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 remarkable faculty brings those virtues into even higher relief. Teachers this year include two-time 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. Our program is equally blessed by the presence of Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains. This acclaimed duo draw from their own families, rich in generations of music making in Kansas and Texas, to have created an ongoing body of work that draws upon their multi-instrumental skills. As artists and teachers both, they bring to life twin fiddling, contest pieces and dance numbers, mandolin tunes, guitar accompaniment styles, and close harmony singing. Completing our faculty we welcome back the gifted bassist, banjoist, guitarist, and singer Aaron Smith. Collectively these teacher/performers form living contact with a wealth of tradition’s deepest lessons and greatest personalities.

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 offers creative breadth coupled with intensive contact. The 2019 American Roots Music Program offers a singular opportunity. 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!

Drop-in daily rates are available and include two meals.  Drop-in students are not able to stay overnight on campus and discounts do not apply.  Please email if you are interested.  Drop-in rates are as follows:

1 day –   $100

2 days – $190

3 days – $280

4 days – $370

Stephen Wade Banjo, Guitar
David Evans Guitar, Voice
Aaron Smith Double Bass, Banjo, Guitar, Voice
Tricia Spencer Banjolele, Fiddle, Guitar, Voice
Howard Rains Fiddle, Mandolin, Guitar, Voice

Friday, August 30, 2019

9 AM to 11:50: Participants arrive

12 PM-12:50 PM: Lunch

1 PM to 1:50 PM: Introducing the faculty and their classes.

2-3 PM:

Folk Theory for Fiddlers (Tricia Spencer). “Get the basics and the short cuts for learning tunes and understanding how to follow tunes when you don’t know them on the fiddle. We will cover some easy cheats and then put them into practice while learning old-time tunes.”

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 marks a signature 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:

Old-Time Backup Guitar (Howard Rains). “In this class we will learn all about the BOOM, listening for chord choices, playing bass runs, and keeping time. We will talk about the important, yet often overlooked, role of the guitar player in old-time music, and discuss how to assess a session so that your backup fits the song and the situation. We’ll also explore a bit of Howard’s approach to finger-picking that he learned from his Dad. Most of all, we are going to have a great time backing up fiddle tunes and songs.”

Applying Old-Time Banjo Techniques, four-day series (Stephen Wade). “This class explores how various right-hand methods–downpicking, up-picking, two-finger, and three-finger–can serve repertory.  Over the four days we’ll focus on traditional stylists that include the McGee Brothers, Uncle Dave Macon, Hobart Smith, Pete Steele, and Snuffy Jenkins. We’ll see how these personalities harnessed their varied techniques in service of their songs.”

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.

The Mandolin in Old-Time Music (Howard Rains). “Here we look at different approaches to playing the mandolin in an old-time session. This includes chord and rhythm choices as well as the role of the mandolin in old-time.”

5:30-6:00 PM: Social period

6:00-6:50 PM: Dinner

7:00—8:00 PM: Popular American Country Music (Aaron Smith). “This session focuses on 20th century American country music. I think the session would be most fun 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.’”

8:15-9:30 PM:  Old-Time String Band Class (Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains). In this class, we break into groups, each led by a fiddler, to create that driving stringband sound. Any instrument is welcome. Pieces undertaken here may well lead to the student concert that closes the seminar.

9:45 PM: Sing-Around and Jam, nightly, and occurring in separate but concurrent gatherings. 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

Driving the Bass (Aaron Smith)

Blues for Solo Guitar (David Evans)

Folk Theory for Fiddlers, part two (Tricia Spencer). Tricia will teach some great old-time tunes in the key of G using some of the skills learned on Friday during the first session, as well as chording on the fiddle. We’ll also talk about Tricia and Howard’s twin fiddle approach.

10:15-11:30 AM: Old-Time Backup Guitar, part two. (Howard Rains). Here we build upon skills from the first class.

12:00-12:50 PM Lunch

1:00 -2:15 PM:

Old-Time String Band Class, part two (Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains)

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.

