American Roots Music Program

AGES 18+

Dear Friends,

Those who have attended the American Roots Music Program since it began four years ago have repeatedly spoken of the lasting value that the closeness of our seminar—its ratio of students to teachers—affords in this majestic setting. What begins here, they often remark, continues long after summer glories have faded.

Now in 2019, our truly world-class faculty brings those memorable virtues into even higher relief. New teachers this year include Grammy-winning musician Dr. David Evans, the leading blues scholar in the United States, who acquired his considerable playing skills from first-hand study with a generation of Mississippi blues greats. Moreover, we have the beloved Colorado-based duo of Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore, who span the American songbook. Their classes in singing, accompanying, and arranging provide a remarkable opportunity to study in depth with these masters. Our program is equally blessed by the presence of Suzy and Eric Thompson, traveling here from the Bay Area, to share their respective lifetimes of devoted musical immersion. Eric’s legendary flatpicking on guitar and mandolin have led him into celebrated bands and recordings that rank nothing short of classic. Likewise, as a fiddler, guitarist, and researcher Suzy Thompson has long mined the treasures of American traditional music from rag-enriched blues to the starkest of mountain styles to the Cajun dances she learned in Louisiana from some of its foremost proponents. Collectively, these teacher/performers form living contact with tradition’s deepest lessons and greatest personalities.

We are equally blessed to welcome back in 2019 the remarkable blues and ragtime expert Mary Flower, the gifted bassist and singer Aaron Smith, and the much beloved teacher and song leader Peggy Browning from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music.

Please read the faculty bios on the link below and explore our hourly schedule. As you’ll see from this expanse of classes and presentations, our seminar brims with remarkable breadth. The 2019 American Roots Music Program offers a singular opportunity for all who make themselves available to it. Come this Labor Day weekend for an apprenticeship of a lifetime!

Stephen Wade

Director, American Roots Music Program

Registration for 2019 is now open!  Click HERE to apply now!


Fees, Faculty and Schedules


$950 (includes lodging and meals)




Non-student room and board $275
Private cabin with bath fee $300
Bedding (optional) $60 per person
Tent discount (bring your own tent) $150

Registration for 2019 is now open!  Click HERE to apply now!

Stephen Wade Banjo, Guitar
Peggy Browning Banjo, Guitar, Voice
David Evans Guitar, Voice
Mary Flower Lap Slide Guitar, Guitar, Voice
Rich Moore Guitar, Voice
Aaron Smith Double Bass, Banjo, Guitar, Voice
Eric Thompson Mandolin, Guitar
Suzy Thompson Fiddle, Guitar, Voice

Friday, August 30, 2019

9 AM-11:50 AM: Participants arrive

12 PM-12:50 PM: Lunch

1 PM-1:50 PM: Introducing the faculty and their classes

2-3PM: Entering Tradition Ourselves, four-day series (Peggy Browning, with fellow faculty members). “Make music with others as we create new arrangements of both core and uncommon songs and tunes. We’ll work on dynamics, rhythm, melodies, and harmonies. We draw from gospel to blues, old-time numbers to lyrical ballads. All instruments and levels welcome. We’ll find routes that will eventually lead us to the Monday night student concert.”

Southern Fiddle Styles, four-day series (Suzy Thompson). “Each day features a different topic. Focus will be on style and repertoire, not so much on technical questions. Geared towards intermediate and up, advanced beginners also welcome. All taught by ear, no music reading required.

First session: Pre-war blues fiddle styles, including how to play blues in any key. We’ll focus on the fiddling of Lonnie and Bo Chatmon, of the Mississippi Sheiks, a hugely influential African American string band that recorded in the early 1930s.  They played in a wide variety of keys, including flat keys, as did many other black fiddlers of that era. This session will include learning how to play blues in any key!”

Blues for Solo Guitar, four-day series (David Evans). This class, based on first-person experience with traditional blues artists as well as long exposure to historical recordings, explores left hand positions and right hand rhythm; open tunings and slide technique; blues singing; and putting it all together.

Driving the Bass, four-day series (Aaron Smith). A great upright bass player is never simply along for the ride. While it’s tempting to think of it merely as a “backup” instrument, the bass plays a crucial role in establishing the earthy rhythmic churn that’s a feature of any great string band. Over the course of this four-day workshop, we’ll be discussing how to perfect that sound. We’ll talk about the fundamentals of creating a good tone, playing dynamically, and establishing a groove. We’ll also learn some classic bass lines from the acoustic blues and old time country canons, and we’ll even talk about some ways that we bassists can have a little fun while still providing the strong backbone that an ensemble needs.

