Frank and Allie Lee have put on their Banjo-Fiddle Frolic for the past two years to great success. This year they’ve decided to add a Virtual Banjo-Fiddle Frolic this coming weekend, May 29-30th with a great roster of workshop teachers. There’s still time to sign up. Dig into our interview with Allie about the Frolic and find out more on the event website: www.banjofiddlefrolic.com
How did the Banjo-Fiddle Frolic get started?
In late 2017, we did a tour out to Kansas and Missouri. During the drive, our mental wheels were turning about different ways to keep making music (and money) closer to home. The original idea was to create a banjo retreat at our house. As we kept talking about it, Frank brought up the importance of fiddles for banjo playing; the interplay between banjo and fiddle is something that you just can’t teach in a banjo-only experience. So when we started thinking of bringing fiddlers in to play with participants, we realized they should be able to teach also. So it expanded into a fiddle and banjo camp. And from there it was obvious to include a bit of guitar instruction too. We then realized this idea had grown bigger than our house would allow! Luckily, we live in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, and there are a lot of lodges and retreat centers around. The closest one to our house, Land’s Creek Log Cabins, is owned by a friend of Frank’s. Frank actually recorded his album Artseen there in 2002. So we decided to have the event there. We worked with them to choose the date, and from there decided on instructors and how many participants we could accommodate. Local friends and neighbors helped us with refining the vision, volunteering as jam leaders, spreading the word, and preparing the meals. The first Frolic was held in March of 2018.
Why is this event important for you two to put on each year?
It’s one of the highlights of the year for us. Bringing folks together to from all over – we’ve had participants from Canada, California, Missouri, Montana, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee in addition to North Carolina – is one of our favorite things. Then add the dynamics of small group interaction (we now cap the in-person event at 25 participants), a busy-yet-relaxed atmosphere, abundant home-cooked food, the scenery of the Smokies, and the high level of musicianship in our instructors as well as participants, and you can see why it’s something we are proud of and look forward to.
From your experience, what is it that participants get most out of the Frolic?
It depends on the person, because the schedule is set up so that folks can pick and choose what they want to do throughout the weekend. But one of the most popular and unique aspects of the schedule is the One-on-Ones. One-on-Ones are 30-minute lessons that participants schedule with the instructors. They can ask questions, learn a tune or technique, or just have a private jam session. The One-on-Ones add a tricky dynamic with planning because there needs to be adequate space for folks to spread out while jams and workshops are simultaneously happening in other parts of the Lodge, but they worth it because they’re consistently what participants rave about. Well, that and the food. And the community. And the jamming. And the scenery!
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Of course, this year is a little different: the Frolic is online! The reason for the switch is obvious, but I wonder whether you see some new opportunities that doing it online might present?
Usually, due to space limitations, we can only have 25 participants. Add in the 7-8 instructors and our staff, and that’s 40+ folks to feed and fit under one roof. So not only does that make it a more “exclusive” event – our waiting list for spring 2020 had 12 people on it – but also more expensive. We pay to rent the lodge, and for the food, and to print signage and programs, in addition to paying the instructors. With the Virtual Frolic, we’re excited about being able to provide programming for folks near and far, with no limit of participants. We’ll miss being able to fellowship over slow-cooked pork and chicken, and jamming by the creek. But we have very little overhead in putting on a virtual event, so that means we can make it more affordable and accessible. Maybe if we have more Virtual Frolics, we can also bring on instructors from further away. Typically we hire folks who are fairly local/regional to save on their travel costs. With a Virtual event, instructors could be based anywhere in the world.
What are you most excited about for this year’s Banjo-Fiddle Frolic?
We’re hoping to still have the in-person Frolic October 30. So for that one, we’re looking forward to hanging out with everyone who signed up for it a year ago! Teachers will be Beverly Smith, Joe Decosimo, Kirk Sutphin, Kevin Fore, Trish Fore, and Chester McMillian.
For the Virtual Frolic, it’s exciting to consider how much information and music can be shared. We have (rather ambitiously) scheduled 20 workshops, taught by 14 instructors. 9am-7pm for two days. That’s a lot of content!
Live workshops are great for so many reasons, but I wonder whether you’ve thought about recording the online workshops this year as a document for future musicians to learn from.
We’ll send recordings of the Zoom meeting workshops to everyone who registers for that workshop. So if you register for all 20 workshops with the $149 All-Access Pass, you’ll get videos of every workshop. If you register for David Bass’s advanced fiddle workshop, then that’s the video we’ll send you. We hope folks see the value in this and feel safe registering for as many workshops as they’re interested in, without feeling stressed if something comes up and they can’t literally be in front of the computer at that time.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the 2020 Virtual Banjo-Fiddle Frolic?
We’re doing this to help build community in these unstable times. We’re also hoping to help fellow musicians make a wage while all their in-person gigs and workshops are cancelled. It’s our first time putting on a digital event, and it’s totally DIY – we are the program directors, registrars, webmasters, and promoters while also teaching and performing. So we hope folks are understanding and tell us if they have suggestions for improvement. We also hope no one feels excluded due to money. We want anyone who wants to come to be able to come. Please get in touch with us at banjofiddlefrolic.com if money is holding you back from attending, and we’ll be glad to work something out.
We’ll also send a post-Frolic survey to collect feedback from all our participants and teachers so we can improve on potential future Virtual Frolics.
Register here for the: