SPBGMA BANJO WORKSHOP February 5th, 2017
Directed by Jack Hatfield

Sheraton Music City, Nashville, Tennessee


The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) event is a four-day indoor bluegrass festival/show/awards ceremony in Nashville. The SPBGMA show features round-the-clock jamming, top name performers, the highest-paying and most respected bluegrass band contest in the world, plus the SPBGMA Bluegrass Awards show on Sunday (the bluegrass equivalent of the CMA awards). SPBGMA draws the top amateur and semi-pro bands from all over the country, with non-stop jamming, various workshops and promoters' meetings, and vendors with everything a bluegrass fan could ever want. In MUSIC CITY yet! In addition to the workshop, the students and their families can attend the Grand Ole Opry, see the famous shops and clubs such as Ernest Tubb's Record Shop, Blue Bird Cafe and Linebaughs' on Broadway, and visit the world famous Station Inn to hear top bluegrass artists perform.

The BNL/SPBGMA workshops have featured names such as Eddie Adcock, Tom Adams, Ron Block, Charlie Cushman, Bill Keith, Bela Fleck, J.D. Crowe, Terry Baucom, Richard Bailey, Charlie Cushman, Sammy Shelor, Scott Vestal, Greg Cahill, Ned Luberecki, Doug Dillard, Wayne Erbson, Ross Nickerson, Doug Dillard, Butch Robins, Bill Evans, Sonny Osborne, Scott Vestal, James McKinney, Alan Munde, Kristin Scott-Benson and Pete Wernick. Banjo builders/setup techs have included: Steve Huber, Mark Taylor, Frank Neat, Curtis McPeake, Geoff Stelling, Gary Price, Tony Wray, Bill Palmer, Snuffy Smith, Charlie Cushman, Arthur Hatfield, Mike Smith, and Tom Nechville. Banjo Newsletter contributors who have participated include: Janet Davis, Murphy Henry, Ross Nickerson, Pete Kelly, Tom Adams, Ian Perry, Ira Gitlin, Andy Cushing, Jim Pankey, and Eddie Collins.

This year half-day attendance is allowed. Students can either attend the intermediate/early advanced session with Jack Hatfield and the Intermediate/advanced session with James McKinney and return for the faculty jam at 3:30 OR they can attend the setup session with Tom Nechville, the advanced session with Bela Fleck and the faculty jam from 3:30 - ?.
From 9:00 -10:30 AM. workshop director, BNL and Mel Bay author Jack Hatfield will address intermediate and advanced level topics including a Seven level Banjo Player's Rating System, Backup, and Introduction to Melodic Style. He will use examples from his Mel Bay book "Exercises for Three-Finger Banjo".

Jack has written several highly acclaimed banjo instruction books, published by his own company Hatfield Music and for Mel Bay Publications, the largest publisher of stringed instrument instruction books in the world. Jack has been a columnist for Banjo Newsletter since 1976. He wrote the Scruggs Corner column for five years, analyzing the style of the father of bluegrass banjo. The sixty tablatures and analytical comments he wrote while authoring this column still today constitute the largest and most accurate collection of transcriptions of Earl's recordings available anywhere. Jack then wrote the Beginner's Corner column for seven years, and for twelve years authored a column called Concepts and Systems, which de-mystified music theory, presented "alternative to bluegrass style" banjo techniques, discussed difficult and seldom-taught topics such as arranging and composition, and presented other "big-picture" concepts relating to music as applied to the five-string banjo.

Besides performing and selling banjo products though Hatfield Music, Jack teaches and directs various banjo workshops and camps all over the USA and in Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland and Australia. Jack was on the staff of the very first major banjo camp, the Tennessee Banjo Academy in 1988, and was Bluegrass Director for all three of Banjo Newsletter's Maryland Banjo Academys. He was banjo director of Chuck Stearman's Nashville Academy of Traditional Music at the Opryland Hotel. For eighteen years he has been director of the SPBGMA workshop every February in Nashville (SPBGMA = Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America). The workshop features top name performers, banjo craftsmen and setup specialists, and frequently Banjo Newsletter columnists.

From 10:30 - 12:00 James McKinney will discuss Late Intermediate and Advanced level topics including Practicing Effectively, Developing Speed, and Blues Backup (walking bass lines). James' boss Niki Portmann will also help out on bass, and talk about her Portmann Acoustic Amps during lunch break.

James 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".

At 12:00 noon there will an hour break. Attendees can eat lunch, browse the vendor area or jam in the workshop room. Niki Portmann will hand around to demonstrate the fine specialty acoustic amps she designed. Banjos can be left in the workshop room where they will be watched.

Half day registration: Those attending only the first half must leave by end of lunch break, and those attending only the second half may enter at any time during the lunch break.

