APRIL 23-25, 2004

BigDogs BillKeith ButchRobins BrianAnderson Th'Biscuit DanielTshirtback
DanLevenson DavidLolaAndyKing DougandButch DougDillardandGwenBrown JackandBanjaLola JackandBetsy
JacksonBoylan JamesMcKinney JohnLawless LaughingatBiscuit McKinneyZaneNolan McNeelyKeithRobins
NancyNitchie Nolan NolanRenisonOpeningConcert RoscoeKennyBreaking RossWithMicFace RussJeffers
SMBAGroupPhoto SMBAPeacock2004 Zane ZanePetty Steiner-BellLodge Studentshangin'out

The first annual Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy was held April 23-25, 2004, at Wa-Floy Retreat near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Judging by exit surveys, list serve posts, calls and emails ~ it was a huge success! 100% of the 30 people who responded to the exit survey said they benefited and would come back next year!

We would like to thank everyone who participated, including:

Jack Hatfield, SMBA director

Comments from students:

Here are some unsolicited thoughts from Jackson Boylan regarding the Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy:

First and foremost, Jack Hatfield is a class act!!! Refer back to this point frequently as it is the basis for all that follows. Jack is either the most organized person in the world or has a Higher Power that truly loves him and all banjo players. I’ve been to many, many weekend workshops and this was by far the best. At a lot of these events I either wouldn’t attend the classes, which would wind up more like lectures, or sit in the back wishing I was out pickin’. Here, the classes were by and large interactive, very much participatory. At times I couldn’t make up my mind where to be. Additionally, there were private lessons, two for each attendee, with the faculty member of his/her choice. The site was just beautiful, like a little motel way up a hill with no distractions.

The instructors were wonderful. Here are six of the highlights for me:

More highlights, let’s see, Doug Dillard. I got to meet and pick with Larry McNeely and he actually seemed to enjoy it. He’s a really great guy and hopefully he’s back in bluegrass. Both of us started out on banjo focusing on Don Reno instead of the other guy; and we had a great time “doin’ ‘em just like Don”. The backup band for all of the mini-concerts during the day and the Saturday night show, Jack, where did you find these guys, were just incredible. Oh, Doug Dillard. Nancy Nitchie, what banjo get-together would be complete without Nancy, what a sweetheart!!!! Tom Nechville did how many banjo set-ups this week-end besides tending to his booth. He had some really great stuff with him this time. Did I mention Doug Dillard? As always, the really featured performers at something like this are the banjos and there were some great ones there, from the old Mastertones like Butch’s and David Schenck’s to the high tech of Tom Nechville. Oh, yeah, Doug Dillard. I never get tired lookin’, tryin’, askin’ and just plain bein’ around 5 strings and the people who play them.

There’s a lot that I’ve left out. If you weren’t specifically mentioned above then I take this time to say, thanks for being a part of a really great event. It has really energized me and I hope that you got at least half as much out of this as I did. Whoever designed the T-shirt deserves an award and for the last time, Doug Dillard!! Oh, Oh, Oh, if this sounds good and you’re sorry you missed it, Jack is gonna do it again next year. At least that’s what he said and I for one am gonna hold him to it ~ Jackson Boylan, Lovingston, VA. Jackson Boylan is an attorney, Renophile and fan of . . . you guessed it, Doug Dillard. He lives in Lovingston, VA with his cats Reno, Smiley and Tony and his dog Shorty. He plays banjo, guitar and fiddle in the band Swang and can be contacted at bnjomon@ceva.net.


Gary Davis, Doug Dillard, Jack Hatfield, Bill Keith, Andy King, John Lawless, Dan Levenson, James McKinney, Larry McNeely, Tom Nechville, Ross Nickerson, and Butch Robins

Gary Davis is the ONLY three-time National Banjo Champion and owns many state titles as well. Gary is a dedicated banjo teacher, 15-year Dollywood entertainer, studio ace and most recently band leader for Dolly Parton on her bluegrass album tour. He is fluent in many music styles, from bluegrass to jazz. He is also an awesome lead guitar player, from bluegrass to country to jazz. Gary currently works at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge and teaches private lessons.

Doug Dillard is best known as the banjo player for "the Darlin's" (a.k.a. "The Dillards") from television's "Andy of Mayberry". Doug has done extensive solo studio work (both records and TV) and toured worldwide with The Dillards. Doug is currently performing as the Doug Dillard Band. He was a pioneer in getting the banjo airplay in progressive and traditional bluegrass and the country/rock genre as well as in the national television spotlight. Doug is a gem; his stories and escapades in the West Coast scene of the 60's and 70's alone are worth the price of admission. Doug toured not only with the Dillards, but also with many rock and country-rock notables such as Graham Parsons, Gene Clark, John Hartford, Clarence White, and others. He was featured in Banjo Newsletter, June 1981 and March-April 1996.

Jack Hatfield has been a writer for Banjo Newsletter for over 25 years and has written several acclaimed banjo instruction books, published by his own company, Hatfield Music, and by Mel Bay Publications. He has been a finalist in the Tennessee banjo championship and the National Banjo Championship at Winfield, Kansas, worked at Dollywood theme park, directed banjo workshops independently from California to the UK and for BNL and SPBGMA. He made an Australian workshop/performance tour this June. He was bluegrass director for all three of the Maryland Banjo Academies and was on the faculty of the very first banjo camp, the Tennessee Banjo Institute. He is owner/operator of Hatfield Music, providing everything the banjo player needs from instructional materials to banjos to accessories. Jack was featured in Banjo Newsletter, July 2001.

Bill Keith is one of the foremost music theory teachers among banjo players. He was instrumental in developing the melodic style and recorded and toured with Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Pete Rowan and many others. He has a Homespun instructional tape out a called "Play Bluegrass Banjo by Ear" and presides over Beacon banjo company, producing Keith banjo tuners, which he helped design. He is fluent in many music styles, from bluegrass to jazz. Bill has been a faculty member at virtually all the major banjo camps and workshops. He is incredibly captivating when teaching and is tireless. When you go to one of his sessions, use the bathroom FIRST and bring a sandwich! (Just kidding ~ meals and IV's provided.) Bill has also graciously volunteered to bring many old tapes of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and Reno to be played in one of the common areas. Bill was featured in Banjo Newsletter, August 1983.

Andy King has studied the classical technique of turn-of-the-century artists such as Fred Van Epps. He has written a book called Advanced Studies in Five String Banjo detailing classical techniques used by the masters such as Fleck and Trischka, and many three-finger classical techniques which are virtually forgotten today, notably the use of all fingers on all four strings and playing slow songs using tremolo and chord solo techniques. He has mentored Jack Hatfield, Gary Davis, James McKinney, and Larry McNeely, among others.

John Lawless (Fri-Sat only) is president of AcuTab Publications. He has worked closely with dozens of top pros in rendering note-for-note transcriptions of great banjo recordings and has published many instructional videos and DVDs. He is intimately involved with Steve Huber and the Huber banjo company and is list owner of AcuTab banjo listserve, probably the longest running and most popular bluegrass banjo listserve on the net.

Dan Levenson, formerly banjoist and bandleader of the Boiled Buzzards string band, is now performing as The Hippie-Billies. Dan is a long-time Banjo Newsletter writer, and well known old-time performer and teacher of banjo, fiddle, and clogging. He was voted in the top ten old-time banjo players by BNL readers. Dan has several instructional books and DVDs published by Mel Bay Publications, and tours the world not only performing with his band the Hippie-Billies but also teaching "Meet the Banjo" seminars for aspiring players. Dan has been on the faculty of the Tennessee Banjo Institute, Banjo Camp North, and the Maryland Banjo Academy, among others. Bluegrass Unlimited calls his playing "melodic, meticulous, and uncluttered." He won second place in the prestigious Old Time Banjo Contest at the Mount Airy Fiddler's Convention in 2003 and First Place Old Time Fiddle, Coshocton Canal Festival ~ 2000. Fiddler Magazine's Bob Buckingham describes him as ". . . one of the best clawhammer banjo players in the country".

James McKinney is an amazing banjo player, one of the most technically precise and advanced players alive. He won the South U.S. Banjo Championship at age 15. In 1982 he won the National Banjo Championship at Winfield, Kansas, to top off dozens of first-place state and regional championships. He made the first of several appearances on the Grand Ole Opry at age 19 and worked at Opryland theme park as banjoist and musical arranger. James recorded with his Dallas band Danger in The Air in the late 1980s and moved to Nashville for good in 1990 to play full time with his talented wife Angela in the James and Angela McKinney Band. James currently does studio and touring work out of Nashville. In addition to being a Scruggs and Reno style expert, he is a dedicated banjo teacher. He has taught at many major banjo camps, the SPGBMA workshop, and Master workshops all over the USA. He is one of the foremost jazz and theory experts in the banjo world, having been mentored by renowned jazz educator David Baker and Mr. Ferrell (teacher of Chet Atkins and Jethro Burns). He has performed and/or recorded with the likes of Porter Waggoner, Barbara Mandrell, John Hartford, and Johnny Cash, in addition to a long and close professional relationship with legendary fiddler Vassar Clements. His newest project is called "Mind Over Banjo", to be released sometime before the SMBA. He was featured artist in Banjo Newsletter July 1982.