3:15-4:30 PM: Artistry, Arrangements and Repertoire, four-day series (Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore). This class will cover how to make the song your very own, arranging, and how to perform the song for your audience. We’ll talk about finding the right key, dynamics, performance, and how to get rid of the old “I stink as a singer” mindset that can block you from having a blast while singing. Each day we’ll start with a few exercises to help increase your vocal and dynamic range and we’ll focus day by day on different areas that will help to build up your set list and your voice. Bring two or three songs you want to work on–the class is designed to help you as much as possible. (Please note that this will be a sequential class covering different parts on different days.)

Flatpicking Guitar Styles and Stylists, four-day series (Eric Thompson). “Here we explore crosspicking, those syncopated patterns that evoke banjo rolls and the fiddle’s double-shuffle; setting old-time fiddle tunes and bluegrass instrumentals to guitar; and weaving melody, variation, and improvisation into an exciting song solo. Among our exemplars we focus on Doc Watson and his seminal stylings; Clarence White’s envelope-pushing innovations; and Don Reno, the banjo ace, who was also a firecracker on the guitar back in the 1950’s.”

Navigating Blues and Rag Guitar in Open Tunings, four-day series (Mary Flower) “Mary will explore the differences and similarities of a few different and rich open tunings, G6 and D minor. Slacking certain strings of the guitar creates open chords, makes for easier left hand fingerings and is fertile ground for creating unique arrangements. Whether playing slack key style or bottleneck slide, open tunings were and continue to be a primitive approach to learning guitar.

G6 was used inventively by the great Bo Carter (the king of the double entendre) whereas the dark D minor tuning was owned exquisitely by Skip James of Bentonia, Mississippi. Class will explore chords and improvisation in these tunings through songs and exercises from Mary’s collection of originals.”

Levels advanced beginning and up are welcome. Taping (video or audio) of the class is encouraged and students will leave with handouts.

Applying Old-Time Banjo Techniques, four-day series (Stephen Wade, with Peggy Browning and/or Aaron Smith as their time permits). “This class explores how four traditional right-hand methods–downpicking, up-picking, two-finger, and three-finger–can serve repertory. Like a writer’s workshop, we’ll go around the room, listening to one another. We’ll see how in a given piece these different techniques might work. We’ll also introduce a new number each day, variously invoking these styles.

 4:45-5:30 PM: Blues Comes to the Mississippi Delta (David Evans). Participatory lecture. An overview of the musical, social, and historical origins of blues in the Mississippi Delta and its earliest expressions and artists.

Ask Us Anything (Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore) “Mollie & I have been playing professionally together and separately most of our adult lives, and into the mix we’ve thrown in family and family bands, day jobs, marriage, touring, and oodles of money.”

Mandolin Repertory and Genres, four-day series (Eric Thompson) This class encompasses “Irish tunes from my mentors Joe Cooley and Kevin Keegan, legendary Galway transplants living in SF in the 1970’s; positions and approaches for building song solos; old-time fiddle tunes and bluegrass instrumentals; and rags and stomps from hillbillies and bluesmen.”

5:30-6:00 PM:  Social period

6:00-6:50 PM: Dinner

7:00-8:00 PM: Three Great Gals, two-day series (Peggy Browning) “Get to know these pivotal women in traditional music: Bessie Smith, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, and Elizabeth Cotten. We’ll learn how these women influenced our music today while working on creating arrangements in their styles, focusing on rhythm, melodies, and harmonies.”

Popular American Country Music (Aaron Smith). “This session focuses on 20th century American country music. I think the session would be most fun for people if its parameters stay fairly broad. It might be titled more accurately as ‘Popular American Country Music: From Roy Acuff to Randy Travis and Anything In Between.’”

In the Land of Piedmont Guitar, four-day series (Mary Flower) “Finger picking blues and ragtime guitar is an emulation of early piano styles and indeed a rare art form these days. I refer to it as the ‘band in the hand.’ technique so skillfully celebrated by John Cephas, Bill Broonzy, Blind Blake, and more.”

Mary will bring some favorite examples and tunes to this class focusing on melodies, syncopation, muting and alternating the bass, and moveable chord shapes. Finger picking experience is very helpful, as is the ability to read tab. Students are encouraged to audio record the class and handouts will be supplied.

8:15-9:30 PM: String Band Blues, four-day series (Suzy Thompson).“We’ll learn and arrange vocal songs and a few instrumentals, with the repertoire drawn from the jug band, black country blues and hillbilly blues artists of the 1920’s and 1930s, like the Memphis Jug Band, the Mississippi Sheiks, Bessie Smith, East Texas Serenaders, and lesser known (but equally wonderful) artists. We’ll work directly from the source material, which will be provided in advance, along with lyric sheets.  This music is a lot of fun to play as a group, and there’s almost no limit to the number of musicians that can play it together!

