Twelfth Annual
Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

May 6th - 8th 2016

sponsored by

Cades Cove photo courtesy Dan Levensen


  • Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy 2016 will be May 6th - 8th. In 2015 the camp moved to the new Hatfield Music Barn on a ridge overlooking Pigeon Forge, adjacent to the Hatfield Music shop. This is closer to all the area tourist attractions... the Dollywood steam locomotive can be heard from the site. Students purchasing full package will stay at Ramada Inn South where breakfast will be provided. Lunch will be served at the barn, and students will explore local restaurants for dinner. The barn and lot will be the site for classes, concerts and jamming by the campfire. A full tuition plan is offered that includes hotel and breakfast/lunch at a nearby buffet restaurant, or students can purchase "classes and concerts only" admission and fend for themselves for lodging and meals. There are three campgrounds within walking distance of the Hatfield Music Barn. Accompanying friends or family members can ride the fifty-cent trolley to all the area attractions. There are also several miles of hiking trails adjacent to the property.

    Faculty for 2016: Jason Bales, Dave Ball, Ron Block, Gary “Biscuit” Davis, Jack Hatfield, Wayne Erbsen, John Lawless, James McKinney, Randal Morton, Tom Nechville, Butch Robins, Sammy Shelor, Sonny Smith, and Keith Yoder. Sound and acoustics: Niki Portmann of Portmann Acoustics. Setup: Ronnie Bales, Dave Ball, and Tom Nechville of Nechville Musical products, the main sponsor. Other sponsors include Deering Banjos, Portmann Acoustics, Dogwood Designs, and Mel Bay Publications, Inc.

    Click here for reports and photos of past SMBA's.

    Enjoy some great photos of 2014 SMBA at Five String Fest shot by Tibor Sventi, regular SMBA attendee.

  • Long-time SMBA supporters R.B. and Bridget Powell and an anonymous donor have generously offered to fund scholarships for promising young musicians or serious adults who may not otherwise be able to attend. email SMBA Director Jack Hatfield to apply for these scholarships.

  • To stay current with SMBA or comment, go to the Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy Facebook page.

    For more detailed info or to ask questions or inquire about vendor space, email Camp Director Jack Hatfield.

  • Beginner to Advanced classes will be taught by experienced professionals and touring pros. Styles presented includ bluegrass, classical, minstrel, and various old-time styles. The teacher-student ratio at SMBA is excellent...often there are as few as three or four students in a classroom with a top pro, teaching what is practically a private lesson. Every three-day student also gets their choice of instructors for a one-on-one lesson.

    Long-time friend and primary SMBA sponsor Nechville Musical Products will be donating a Flextone banjo. The bidding ends at 6:OO PM Saturday, minimum bid: $2,000. See Tom Nechville to place bid.

    Flex-Tone Specifications:

    Classic peghead

    Maple neck and resonator Ebony fingerboard

    Diamond Blossom Inlay

    Pro bluegrass pot

    Nechville pre-war style tone ring

    One-piece flange

    Comfort beveled armrest

    Nechville Inline tailpiece

    Nechville Enterprise fully compensated bridge

    Sturdy hardshell case

  • Students and faculty may arrive Thursday night to get acquainted...nothing structured, just have coffee or a beer, roast some dogs and marshmallows and jam around the campfire. Ron Block, Butch Robins, James McKinney, Randal Morton, Wayne Erbsen, Niki Portmann, and Jack Hatfield will be there, along with other faculty members.

    On Friday evening there will be a banjo contest administered exactly like the National Banjo Championship at Winfield Kansas. In fact, several Winfield champs will be judging, notably head judge James McKinney. First prize is a Deering Goodtime II banjo valued at $700. Runner-up will receive a custom Dogwood Designs strap valued at $200. A collection of Mel Bay banjo instruction books will be awarded the third place winner.Click here to view the contest rules

    so you may prepare.

    Help us promote the camp! Click here for a SMBA 2016 flyer to print and post at music stores, teaching studios, concerts, and jam sessions. Please put a couple in your banjo case and hand out to other banjo players!.

    Camping: The recommended campsite is Riveredge RV Park and cabins. This is a very nice, clean, modern campground with recently built bathhouse, hot tub, swimming pool, and an arcade /game room, right on the banks of the Little Pigeon River. There are nice new cabins within view off the Hatfield Music Barn. Our friends at Riveredge have agreed to shuttle SMBA campers 500 yards to the Hatfield Music Barn with their golf cart. There is no student parking onsite. Those who stay at the hotel Ramada Inn South will ride a shuttle one mile to the site. There is only room for only space for staff, the elderly and handicapped to park art the barn.

    Contact: Riveredge RV Park and Cabins 4220 Huskey St. Pigeon Forge,TN 877-881-7222

    Below is the class schedule. If you are a three-day student your guaranteed private lesson should be included. If not contact Jack Hatfield with your choices of faculty for your lesson. Note the Hatfield-Robins Debate Saturday and the one-mile hike to the next ridge top Saturday and Sunday... for the brave and hearty.

    The following artists and teachers will be conducting SMBA classes, jamming, and performing.

    Jason Bales (Schedule TBA : Jason will show up between Dollywood shows and rehearsals and teach private lessons upon request. He will also participate in the Winfield Winners Jam Friday night and teach Reno style classes as time permits tba.

    Jason is a banjo prodigy. He hails from Pittman Center, just a mile or two from Dolly Parton's home place. He has performed at Dollywood theme park and other theaters and taught banjo for over fifteen years. Jason has won the RenoFest contest and placed second at the National Banjo Championship at Winfield, Kansas. He is fluent in Scruggs, melodic and single string style and has a ton of experience teaching beginners. His schedule of classes and performances at SMBA will depend on his Dollywood schedule which is fluid. His dad is master banjo luthier Ronnie Bales who will also be on the faculty.

    Bridget Allen is the prettier half of the R.B. Powell family. R.B. and Bridget are SMBA scholarship donors and RB has MC'd the Saturday night concert many times. Bridget is a gifted singer and songwriter. She plays guitar and bass. Bridget will moderate some of the slow jams, and always hosts the Gospel Jam on Sunday morning.
    Ron Block (Friday and Saturday, as well as Thursday jam). Throughout his life – and certainly throughout his extraordinary career – multi-instrumentalist Ron Block has been something of a musical Huck Finn, a tireless adventurer exploring various styles yet rooted firmly in the bluegrass-country tradition. Now the longtime member of the Grammy-winning band Alison Krauss and Union Station discovers a whole new area of uncharted terrain, with the release of his fourth solo album, Hogan's House of Music, his first-ever all-instrumental collection. Whether it's the fierce, passionate bluegrass of "Smartville," which incorporates pentatonic, string-bending electric guitar-inspired left-hand banjo work, or his hopped-up take on the classic "Clinch Mountain Backstep," Block's myriad influences are on display throughout the new collection, from Flatt and Scruggs to Larry Carlton to a lifetime of memorable experiences which the consummate musician pours into each track, resulting in 16 unique and compelling wordless stories. Supplementing Block's own banjo and guitar playing on the album is a host of celebrated musicians, including his Union Station band mates Barry Bales, Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, and Jerry Douglas, as well as Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, Adam Steffey, Sam Bush, Tim Crouch, Rob Ickes, Clay Hess, Mark Fain, Byron House, Lynn Williams, and Jeff Taylor. The backing tracks run the gamut from a simple banjo and mandolin duet ("Seneca Squaredance") to the "free-for all" of "Mooney Flat Road," which spotlights two guitars, mandolin, octave mandolin, two fiddles, banjo, snare, bass and accordion. "I tried to distinguish the songs from one another, to have songs with a few instruments and then songs with a lot more instrumentation," he explains. "You can also vary the material with tempo and with the kind of song that it is, like on 'Clinch Mountain Backstep' with string bends or the pretty 'Spotted Pony,' or the slow and pretty 'Gentle Annie.' You get all these different feels together and you can put a record together." Comprised of seven original tunes and some of his favorite covers, the self-released Hogan's House of Music follows Block's three acclaimed solo albums released on Rounder Records, Faraway Land (2001), DoorWay (2007) and Walking Song (2013), and the five studio albums and live LP recorded with Union Station. In addition, Block's guitar and banjo have been heard on albums by Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, Dailey & Vincent, Dolly Parton and many others. He was also featured, with Krauss and Union Station, on the multi-platinum soundtrack of the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou and can be seen playing banjo in the 2000 film. Many of the stories told throughout Hogan's House of Music were inspired by snapshots of Ron Block's young life. Born in suburban Gardena, California, Block's parents were divorced by the time he was 6 years old. His mother remarried a widower with six kids at home, meaning he went from being the youngest, with two older brothers, to being a middle child. The family soon moved to Northern California, to a rural town called Smartville, setting him on his Huck Finn-inspired path, for a while. "We lived on a rural road with maybe five houses and every house backed up against the creek," Block recalls. "The backyard was hilly and went down toward the creek. My stepbrother that was the same age, John, any decent day we'd be out at the creek playing or going out fishing at a place where they used to strip-mine. There was a small lake where there were tons of catfish. Most of our spare time was spent outdoors." Block's rural existence was interrupted when he was 13, but the move to Torrance, California, where he lived with his dad, Hogan's House of Music store owner Chuck Block, proved invaluable when it came to the youngster's future. "I got my first guitar when I was 11," he says. "I liked playing it but I liked it just about as much as I liked anything else. I liked to read, I liked to play guitar, I liked to go out and play catch with my brother. It was that kind of thing, really, until I heard bluegrass. When I heard Lester Flatt play on TV, I went nuts for it. For Christmas I got a banjo. My dad says he got me a banjo at 13 and I didn't come out of my room until I was 21, which is partly true." This was the mid-1970s, a time when FM radio could be counted on to expose listeners to a number of musical genres, from experimental jazz to hard rock. Thanks to the countless hours spent at Hogan’s House of Music in Lawndale, Calif., he was exposed to music of every stripe, from his fellow employees at the shop, where he began working in 1980. He soon joined his first band, playing banjo and guitar and singing harmony. After forming the group Weary Hearts with Butch Baldassari, Eric Uglum and Mike Bub, Block was soon to meet young singer and fiddle player Alison Krauss and the members of Dusty Miller, Adam Steffey, Barry Bales and Tim Stafford, who would soon join Krauss in Union Station. After a stint with Uglum, Dobro player Rob Ickes, and his wife, Sandra Block, in New Wine, Block, now living in Nashville, played with Virginia's Lynn Morris Band. In October 1991, Ron Block joined Alison Krauss and Union Station, with members Barry Bales, Tim Stafford, and Adam Steffey. The following year, the group recorded the album Every Time You Say Goodbye. Now considered a modern bluegrass classic, the album earned a 1993 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, the first of an astounding 14 Grammys Block would take home thus far. Other early highlights of Block's tenure with AKUS include touring with megastar Garth Brooks, and, of course, the O Brother, Where Art Thou phenomenon, which would put the banjo player on the big screen and also on concert stages with the Down from the Mountain Tour, featuring performers from the O Brother soundtrack. In 2009, the group performed for the President of the United States at the White House. With more than 20 years of touring as part of Union Station, Block most recently went "on the road again" with the legendary Willie Nelson for a 2014-15 tour that continued to expand the group's diverse and enthusiastic audience.

    Fascinated by music from an early age, Block recalls the classic LP that made an impact on him: Marty Robbins' 1959 masterwork, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. An avid reader and history buff, Block discovered heroes in books and on vinyl, and found he could tell vivid stories with his own style of playing – and writing – songs.

    Like a true adventurer, Block has learned something from every avenue of exploration, whether as a member of one of the most successful bands (in any genre) of all time, or as a solo artist expanding his musical horizons. But being able to share the experience with other artists borne of that same pioneering spirit has made his musical journey one that is as indelible for music fans as it has been for Block himself.

    Kristin Scott-Benson (Saturday only) performs with The Grascals , Grammy-nominated and two-time IBMA Entertainers of the Year. Kristin is the reigning, four-time IBMA Banjo Player of the Year. As a member of The Grascals, she has made an indelible mark on the bluegrass music industry. Kristin grew up in South Carolina, surrounded by a musical family. She started playing mandolin and stepped on stage for the first time at the age of five. After receiving a much-anticipated banjo for Christmas when she was thirteen, Kristin became enthralled with the instrument and spent her teen years studying the playing of all the banjo greats from Earl Scruggs to Bela Fleck. After high school, she attended Nashville’s esteemed Belmont University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BBA in Marketing and a minor in Music Business. Kristin has attained a national identity as one of the top bluegrass banjo players on the scene, exhibiting impeccable taste, timing, and tone. With an attentive ear to back-up, she is known and respected as a true team player among her peers. Many attribute her as one of the first females to successfully be a side-musician in a top-tiered bluegrass band: “There was one grass ceiling no woman could cut through—until Kristin Scott Benson came along, that is. Almost two years ago, she joined The Grascals. Not to front the band, not to sing, not to be eye candy, but instead to drive the group with her five-string banjo. Until then, no woman had ever been hired to play one of the most defining of the bluegrass instruments in an A list, festival-headlining, all-male band…. It’s a high profile gig, as Kristin takes the banjo where no woman has taken it before.” Larry Nager – “Kristin Scott Benson – Cutting the Grass Ceiling” Bluegrass Unlimited: Oct, 2010 She is featured on the four latest Grascals albums, including the most recent release, Life Finds a Way. Grascals and Friends, available exclusively at Cracker Barrel, includes collaborations with many of today’s top country artists, such as Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Charlie Daniels, and others. Her latest solo release, Second Season, features eight instrumentals (half of them originals) and four vocal performances. The album showcases her powerful banjo playing, while still appealing to fans that aren't motivated solely by instrumental prowess. The project received stellar reviews and features some of bluegrass’ brightest musicians. Copies can be purchased at Kristin plays a 2010 Sonny Osborne Chief banjo and a 1933 Gibson TB-3 banjo. She endorses GHS Strings, Takamine guitars, Doc Fossey Guitars, Fishman pickups and Robin Smith at Heartland Guitar and Banjo. After 13 years in Nashville, Kristin relocated back to the Carolinas in 2007, along with her husband, Wayne, and young son, Hogan.

    Kristin's teaching resume includes: Sonny Osborne NashCamp, Banjo Camp – Nashville, TN, Fiddle Star Band Camp – Nashville, TN, East Tennessee State University – Johnson City, TN - Adjunct Faculty, British Columbia Bluegrass Workshop – Sorrento, British Columbia, Wabash River Bluegrass Camp – Grayville, IL, Bear on the Square Music Camp – Dahlonega, GA, Fiddle Fest Music Camp – Roanoke, VA, International Bluegrass Music Association Mentor. Plus, Innumerable workshops at premier festivals and events, in the US, Canada and EuropePrivate. She also teaches private lessons on banjo, guitar, and mandolin.

    Butch Robins (Fri-Sat-Sun as well as Thursday cookout/ jam) As far as banjo players are concerned, few are as innovative or stylistically diverse as is Joseph C. ("Butch") Robins. Butch's musical diversity is evidenced in the bluegrass world by his inclusion as one of the longest tenured banjoists for Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys and bassist for the New Grass Revival, earning him the distinction of being "the one and only New Grass/Blue Grass Boy". He has been one of the busiest of Nashville's freelance banjo players and has performed with big-band leader, Harry James, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Leon Russell.