Larry McNeely (Sat-Sun only) is best known from his weekly appearances on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in the 70's and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry in Roy Acuff's band for many years playing mostly harmonica. Larry recorded a self-titled album which was one of the first and most influential melodic/progressive banjo albums. He has recently dusted off his banjo and this will be his first appearance in the banjo world in many years. Larry was featured in Banjo Newsletter, September 1978.

Tom Nechville, of Nechville Musical products, is the inventor and designer of the new class of banjos known as "Helimounts". Tom has worked with Alison Brown, Bela Fleck, Eddie Adcock, and others in development of his designs, and currently provides instruments for many of the world's top country, bluegrass, and jazz performers. Learn what's wrong with most banjos and see how Nechville has designed solutions to nearly every banjo problem. His patented designs such as the elegant helical head tensioning Helimount, adjustable neck attachment, beveled armrest, built-in capos, and compensated Enterprise bridges are stirring up the banjo world. Nechville is leading the "Banjo Revolution" into new territory with his unique designs for the electric and synthesizer banjos as well. Tom will have several instruments on display and will cover things like the benefits of radiused fingerboards, tunneled 5th strings, in-line tailpieces, and compensated bridges. Owners of traditional banjos as well as anyone interested in banjo will benefit from Nechville's set-up tips and theories for optimum banjo sound. His book Dynamics of Banjo Sound is available.

Ross Nickerson (Fri-Sat only) has a solo CD out on Pinecastle and has been on the faculty of the Maryland Banjo Academy and the BNL/SPBGMA workshop in Nashville. He has worked over 20 years as a professional musician in venues such as Las Vegas and Disneyland theme park in Japan. He is currently touring, teaching seminars, and performing worldwide, and has recently released his Mel Bay publication, The Banjo Encyclopedia. At his website, banjoteacher.com, he has learn-to-play banjo books, videos, books with tab, CDs, DVDs, tablature, online Internet lessons, accessories, sound bytes, video lessons, free song of the month in streaming video, free downloads, and the Banjo Buddies list to meet other banjo players. He is director of the Banjo Cruise, a floating banjo workshop to be held in 2005.

Butch Robins is a fantastic banjo player who worked with Bill Monroe, and was a founding member of the Newgrass Revival and the Bluegrass Band (now known as the Nashville Bluegrass Band). Butch has a new book out called What I Know 'Bout What I Know, featuring many anecdotes and lessons learned from his relationship with the Father of Bluegrass. He was featured speaker at the 2004 SPBGMA/BNL workshop in Nashville where he demonstrated that he is an amazingly engaging and motivating speaker as well as a gifted banjo player with dozens of entertaining and informative stories about experiences with Nashville and the bluegrass scene. Butch was featured in Banjo Newsletter, October-November 2003.


Kenny Dodson, excellent guitarist/singer from Misty River band and True Blue, was on hand Friday and Sunday and for the Saturday night concert.

David Parker, an excellent banjo player in his own right, played guitar for mini-concerts Saturday.

Roscoe Morgan played mandolin and fiddle and sang great tenor all weekend. Roscoe is a virtuoso musician who does everything from the singing style of Ralph Stanley to mandolin of Bill Monroe to Frank Wakefield style outer limits mandolin licks to heavy metal lead guitar. He has a distinctively strong tenor voice. Roscoe recently recorded his first solo CD, "The Streets of Cincinnati". He has played with Jack Hatfield's Crosswind and True Blue bands, Dave Evans and Riverbend, John Reischman, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, James King, Karl Shiflett, Steve Kaufman, and most recently Pine Mountain Railroad.

Joe Sharp played solid bass and and lead and tenor all weekend for the mini-concerts and Smokin' Banjos concert. Joe has performed at Dollywood, Dixie Stampede and festivals throughout the region.

John Guthrie, long-time True Blue bass player and tenor singer, filled in for Joe Saturday when he had to leave for a while to play a prior commitment. John also played with True Blue in the Smokin' Banjos concert.