Please Note: The information below is from Joe Val, 2018.  Details for our 2019 classes will be available in January

Fast Track (beginner) classes are geared towards novices, beginners, and advancing beginners, or those looking for a review of the fundamentals.

Mid-Course Development (intermediate) classes are geared towards those who are beyond Fast Track classes, but not quite ready for Master Classes (advanced).

All three levels of classes will meet on the same schedule:

Friday, February 16th
from 11 am until 1 pm
and then from 2 pm until 4 pm
(with an hour-long lunch break from 1 until 2 pm)

And the prices are the same as well:

Early-bird tuition (before Jan. 25th) is $60 for BBU members
Early-bird tuition (before Jan. 25th) is $65 for non-members

Regular tuition (after Jan. 25th) is $70 for BBU members
Regular tuition (after Jan. 25th) is $75 for non-members

Class size is limited to 15 participants and preregistration is strongly encouraged. To sign up for a Fast Track or Mid-Course Development class, you must e-mail your instructor directly at:

  Fast Track (beginner)   Instrument   e-mail address
  August Watters   Mandolin  [email protected]
  Tony Watt   Banjo  [email protected]
  Ellen Carlson   Fiddle  [email protected]
  Mid-Course Development (intermediate)   Instrument   e-mail address
  Caleb Klauder   Mandolin  [email protected]
  Avril Smith   Guitar  [email protected]
  Rich Stillman   Banjo  [email protected]
  Tom Gray   Bass*  [email protected]
  Roger Williams   Dobro*  [email protected]
  Mary Maguire   Singing*  [email protected]

*only intermediate level offered which is appropriate for everybody other than beginners

Fast Track Class Descriptions and Teacher Bios:

August Watters – Mandolin Fast Track (beginner)

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 Watters’ 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.

Tony Watt – Banjo Fast Track (beginner)

The Banjo Fast Track is intended for beginners who are new to playing bluegrass banjo or those who have been frustrated trying to learn to play before. In this class, we’ll learn how to read tablature (tab), and we will focus on the core techniques required to play bluegrass banjo including chords, rolls, pinches, slurs, etc. We will focus on a variety of classic songs in bluegrass including Man of Constant Sorrow, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and I’ll Fly Away, as a means to introduce a variety of soloing techniques and build increasingly complicated solos. The primary goal is to provide you with the skills needed to play solid bluegrass banjo and participate in bluegrass jams. You do not need to have previous experience playing bluegrass, and you don’t need to be able to read music. You should bring a playable banjo, a banjo strap, thumb/finger picks and ideally a clip-on tuner. Handouts and corresponding mp3’s will be provided and while students are welcome to bring a recording device, it’s not necessary as I will be recording the class and sharing the recording afterward.

Tony Watt’s Bio:

Award-winning multi-instrumentalist 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 artist 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 has offered classes at Grey Fox, Thomas Point Beach, 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 throughout the Boston area (MA), and anywhere in the world via online Skype video conferencing.

Ellen Carlson

Ellen Carlson – Fiddle Fast Track (beginner)

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 Carlson’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 supergroup 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 its 18th year), and has played with numerous bands.

Mid-Course Development Class Descriptions and Teacher Bios:

Caleb Klauder – Mandolin Mid-Course Development (intermediate)

My goal of this class is to look into the early styles of bluegrass mandolin as related to the fiddle. We will find a clear melody for a tune or a song and give it lift with the right-hand pick and shuffle technique. I will teach common mandolin tunes and focus on the nuances of picking, as related to old time fiddle bowing. We will learn and work on solos for some common bluegrass songs. I will demonstrate some options for backup and rhythm playing and talk about getting great tone. Students should have a good feel for scales and arpeggios and have put some time into using the pinky finger on the 7th fret. The class will be taught aurally and there will be no sheet music or tab so please bring a recording device.

Caleb Klauder’s bio:

Caleb Klauder has been playing mandolin in the traditional styles of bluegrass and old time for over 20 years and performs with the Foghorn Stringband. Caleb also fronts his own honky-tonk country band, and you can also hear him in a duo with Reeb Willms.

Caleb’s Mandolin style most closely resembles old-time fiddle playing in a way similar to Bill Monroe’s style. The shuffle of the pick and good left-hand technique lend to a clear old time Bluegrass sound. Being a fiddler, singer, and guitar player, as well as a mandolinist, Caleb has a well-rounded sense of traditional music, both classic Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddle music, and as a teacher, Caleb puts focus on the importance of melody and rhythm.

Avril Smith – Guitar Mid-Course Development (intermediate)

We will work together to improve your bluegrass guitar skills, as both a rhythm and lead player. We will learn a few standard songs and tunes, working on rhythm playing ideas to vary strumming patterns and bass runs in ways that best support the song or soloist. We will also practice finding melodies by ear and work on approaches to building melodic solos.

Students should already be able to play a handful of fiddle tunes and bluegrass songs and have some experience playing in a group setting. Please bring a capo, tuner, and a pick. You may also want to have a notebook, a folder for handouts and a portable audio recording device so you have an easy way to reference new tunes, songs, and practice exercises.

Avril Smith’s bio:

Avril Smith is a teacher and award-winning multi-instrumentalist. Avril’s mastery of a wide range of styles makes her a sought-after on-stage and studio performer. Her musical palette draws from country, rock n’ roll, bluegrass, jazz and old time music. A founding member of Della Mae, Avril has played with Emmylou Harris, Pete Seeger, the Indigo Girls, Hazel Dickens, Tom Morello, Darol Anger, Joe K. Walsh, Dar Williams, Jill Sobule, and Frank Solivan, among others. Avril has performed at top venues and festivals across the country including the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (Oak Hill, NY), the Birchmere (Alexandria, VA), the Knitting Factory (New York, NY), Freight & Salvage (Berkeley, CA), the Rock-n-Roll hall of fame (Cleveland, Ohio), and on the south lawn of the White House. Avril also teaches private guitar and mandolin lessons online and in the Washington, D.C.-area in a range of styles.