    Hailing from the Celtic-descended, southeastern United States, as a student of music and the banjo in the 1960's and 70's, Butch acquainted himself with and befriended many of the first generation bluegrass musicians at early festivals and fiddlers' conventions. As a teenager he won major banjo contests and participated in banjo workshops at both the 1969 Newport Folk Festival and also Carlton Haney's 1969 Camp Springs Bluegrass Festival in Reidsville, NC. While serving in the US Army in South Carolina, he was introduced to Snuffy Jenkins & Pappy Sherrill, and subsequently dedicated his album, "Forty Years Late", to Snuffy.

    The 70's found Butch playing in various bands, including Charlie Moore, Jim & Jesse, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper and the New Grass Revival. It was during these years that he explored different banjo playing techniques and helped lay the groundwork for the progressive, melodic, 5-string banjo playing of today. , Butch released three landmark solo banjo albums on Rounder records - "Forty Years Late", "Fragments of My Imagicnation" and "The Fifth Child".

    In 1977, Butch became the banjoist for Bill Monroe and his "Blue Grass Boys". After the Monroe experience he founded the first incarnation of The Blue Grass Band.

    After nearly a decade of trying to adjust to the "real" world outside that of a musical artist, in the early 90's Butch helped start the Hay Holler Record label with two recordings sold through means of telemarketing. In 1995 he produced a masterpiece banjo-oriented bluegrass recording, "Grounded-Centered-Focused", featuring, amongst a magnificently talented supporting cast, including Bill Monroe.

    Since then, Butch has traveled to and performed in Japan, Australia and Europe. As a result of these travels, he assembled some of the world's finest bluegrass musicians into the World International Bluegrass Band in 2007 as "a musical statement of international cooperation and goodwill'. The band toured Virginia before performing at the IBMA Convention in Nashville, TN and taping a live TV performance for "Song of the Mountains".

    Also noteworthy is Butch's role in preserving the history of Blue Grass music and keeping alive the legend of Bill Monroe. His autobiography & memoirs, "What I Know 'Bout What I Know" earned strong reviews and a nomination for the IBMA's Printed Media Personality of the Year in 2004. Butch has also been an instructor at several camps, including the Tennessee Banjo Institute, Jack Hatfield's Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy, Midwest Banjo Camp, Augusta Heritage Center and Camp Ausgrass in Australia. 

    In 2013, Butch recorded a series of video lectures for Radford University entitledButch Robins Presents - Blue Grass Music, its Origin and Development as a Unique and Creative Art Form.  In this 5 part video series, Butch Robins explains the fascinating history of Blue Grass music. This presentation has received exceptional reviews.

    Butch currently lives near Pulaski, Virginia and is an avid golfer.

    Gary "Biscuit" Davis (Fri-Sat) is the ONLY four-time National Banjo Champion, having won Winfield in 1986, 1987, 2002 and 2013, and holds dozens of state and regional titles as well. Gary is a dedicated banjo teacher, very patient with children and slow learners. He performed for fifteen years at Dollywood, playing in a band with Dolly Parton's kinfolks. Being adept at both contemporary country on electric guitar and a banjo whiz, he is one of the most in-demand studio session men in East Tennessee. Biscuit was band leader and banjo player for Dolly Parton on her bluegrass album "Halos & Horns". he toured with Dolly for a year to promote that album. Biscuit is fluent in many music styles, from bluegrass to swing to jazz. As mentioned, he is also an awesome lead guitar player, bluegrass or country or jazz, and brings many lead guitar techniques to his banjo style. He currently works at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede dinner attraction in Pigeon Forge, is in constant demand in the studio, and somehow finds time to teach banjo and guitar at Smoky Mountain Guitars in Pigeon Forge.
    Jack Hatfield (Fri-Sat-Sun as well as Thursday cookout/jam). Jack wrote for Banjo Newsletter for over 30 years and has written several acclaimed banjo instruction books published by his own company Hatfield Music, and several banjo instuction books published by Mel Bay Publications. the largest publisher of stringed instrument music in the world. Jack was a finalist in the Tennessee Banjo Championship and the National Banjo Championship at Winfield, Kansas and has worked at several Pigeon Forge Theatres and attractions including Dollywood theme park and Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. He performs the conventions weddings, and special events throughout East Tennessee with his band True Blue.

    Jack has taught banjo workshops all over the USA and in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Canada. He is scheduled to teach in Alberta Canada, and Hamburg, Germany next year .He was Bluegrass Director for all three of Banjo Newsletter's Maryland Banjo academys and has directed the BNL/ SPBGMA workshop in Nashville for seventeen years which has featured the top names in the banjo world. Jack was on the faculty of the very FIRST banjo camp, the Tennessee Banjo Institute at Cedars of Lebanon near Nashville in 1988. He was Bluegrass Director for all three of BNL's Maryland Banjo Academys. The SMBA is now going into its eighth year and the merger with Five-String Fest promises to launch it to an all new level.

    Jack is owner/operator of Hatfield Music, providing everything the banjo player needs from instructional materials to banjos to accessories. Jack was featured on the cover of Banjo Newsletter, July 2001.

    John Lawless 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 books and DVDs in partnership with these great players. In 2011 he co-founded Bluegrass Today , a daily blog that keeps bluegrass fans and professionals everywhere abreast of what's happening in our world. John has brought many fine products to the banjo market, including Shelor finger picks designed by Sammy Shelor. He was also closely involved with Steve Huber and was instrumental in helping Steve bring his products to the market, leading to the founding of the Huber banjo company. He is owner of AcuTab banjo list serve, the longest running bluegrass banjo listserve on the internet. John is a fine player as well, as evidenced by ten memorable original tunes on his solo CD "Five and Dime". He is director of his own banjo camps, notably the annual Roanoke Bluegrass Weekend, featuring the banjo artists he works with on his various publishing and recording projects and many others on all bluegrass instruments.In addition to all this, John is an excellent teacher. He has the unique advantage of bringing his associations with dozens of great banjo artists into the classroom. A class with John is like a class with an entire panel of top bluegrass banjo artists.
    James McKinney (Fri-Sat-Sun) is an amazing banjo player, one of the most technically precise and advanced players anywhere. He will be performing at Five-String Fest with his band the Night Travelers, and he will be the head judge in the Bluegrass banjo competition on Sunday. James is a true Master of the 5-string banjo. One of the most advanced players anywhere and a Scruggs and Reno style expert, James is also considered a leading expert in jazz and theory in the banjo world, having been mentored by renowned jazz educator, David Baker, and Mr. Henry Ferrel (teacher of Chet Atkins and Jethro Burns). In his early days James played often with legends such as Bill Monroe, Vassar Clements, and John Hartford. James won the South U.S. Banjo Championship at age 15 and in 1982 he won the National Banjo Championship at Winfield, Kansas, as well as first-place in dozens of state and regional championships. He made the first of several appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, The Porter Wagoner Show, and the stages of Opryland at age 19 as part "Smoky Mountain Sunshine" combining his talents as a banjoist with those of musical arranger. In the 1980's he lived in Dallas and recorded and toured with his band "Danger in the Air" and later moved to Nashville to do full-time touring and studio work. James spent many years as a popular studio musician in Nashville and performed/recorded with the likes of Porter Wagoner, Barbara Mandrell, John Hartford, and Johnny Cash in addition to a long and close friendship and professional relationship with legendary fiddler ,Vassar Clements, with whom he toured and performed as "The Vassar Clements Band". James has recorded on many projects and taught at many major banjo camps including SPGBMA workshops and other Master workshops all over the USA and in Australia. Today, James lives in Atlanta, GA and has launched a new acoustic group called, "The Night Travelers", together with bassist Niki Portmann. They currently tour and play in the southeast region and are soon to release their first CD project, "Campfire".
    Niki Portmann (Fri-Sat-Sun) was born in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Her family immigrated to the USA from Switzerland in 1963. She learned fluent German from her mother as a young child and absorbed a passion for engineering and science from her father who was a Mechanical Engineer. Although no one in the family could formally play an instrument, Niki grew up with a deep love of all kinds of music from a young age. Her mother and father had a strong fascination with American Folk music and tied it together with their love of German folk music as well creating a strong foundation for Niki in appreciation of these music forms. Her love of music lead her to experiment with various instruments and choir growing up but she decided to follow her father's footsteps by getting a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering with minors in Math and Applied Physics. She had a very successful engineering career for many years until she re-discovered music after meeting James McKinney. With James' encouragement and support she discovered the Upright Acoustic Bass and progressed very quickly into a talented bassist and composer. Using her engineering skills she also works as the group's sound engineer and has begun her own boutique line of custom engineered speakers for acoustic bass and banjo, “Portmann Acoustics”. Niki lives Atlanta, GA and is the bassist for "The Night Travelers" with James McKinney on 5-string banjo. Together they currently tour and play in the continental U.S. and are looking forward to tours in both Western Europe and Australia. "The Night Travelers" first CD project, "Campfire", went into world-wide release in fall of 2012.
    Randal Morton (Fri-Sat-Sun) began playing guitar in 1969, but he switched to banjo after being inspired by watching Larry McNeely on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. At that time, listening to records was the only means of learning because in 1969 banjo instructional books were hard to come by. Randal soon developed a keen ear for hearing individual notes and tones from the LP’s enabling him to transcribe breaks or songs from his favorite players note-for-note. (Custom tabs are now offered at These tabs vary in level and style.) At 15, Randal performed with jazz artist Edwin Hubbard and the Prana Band throughout the 70’s. During this time he became a session player for many Memphis studios, recording jingles as well as commercials. Randal began using his ability to teach at the age of 16. The “banjo boom” from the “Deliverance” movie sparked a huge interest in learning the banjo. Several banjoists that he has instructed have found much success in Nashville, such as Mike Snider from Hee Haw. In the early 70’s, Randal and his twin brother Greg won numerous local and state competitions. Backed by Twin brother Greg & Mark O’Connor, Randal won the 1975 National Banjo Championship in Winfield, KS. He also performed with many top artist such as Buck White and The Downhome Folks, Mark O'Connor, Don Ho in Hawaii, and Mark Collie. He later toured the Orient and Europe for the USO-DOD shows. Randal and Greg were also featured in the 1989 July issue of Banjo Newsletter Magazine. Randal was a show cased entertainer for The Grand Casino in Tunica, MS as a solo banjoist for 4 years where he played a variety of styles such as bluegrass, pop, jazz, blues, and show tunes. In 1994 , he performed with Captain Phil McGee, a sax/clarinet entertainer. It was during this time that Randal became "capo-free" due to the nature of keys that horn players use. Although, capo-free he still used it for fiddle tunes or Bluegrass songs that "just sound better" with one. Randal currently teaches in Memphis and conducts workshops for the Memphis Area Bluegrass Music Association (MABA). “I truly love teaching all levels of banjo playing, from beginner to intermediate as well as advanced”. With his lessons, he takes pride in sharing the art of chord substitutions and licks that "color the chords," chord-connectors and single-string styles of Reno and Adcock. He teaches the “Adcock style,” a unique blend of Travis-style and pedal steel approach. He also incorporates melodic styles as in the playing of Alan Munde. Randal was a faculty member for the Tennessee Banjo Institute in the Cedars of Lebanon Park in Lebanon, TN. Mel Bay Publications features Randal in two books: “The Winfield Winners National Banjo Champions” and “Banjo 2000 Solos from the World’s Greatest Banjo Players.” He is currently teaching private, local lessons to students of all levels. He plays his banjo with a local progressive Bluegrass group called Grassfire, as well as Devil Train, a gypsy jazz/grass group of young jam-band players. He is also entertaining as a soloist on banjo or guitar in the style of Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins. He recently completed work with Ron Franklin, a rising Memphis artist, on a cd project that is receiving outstanding reviews. Randal and banjoist Terry Ferguson are completing a cd project due out sometime in the summer of 2007.
    Sammy Shelor (Sunday only) is the quintessential bluegrass band player. He began playing the banjo when he was four years old. Born in southwestern Virginia, Sammy played with the Virginia Squires before joining the traditional bluegrass band The Lonesome River Band in 1990. Sammy continues to play banjo and act as bandleader of the Lonesome River Band, and has received the International Bluegrass Music Association's Banjo Player of the Year award four times! Sammy has had two Acutab transcription books published of his recordings, and has also designed a unique fingerpick that has been hailed by many pros. Due to band schedule,Sammy cannot be there until noon Sunday, however he has agreed to teach private lesson during the lunch nah break and teach private lessons until 6:00 (camp is officially over at 4:00 Sunday)
    Sonny Smith (Fri-Sat-Sun) was born in Winchester, Tennessee on July 19, 1965. Around the age of seven his father instructed him to not play the banjo that he just put in his closet . His father also put a guitar in his brother's closet and instructed his brother Kenny as well "what ever you do do not play that guitar. Well being the golden goodness that they were and after being instructed to leave those instruments alone. Their father stepped outside of the house. Sonny gave the wink to little brother that the coast was clear ! The rest is history. These two boys would grow up playing music professionally. Sonny winning the National banjo championship in 1998 and little brother hauling in top honors in the bluegrass world as I.B.M.A. guitar player of the year. Sonny recalls his father not reprimanding him or his brother for playing those instruments in the closets.

    Sonny entered his first banjo contest at age 10 in Portland, Indiana. "There were a lot of people out there in the audience" Sonny recollects "...and they had trophies that were almost as tall as we were to give away". From that moment on Sonny was hooked on contest banjo playing, something he still enjoys today.

    Sonny also plays fiddle and has won many state titles and performing with some of country music greats such as Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Johnny Russell, Little Jimmy Dickens, Billy Walker, Johnny Bush, Arkey Blue and Elmer Dryer. Sonny recently performed in the Smoky Mountain String band at Dollywood theme park, along with Joe Sharp and guitar virtuoso Richard Bennett. He is currently performing at the Hatfield-McCoy Dinner Theatre in Pigeon Forge. Sonny also teaches private lessons when time permits.

    Keith Yoder (Fri-Sat-Sun)has become a standard fixture in banjo camps and workshop instruction.He is a talented instructor and musician with an unconventional approach to music education. Self-taught, he first picked up a guitar in high school and has since added numerous other instruments to the inventory he plays. He has played for 35 years (and counting!) and has taught full-time since 1994. Keith teaches and equips students on guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, resophonic guitar, bass, and drums. An Iowa native, Keith loves time with his family, jamming with friends (old and new), watching documentaries on Netflix, eating the famed White Castle or Krystal burgers, and cheering for his sweet Minnesota Vikings. Keith currently teaches private lessons in Knoxville, Tennessee and via the world wide web. He has recorded several outstanding CDs and educational materials. He has also taught at a vast array of camps including Steve Kaufman's Acoustic Camp, Colorado Roots Music Camp, Merlefest Jam Camp, and Walker Creek Music Camp. Please view the full list of camps and events - Keith would love to meet you and pick some tunes! If you are looking for a talented, personable, intentional teacher, if you are interested in hiring Keith to contribute to your camp or event, if you are looking to record and need guidance and professional equipment to help you walk through the process, Keith is your man.

    “Keith Yoder is a machine! I’m going to bed, and he’s jamming with ten campers. I drag back into the building in the morning and he’s jamming with two or three others. We had many folks who just followed him around. Rarely has one instructor had such an impact on so many campers.”

    — Charlie Hall, director of Colorado Roots Music Camp “Keith Yoder is easily one of the most requested and appreciated instructors who teaches at my music camps. The campers just rave about him: his teaching style, his approachability, and generosity with his time. In his classes, people finally “get it”, and long after other teachers have retired for the day, Keith has been known to be leading jams late into the night, giving far more of himself than is asked of him. I highly recommend him for any teaching position.”

    — Ingrid Noyes, director of Walker Creek Music Camp “Keith is one of our most loved and valued instructors – he immediately makes students feel at home and ready and willing to take a risk and step outside their comfort zone. He’s a fantastic musician, and his love and joy of music come through in his teaching. He’s also an amazing jam host – of all levels. He knows how to get a group working together so everyone gets a chance to shine.”

    — Julie Kerr and Craig Korth, NimbleFingers Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Workshop and Festival Co-Directors

    Dave Ball (Friday only) is a fine old time, brush and minstrel style banjo player. He is also a builder of fine banjos, with their roots mainly in the fine classic era banjo of the late 1800s. He plays for "The Mumbillies", a well known group in the East Tennessee area. Dave has a collection of old banjos that is so special the world's largest banjo exhibit "The Banjo - From Africa to America and Beyond" asked him to loan them several instruments. This exhibit was held in 2009 at McClung Museum in Knoxville. Dave started playing banjo in 1970, when he took up three finger Scruggs style playing. Dave's grandfather and father both played in western Kentucky stringbands, so he had been around this kind of music his entire life. By the late 1970's, Dave was playing banjo seven nights a week in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and it was also about this time that he took up old time clawhammer style playing. Since those days, Dave has won many banjo competitions including multiple first place honors at the prestegious Mt. Airy North Carolina festival and was National Champion Old-Time Banjoist in 2001. Dave is also an accomplished banjo maker, specializing in fancy high-end custom openback and internal resonator banjos. Dave will perform concerts and talk about banjo history and building and teach old time and minstrel style classes.
    Wayne Erbsen (Sat-Sun) is a master of a number of styles of music including old-time, bluegrass, folk, Appalachian, cowboy, pioneer, railroad, gospel and music of the Civil War. As a solo performer living in Asheville, North Carolina, he plays clawhammer and bluegrass banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar. His repertoire is over one thousand songs. A typical program would include songs, stories, history and humor mixed with hot instrumentals. Wayne can design an educational musical program perfectly suited to the occasion and the audience.

    Wayne has performed at colleges, coffee houses, concert halls, historic societies, museums, clubs, and festivals both in America and in western Europe. He has recorded eighteen solo CDs and written twenty-nine instruction and song books. Wayne has appeared on Sesame Street and his music has been selected to be distributed by NPR’s Wireless Catalog. Many of Wayne’s recordings have been included on numerous educational interactive CDs including American Heritage’s CD of the Civil War and Microsoft’s Encarta 2004. He has won numerous prizes at fiddler’s conventions including 1st place clawhammer banjo (Galax, Virginia, 1973) and 1st place senior old-time fiddler (Fiddler’s Grove, NC 2004). Wayne is included in North Carolina Touring Arts Directory.

    For the past thirty years, Wayne has hosted his own radio show called County Roots on Asheville’s public radio station, WCQS, 88.1 FM. Listen Sunday nights from 7:00 – 9:00 EST.

    The Wayne Erbsen Band, from Asheville, North Carolina, showcases their powerful, soulful singing and fiery instrumentals. Playing bluegrass and clawhammer banjo, guitar, fiddle and mandolin is Wayne Erbsen himself. Dana Ward is featured on lead and harmony vocals and rhythm guitar. Dudley Wilson sings harmony and lead vocals and plays the doghouse bass.This band is perfect to play for your wedding celebration, party, or other festive events.

    Tom Nechville, (Fri-Sat-Sun) of Nechville Musical Products has been in business since 1989, manufacturing professional banjos and related accessories for the booming acoustic and electric string instrument market. He has gained a respected reputation among the nation's top builders as being a leader in innovation and design. His company owns patents on Nechville's unique Heli-mount banjo design and it has been enthusiastically accepted by the world's top players such as Bela Fleck and Alison Brown.

    Nechville Musical Products is always innovating to meet the changing needs of modern musicians. Replacing more than seventy parts of a traditional banjo, the Nechville Heli-Mount body tightens together much like a jar on a lid; greatly reducing the assembly time and improving the banjo's sound.

    Tom has spent years in development and in consultation with the world's top players researching and finding ways to meet the needs of professionals. His experience has led to the refinement of the electric banjo, which has re-directed a new world-wide spotlight on the banjo. Nechville instruments have appeared on MTV, the Olympics opening ceremonies, CMA Awards show, numerous cable and Direct TV specials and in major live Country, Rock, Jazz and Bluegrass concerts around the planet.

    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. In adition to teaching banjo setup/repair and theory, he will be displaying his full line of banjos. His book Dynamics of Banjo Sound will also be available.

    Ronnie Bales (Fri-Sat)is a luthier who has in a very short time built a great reputation for producing fine Gibson style reproduction banjos. His son Jason is a very accomplished professional, having worked at Dollywood theme park, Hatfeld-McCoy dinner theatre, Smoky Mountain Jamboree, and other Pigeon Forge theaters. Jason has won the Renofest banjo contest, and placed 2nd, 3rd and 5th in the prestigious National Banjo Championship at Winfield Kansas. If his schedule at Dollywood allows, we hope to get Jason there to teach some classes and/or private lessons.
    Assistant Director Betsy Burgin assists in lodging, community outreach, website /social media, and is Concert Director. She also works behind the scenes dealing with the myriad of problems that always come up onsite.
    Favorite sister Jane Hatfield oversees check-in and registration, runs the camp office and camp store and keeps Jack on schedule for his classes. Many campers have commented on how smoothly things run in general. Jane and Betsy are primarily responsible for this, and can't be thanked enough.
    John Miller is an excellent guitarist and lead/tenor singer. John hails from Northern Virginia, but is an east East Tennessee native. He has worked with Dick Smith (Country Gentleman), Dale Ann Bradley and Herschel Sizemore and has done some fill in work with the Lonesome River Band. He has has also played the East Tennessee convention circuit with Jack Hatfield's True Blue Grass and does instrument repair work specializing in acoustic guitars and mandolins. He has been a rep for Eastman Guitars, teaching repair workshops.

    Jackie Miller is a virtuoso mandolin and fiddle player and sings great tenor Originally from Greenville TN, he now resides in Nashville, performing with the Reno Brothers. He worked for the Gibson company for several years, assembling and doing finish work Gibson mandolins.

    Cindy Miller, wife of Jackie, will lend an apt hand on upright bass. By the way, Jackie and Cindy want to make it crystal clear they are not related to guitar player John Miller! ;)

    Master of Ceremonies for the concert Saturday night again will be Russ Jeffers. Russ and his wife Becky are from nearby Clinton, Tennessee, but lived in Nashville and performed at Opryland for over twenty years until the park was closed a few years ago. Russ is uniquely suited to be the SMBA Master of Ceremonies ~ more than one of the banjo players on the staff have worked with him in his band. Russ, the ultimate front man, will also teach a class on entertaining. Russ and Becky Jeffers are from Clinton, Tennessee, a small town just north of Knoxville near the foothills of the great Smoky Mountains. They attended the same high school and met in the local drug store in 1965 when both were teenagers. They married in 1967 and have a son David and a daughter, Christy. Small town beginnings have produced their share of hard-working successful people, and Russ and Becky are no exception. In 1971 after Russ was discharged from the United States Air Force, they decided to pursue their dream of music. With little else but a guitar, an up-right bass and two tiny children they moved to Nashville. Very few people move to "Music City" and live their dreams. This year they are celebrating their twenty-eighth year of entertaining and playing music. Russ and Becky performed over 15,000 shows at Opryland USA from 1974 - 1997 where they introduced "Bluegrass Music" to people from all over the world. Now they travel the world to bring their unique style of harmony, comedy and "down home" music. They have independently produced and marketed numerous recordings. They are living proof that in our wonderful country of America that with God's grace and a lot of hard work, you can live your dream. To paraphrase a popular commercial, they are indeed "The Professionals - The Old Fashioned Way - They Earned It!!
    The concert Saturday night will feature old time, bluegrass, folk, minstrel, and maybe even a touch of classical.

    The 2013 concert had a twist - Jack Hatfield and Betsey Sesler from Charlotte, NC played Dueling Banjos on banjo and harp and JACK started the tune on the harp! That mistake was quickly remedied when they got to the fast part and swapped places. Check out the video on Youtube: Dueling Banjo and Harp and Greensleeves: Greensleeves

    Jack and Betsey Sesler "Dueling" photo by Tibor Szenti
    Sunday morning Bridget Allen will moderate a gospel jam and other slow jams throughout the weekend. Sunday morning we also have an onstage student jam, allowing everybody who dares to perform through a PA system for a live audience.

    The 2016 class schedule will be posted here by April 28th.

    Check out the SMBA T-Shirt! These are printed in three color on 100 percent cotton heavyweight safety yellow shirts. The hand image is on the front and the SMBA logo is on the back. See anything "strange" about the front image? These shirts are available for sale on the Hatfield Music website. A new design for 2016 will be available soon

    The full inventory of Hatfield Music banjos will be on display: Deering, Deering Goodtime, Nechville, Gold Star, Gold Tone, Recording King and several used banjos. (See website, click on "home" link below then "used instruments".) Nechville Musical instruments will have many banjos on display including the newest models.

    Help us promote the camp! Take flyers to concerts, bluegrass association meetings, banjo teachers, music stores and jam sessions. Put some in your banjo case and hand out to other banjo players, invite them to attend!

    Contact SMBA Director Jack Hatfield at:

    Hatfield Productions
    325 Laurelwood Dr.
    Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

    CLICK HERE FOR SMBA 2016 ONLINE CREDIT CARD REGISTRATION Help us promote the camp! Click here for a SMBA 2016 flyer to print and post at music stores, teaching studios, concerts, and jam sessions. Please put a couple in your banjo case and hand out to other banjo players!.

    Click here for Yahoo driving directions to Hatfield Music Barn. or Enter in your GPS the address: 317 Laurelwood Dr,Pigeon Forge, TN 37863