Any instrument that you’d find in an old-time string band or early jug band is welcome – guitar, fiddle, ukulele, mandolin, bass, harmonica, etc. at an intermediate-ish level. You should have some facility on your instrument – be able to change chords easily (if you play a chord instrument) and be open to learning by ear. Advanced beginners who are game to try something new are also welcome. We’ll do a lot of singing so if you don’t play an instrument but want to join the class, bring your kazoo!”

9:45 PM: Sing-Around and Jam, nightly, occurring in concurrent but separate gatherings (Stephen Wade, Peggy Browning, Aaron Smith, et al). The sing-around, a typically intimate gathering, operates akin to an “open mic,” allowing participants to perform songs of their own choosing. The jam operates on a more collective bandwidth, welcoming old-time, bluegrass, and blues, let alone Cajun, Creole, Irish, and Hispanic songs; in short, whatever participants may suggest. We’ll play familiar fiddle tunes, square dance numbers, and harmonize on some great old country songs.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

8:00 AM Breakfast

9:00 AM Entering Tradition Ourselves (Peggy Browning)

Driving the Bass (Aaron Smith)

Blues for Solo Guitar (David Evans)

Southern Fiddle Styles (Suzy Thompson): Cajun fiddling: “The French-speaking people of southwest Louisiana have a strong and beautiful fiddle style, which is played for dancing. Suzy will teach tunes she learned from Dewey Balfa, Dennis McGee, and other older generation Cajun fiddlers.”

10:15-11:30 AM:  Artistry, Arrangements and Repertoire (Mollie O’Brien/ Rich Moore)

Navigating Blues and Rag Guitar in Open Tunings (Mary Flower)

Flatpicking Guitar Styles and Stylists (Eric Thompson)

12:00-12:50 PM Lunch

1:00-2:15 PM: In the Land of Piedmont Guitar (Mary Flower)

String Band Blues (Suzy Thompson)

Applying Old-Time Banjo Techniques (Stephen Wade)

2:30-3:30 PM: Blues Fieldwork in the 1960s and 1970s  (David Evans). Participatory lecture. A discussion of fieldwork in southern blues and folk music traditions during the era of the Blues Revival, based on first-person experience – recording, rediscovery, research.

Accompanying the Singer (Mollie O’Brien/Rich Moore). “This one-time session geared toward instrumentalists will focus on how to accompany a vocalist, and how to support them and keep it interesting while staying out of the way. Not as easy as it sounds!”

Mandolin Repertory and Genres (Eric Thompson)

3:45-4:45 PM: Three-Part Harmony Singing, two sessions (Peggy Browning and Aaron Smith). “Over the course of this two-day workshop we’ll explore the fundamentals of creating the rich three-part close harmony sound we so often hear in traditional and popular music. We’ll talk about how to find vocal lines that fit first above and then below a melody, how to stack parts in a way that makes the singing comfortable for a wide range of voices, and how to apply this concept to a couple of different songs. We’ll also break off into small groups to learn how to play both a melody and harmony part on our instruments.”

Slide Styles (Mary Flower, with fellow faculty members). The use of a smooth bar placed along the fingerboard has produced all sorts of effects and given rise to numerous songs, from crying babies to speeding trains, from Hawaiian stylings to African precedents. In this workshop we explore these inheritances and usages.

4:45-5:30 PM Free time

5:30-6:00 PM Social period

6-6:50 PM: Dinner

7-8 PM: Modes and Moods, two-day series (Eric and Suzy Thompson, David Evans, Stephen Wade). Led by Eric Thompson, this workshop “defines the ‘modal,’ its meaning and applications; exploring how modality applies to a range of folk styles.”

8:15-9:30 PM: A Garland of Danceable Songs and Tunes (Eric and Suzy Thompson, Stephen Wade, David Evans, Aaron Smith, and whoever else wants to participate, let alone dance). In addition to old-time tunes, “We’ll mix up Cajun two-steps and waltzes, honky-tonk and blues shuffles, and old-time “sock-hop” slow dances.”

9:45 PM: Jam and Sing-Around  (Stephen Wade, Peggy Browning, Aaron Smith, et al.)