Banjo publicity pic cropped

Rich Stillman – Banjo Mid-Course Development (intermediate)

What separates a beginning bluegrass banjo player from an intermediate? Mostly, it’s the ability to improvise. Improvisation skills allow you to play tunes you haven’t played before and play tunes you do know in unfamiliar keys and ways. Improvisation is also closely related to the vital jam skill of backup, and learning either skill will get you a long way toward learning the other. In this four-hour session, we’ll work on techniques to help you recognize melody and chord flow and to translate ideas into fully-formed breaks – and, with practice, to do it in real time. Once we’re done, you’ll have the whole weekend to practice these skills in jam sessions around the festival. Topics we’ll cover include recognizing chords and chord progressions, hearing melodies and incorporating them into breaks and creating and maintaining banjo-friendly rhythms for lead and backup. We’ll work on applying these techniques with a practice jam at the end of the session.

Rich Stillman’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 a 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 has taught bluegrass banjo for forty years. In addition to private lessons at The Music Emporium and other places, he is on the faculty or staff of Tufts University, Concord Academy, the Concord Conservatory of Music and Banjo Camp North, and has written the book Bluegrass Banjo from All Sides for Mel Bay Publications.

Tom Gray – Bass Mid-Course Development (intermediate)

In this bass class, we will cover the fundamentals of taste, timing, and tone. We will start by discussing the role of the bass in a band and how to support other members of the band. We’ll focus on left- and right-hand technique to enable the student to get the best tone. There’ll be things to keep in mind to help you keep rhythm. Then we will discuss the choice of notes to create tasteful bass lines, such as runs to lead into the next chord or the next line of a song. To help students play solos, I’ll have plenty of advice as well as some tablature and notation. To register for the class, or ask any questions, email Tom at [email protected] or text or call 301-704-3681

*please note: there will only be one bass class offered, which is appropriate for everybody other than beginners

Tom Gray’s bio:

A two-time inductee into IBMA’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame, Tom Gray was voted the best bassist in bluegrass eight times by the readers of three magazines. He is best known for his years as the bassist with two groundbreaking bands, The Country Gentlemen in the 1960s and The Seldom Scene in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s and 2000s, Tom played with Hazel Dickens, John Starling, and Emmylou Harris, among others, appearing on over 140 recordings with numerous artists. He is currently performing with Eddie & Martha Adcock, as well as Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike. In his youth, Tom was famed for his aggressive “walking” bass. The passing years have made him more judicious as to when to play those extra notes, but you can still count on Tom to lay down a strong bass line.

Roger Williams – Dobro Mid-Course Development (intermediate)

The workshop will begin with a collection of one-measure dobro licks from the repertoire of some of the pioneers of traditional bluegrass dobro. Tablature for these will be provided. We will also look at examples of how they are used in songs and instrumentals. The class will then move on to a sampling of 1 to 4 (i.e., from G chord to C chord) and 1 to 5 (i.e., from G chord to D chord) progressions and given examples of how they are used in context. Again, tablature will be provided for these.

The second half of the workshop will be geared toward answering requests/suggestions from pre-registered participants who have e-mailed me their particular needs. These could include a difficult lick, part of an instrumental that proves difficult to decipher, or variations on a melody.

*please note: there will only be one Dobro class offered, which is appropriate for everybody other than beginners

Roger Williams’ bio:

Roger Williams started playing the resophonic, Dobro style guitar in 1963 when he was just a young teenager. Within the first year, he had already debuted with the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover at the Hillbilly Ranch in Boston, Mass., where they had performed for nearly two decades. Since then he has gone on to perform and/or record with many well-respected bluegrass and folk acts on the national and international circuit, including Joe Val, White Mountain Bluegrass, and Southern Rail. Career highlights include thirteen overseas tours with various artists, including a performance at the prestigious Dobro Festival in Slovakia and teaching workshops during Bluegrass Week at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV. Roger has recorded two solo projects, ‘Fireball’ and ‘Rt. 2 to Amherst’, and three collaborative efforts: ‘River of No Return’ (with long-time friend and musical associate Ray Legere), ‘Williams Squared’ (with son JD Williams), and ‘Something ‘Bout You’ (with partner Amy Gallatin). You can learn more about Roger at his website:


Mary Maguire – Singing Mid-Course Development (intermediate)

You’ve been singing and now you’re ready to boost your creativity, comfort, and confidence. Whether you’re increasing your performance skills or the ‘joy factor’ in your jams, THIS is the place to be! Mary invites you to let her know what you’d like to work on. Some ideas: Leading your song in a jam, Arranging your song with bandmates, Singing Harmony, Song Choice, Saving your song during impending Train-Wrecks (…and how to laugh afterward!) Visual aids and handouts will be provided. Mary suggests bringing water, note-taking/audio recording tools, your songs, and your desires to get inspired!

*please note: there will only be one singing class offered, which is appropriate for everybody other than beginners

Mary’s bio:

Long-time soloist, songwriter, 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. One of the Northeast’s most engaging singers of contemporary folk, bluegrass, and swing, Mary Maguire’s six albums and appearances on several other musicians’ recording projects reflect her enthusiasm and skill. Returning to Joe Val to guide singers on, Mary is excited to respond to students’ interests.  Please contact Mary Maguire at [email protected] or text 603-455-0238