Duet Singing  (Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains). Tricia and Howard share their knowledge of singing, having grown up in musical families, and long performed in bluegrass and old-time bands. We will discuss finding one’s voice, locating suitable keys, identifying ranges, keeping pitch, developing close listening practices, and providing guidance in selecting parts that best suit a particular singer. We’ll take turns singing melody and harmony. All you need bring is your voice!

3:45-4:45 PM: Three-Part Harmony Singing, two sessions (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.”

4:45-5:30 PM Free time

5:30-6:00 PM Social period

6-6:50 PM: Dinner

7-8 PM:  The Creative Documentarian: Traditions, Stories, and Life. (Howard Rains, Tricia Spencer, David Evans, and Stephen Wade). This session explores various mediums and methods for documenting informal music and related folk traditions. Howard Rains has been preserving old-style Texas fiddle tunes for decades, while interpreting these musicians and others all across the country in unique watercolor portraits. Tricia Spencer, having grown up in a home tradition of old-time music, has spent years filling highly personalized journals of art and writing. These collections have served as a springboard for her larger works of visual art, as well as informing a philosophy of life. Likewise, David Evans and Stephen Wade have found ways to preserve and present grassroots music and commemorate its makers.

8:15-9:30 PM: A Garland of Danceable Songs and Tunes (Howard Rains, Tricia Spencer, David Evans, Aaron Smith, Stephen Wade). In this presentation we invite all listeners to trip the light fantastic as we venture across a variety of dance forms. For instance, it might be supposed that square dance tunes and contra dance tunes are interchangeable, and to some extent, they are, but differences also emerge, distinguishing one from the other. Along the way we include some rags, toddles, two-steps, waltzes, schottisches, slow blues, cotillions, and jigs as well! 

9:45 PM: Jam and Sing-Around. 


Sunday, September 1, 2019

8:00 AM-8:50: Breakfast

9:00 AM-10:00 AM:

Blues for Solo Guitar (David Evans)

Driving the Bass (Aaron Smith)

10:15 AM-11:30 AM:

Old-Time Backup Guitar (Howard Rains). More fun on the six-string

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:

Old-Time Mandolin Repertory (Howard Rains). We will focus on Howard’s unusual repertoire learned from a variety of sources in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and the greater Midwest.

Spencer Family Music (Tricia Spencer). Tricia will teach tunes handed down to her from her grandfather, Vernon Spencer of Big Springs, Kansas. Vernon was an old-style fiddler with a knack for boiling down some of the more ornate Midwestern tunes to their bare essence. She will also teach tunes from her mentor, Amos Chase, and other Kansas and Midwest fiddlers.

Three-Part Harmony Singing, part two (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: 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: Old-Time String Band Class, part three. (Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains).

9:45 PM: Jam and Sing-Around.


Monday, Sept. 2, 2019:

8-8:50 AM: Breakfast

9:00-10:00 AM:

Blues for Solo Guitar (David Evans)

Cross Tuning on the Fiddle (Tricia Spencer). Tricia will teach cross-tuned fiddle tunes and discuss other alternative tunings for the fiddle.

Driving the Bass (Aaron Smith)

10:15-11:30 AM:

Applying Old-Time Banjo Techniques (Stephen Wade)

Old-Time Backup Guitar (Howard Rains)

11:30 AM-12:00 PM:  Free time

12:00-12:50 PM: Lunch

1-2:15 PM:

Old-Time String Band Class, part four (Tricia Spencer & Howard Rains)

A Storyteller’s Story: Sources of Banjo Dancing (Stephen Wade). 2019 marks its fortieth anniversary, a date that provides an opportunity here to revisit the show’s influences and outcroppings. Performed examples abound!

2:30-3:30 PM:

Old-Time Texas Fiddle Repertory (Tricia Spencer & Howard Rains). For many years Howard and Tricia have collected a variety of tunes from Howard’s home state of Texas. We will present some of these unusual and largely lost pieces of music and tell their stories.

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: Family Music (Tricia Spencer & Howard Rains), Tricia and Howard will talk about their experiences growing up in musical families and how they encourage this activity in their own families. “We will also discuss its importance, and encourage the making of music in your own families. In short, how we do it and why.”

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 (hosted 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.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

8:00 AM: Breakfast and departure