Sunday, September 1, 2019

8:00 AM-8:50 AM: Breakfast

9:00 AM-10:00 AM: Entering Tradition Ourselves (Peggy Browning)

Blues for Solo Guitar (David Evans)

Flatpicking Guitar Styles and Stylists (Eric Thompson)

10:15 AM-11:30 AM: Artistry, Arrangements and Repertoire (Mollie O’Brien/ Rich Moore)

Navigating Blues and Rag Guitar in Open Tunings (Mary Flower)

Driving the Bass (Aaron Smith)

Applying Old-Time Banjo Techniques (Stephen Wade)

11:30 AM-12:00 PM: Free time

12:00-12:50 PM: Lunch

1:00 PM-2:00 PM: Mandolin Repertory and Genres (Eric Thompson)

Southern Fiddle Styles  (Suzy Thompson): “Hillbilly rags and blues. Ragtime and blues made inroads into virtually every genre of American music, beginning in the early 1900s.   Arthur Smith, Doc Roberts, and the East Texas Serenaders were three of the greatest of the hillbilly fiddlers and bands to make this music their own.  Their interpretation of ragtime and blues helped set the stage for what became western swing and bluegrass.”

In the Land of Piedmont Guitar (Mary Flower)

Three-Part Harmony Singing, part two (Peggy Browning, Aaron Smith)

2:00-3:00 PM: Free time

3:00-5:00 PM: Faculty Concert

5:30-6:00 PM:  Social period

6-6:50 PM: Dinner

7-8:00 PM: Vocal Harmony with Suzy Thompson, Mollie O’Brien, and Mary Flower.  “Mary, Suzy, and Mollie do not usually sing together, but will show in this presentation how to layer harmonies in a trio. This workshop will be part theory and part ear training, expressing the importance of listening. We’ll trade songs and discuss how to find parts to surround the melody based on vocal range and other factors.

Blues of Tommy Johnson (David Evans) Participatory lecture. A close look at the musical style of one of Mississippi’s greatest and most influential blues singer-guitarists, based on recordings, printed sources, and fieldwork with family members and fellow musicians.

8:15-9:30 PM: String Band Blues (Suzy Thompson)

9:45 PM: Jam and Sing-Around (Stephen Wade, Peggy Browning, Aaron Smith, et al.)


Monday, Sept. 2, 2019:

8-8:50 AM: Breakfast

9:00-10:00 AM:  Entering Tradition Ourselves (Peggy Browning)

Blues for Solo Guitar (David Evans)

Southern Fiddle Styles (Suzy Thompson): “Southern tunes in cross tuning: we’ll tune our fiddles to GDGD (just like cross A – AEAE – but a little easier on the fiddles!).  This tuning opens up the fiddle to sympathetic vibrations and is ideal for playing solo fiddle.  It’s also wonderful for playing fiddle-banjo tunes.  Cross-tuning makes it easy to explore a more expressive way of bowing, by freeing up the right hand.  Suzy will teach rare and beautiful tunes from eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.”

Driving the Bass (Aaron Smith)

10:15-11:30 AM: Artistry, Arrangements and Repertoire (Mollie O’Brien/ Rich Moore)

Applying Old-Time Banjo Techniques (Stephen Wade)

Navigating Blues and Rag Guitar in Open Tunings (Mary Flower)

Flatpicking Guitar Styles and Stylists (Eric Thompson)

11:30 AM-12:00 PM:  Free time

12:00-12:50 PM: Lunch

1-2:15 PM: In the Land of Piedmont Guitar (Mary Flower)

String Band Blues (Suzy Thompson)

A Storyteller’s Story: Sources of Banjo Dancing (Stephen Wade). “2019 marks the show’s fortieth anniversary, thus providing an occasion to examine some of the wider cultural currents and musical traditions that fostered it. Performed examples will abound!”

2:30-3:30 PM: Three Great Gals, part two (Peggy Browning)

Mandolin Repertory and Genres (Eric Thompson)

Country Blues Personalities I Have Known (David Evans). Participatory lecture. An overview of the varied personalities, styles, and repertoires of country blues artists, based on historical research and fieldwork.

3:45-4:45 PM:  Sing Some Country (Blues) (Mollie O’Brien/Rich Moore) “We’ll bring a variety of songs (and lyrics) for us to sing as a group or individually. These are always enjoyable.”

Modes and Moods, part two (Eric and Suzy Thompson, David Evans, Stephen Wade).

5:00-5:30 PM: Free time

5:30-6:00 PM: Social period

6:00-6:50 PM: Dinner

7:30-9:00 PM: Student Concert (led by Peggy Browning, assisted by Aaron Smith) “Students, this becomes your chance to delight one and all with what you’ve been working on, or else, opportunity to team up with your friends and try out something newly written or learned. Either way, pick a piece that means a lot to you and tell us its story!”

9:15 PM: Jam and Sing-Around (Stephen Wade, Peggy Browning, Aaron Smith, et al.)


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

8:00 AM: Breakfast and departure