joe Val but feel you don’t have the skills or experience necessary? Get on the Fast Track to Bluegrass Jamming with instructor Tony Watt, who will teach you everything you need to know to get started and answer some of the most mystifying questions of bluegrass jammers. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll get the experience and confidence needed to jam with others by joining a group of people all focused on the same goal.

The Bluegrass Jamming: Basics and Beyond Fast Track Class is open to all bluegrass instruments, both rhythm players (backup) and lead players (soloing). The workshop is open to all levels, but is geared towards beginner and intermediate musicians who are new to playing with others, or who have been frustrated trying to jam before. There are no prerequisite songs, and you don’t need to be able to play leads on your instrument, read music, or sing. Students should be able to either play melodies and/or backup parts (for example mandolin, guitar, and banjo players should be able to switch between G, C, D, and A smoothly).

We will focus on the basics of bluegrass jamming and then explore the intricacies such as keeping time, non-verbal communication, and jam etiquette. The primary goal is to provide the students with the skills and experience needed to participate in bluegrass jams at all levels.

Students should bring a playable instrument as well as picks, capo (where applicable), strap, and electronic tuner. Advanced beginner and intermediate students should try to prepare a song to play and/or sing with the group, although this is not a requirement.

Tony’s Bio:

Award-winning guitarist Tony Watt has performed throughout the United States, Europe and on the Grand Ole Opry. He has been featured in Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Now and Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, and toured with Rounder Recording artist Alecia Nugent. Tony currently performs with his band, Southeast Expressway, as well as with Laura Orshaw & The New Velvet Band and with Jenni Lyn and The Palmetto Bluegrass Band featuring Jenni Lyn Gardner of Della Mae. He is a graduate of Leadership Bluegrass 2012, has served on the IBMA’s Education and Board Selection Committees, and is currently a Board Member and Education Co-Director of the BBU. Tony is a visiting faculty member at the Berklee College of Music, and also teaches courses in guitar, mandolin, harmony singing, bluegrass jamming and more. Tony is the director of The Bluegrass University, which offers classes at Grey Fox, Jenny Brook, Pemi Valley and Podunk. He has also taught workshops and Kids’ Academies at many festivals across the northeast and beyond. Tony currently teaches lessons, classes, workshops and jam sessions in Albany, Hartford, throughout the Boston area (MA), points in-between, and anywhere in the world via on-line Skype videoconferencing.


Spruce Up Your Singing with Nancy Harrowitz & Mary Maguire

Join Mary and Nancy as we share effective approaches that will help you improve your singing! Learn how to sound better, build confidence and have fun at the same time.

This Fast Track class seeks to work with YOUR singing concerns, so feel free to arrive with your own, ‘I wish I could _____ better.’ or, ‘It’s hard for me to _____’. If some wish to get more comfortable with sharing a song in a jam, and others want voice coaching, for example, we may split up for direct focus on your wish list. Please bring a song or two you’d like to work on, and we will have music as well. Email with any questions.

Mary’s bio:

Long-time soloist, song-writer, and lead singer with several northeast bands, Mary Maguire is known for her warm and welcoming ways. She enthusiastically presents her popular bluegrass harmony and lead singing workshops at Joe Val, Grey Fox, Ossipee Valley, Pemi, Podunk, and Thomas Point Beach bluegrass Festivals. A guest on many Northeast musicians’ recordings, Mary’s own six albums reflect her unique sound and ease with folk, bluegrass, western swing and jazz.

Mary taught sold-out classes at Joe Val Bluegrass Festival’s FIRST Fast Track! She always has fun with students of all ages, specializing in getting beginner guitarists and singers happily on their way and inspiring intermediate students to new levels of musicianship. Mary also privately teaches piano, voice, guitar, music theory, ‘presenting your song in-a-jam’, and provides performing band consultations.