From 1:00 - 2:00 renowned luthier and president of Nechville Musical products Tom Nechville will discuss banjo setup and maintenence. Tom will explain basic setup techniques, demonstrate setup procedures on student's banjos and provide a checklist for students to take home, as well as exposing common myths and sharing his insights on the player's role in banjo tone. Basic adjustments every banjo player should know will be demonstrated, such as changing strings, truss rod and tailpiece and head tension adjustment, and trouble shooting buzzes and "hard - to play" necks. Tom will also discuss acoustics and the physics of how these various components affect banjo tone as presented in his book "The Dynamics of Banjo Tone"..
From 2:00 - 3:30 Bela Fleck will be leading the advanced session. In case you have been on a non-acoustic planet for the last thirty years...

There are some who say Bela is the world’s premier banjo player. Others claim that Béla has virtually reinvented the image and the sound of the banjo through a remarkable performing and recording career that has taken him all over the musical map and on a range of solo projects and collaborations. If you are familiar with Béla, you know that he just loves to play the banjo, and put it into unique settings.

Béla was born on July 10,1958 and raised in New York City. While watching The Beverly Hillbillies as a young boy, the bluegrass sounds of Flatt & Scruggs flowed out of the TV set and into his young brain. Earl Scruggs’s banjo style hooked Béla’s interest immediately. “It was like sparks going off in my head,” he later said.

The banjo didn’t become a full time passion until ’73, when his grandfather coincidentally bought him one. That week, Béla entered New York City’s, High School of Music and Art. He began studies on the French horn but was soon demoted to the chorus, due to his lack of musical aptitude. Since the banjo wasn’t an offered elective at Music and Art, Béla sought lessons through outside sources: Erik Darling, Marc Horowitz, and Tony Trischka stepped up and filled the job.

During this period, Béla played in his first bands: Brownstone Holler and Wicker’s Creek. Living in NYC, Béla was exposed to a wide variety of musical experiences. One of the most impressive was a concert by Return to Forever, featuring Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. This concert encouraged further experimenting with rock and jazz on the banjo, signs of things to come.In 1976, he started his professional career, playing with Boston-based Tasty Licks.

In 1979, he moved to the bluegrass heartland, Lexington, KY, where he co-founded Spectrum with Jimmy Gaudreau, Glen Lawson, and Mark Schatz.

In 1981, Béla was invited to join the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, lead by Sam Bush on mandolin, fiddle and vocals. With the addition of Pat Flynn on guitar and NGR veteran John Cowan on bass and vocals, New Grass Revival took bluegrass music to new heights, exciting audiences and critics alike. Through the course of five albums, they charted new territory with their blend of bluegrass, rock and country music. The relentless national and international touring by NGR exposed Béla’s banjo playing to the bluegrass/acoustic music world.

During the eight and a half years Béla spent with NGR, he continued to record a series of solo albums for Rounder, including the ground breaking 1988 album Drive. He also collaborated with Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor in an acoustic super-group called Strength in Numbers. Their MCA release, The Telluride Session is considered an evolutionary statement by the acoustic music community.

Now living in Nashville, TN, he found himself invited to record on albums by Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Gatlin Brothers, and many others.

In 1988, for the PBS Lonesome Pine Series, Béla put several musical soundstogether with his banjo, a string quartet, his Macintosh computer and an experimental, jazz-based combo. Howard Levy and Victor Lemonte Wooten signed on for the concert, but the group still lacked a drummer. The search was on for an unusual drummer/percussionist. Victor suggested his brother Roy Wooten, later to become known as FutureMan. Roy was developing the “Drumitar” (drum / guitar), then in its infancy. A MIDI trigger device, the Drumitar allowed FutureMan to play the drums with his fingers triggering various sampled sounds. The first rehearsal was hampered by a strong thunderstorm that knocked the electricity out for hours. The four continued on with an acoustic rehearsal and the last slot on the TV show became the first performance of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

Next came the self-titled CD, which Béla financed himself. The recordingattracted the attention of the folks at Warner Bros. Records. Dubbed a “blu-bop” mix of jazz and bluegrass, the Grammy-nominated album became a commercial and critical success.

The Flecktones’ second recording Flight of the Cosmic Hippo followed suit and hit #1 on the Billboard Jazz Chart.

Howard Levy toured and recorded with the Flecktones till the end of 1992. After several years as a trio and touring with special guests, saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the ‘Tones. Famed for a non-stop touring schedule, from 2001 onward, the Flecktones performed for more than 500,000 people per year.

(In 1996, Béla revisited the forward-leaning bluegrass sound of Drive, to record Bluegrass Sessions. He added Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clements and John Hartford to the original Drive lineup of Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, and Mark Schatz).

Still releasing albums and touring, the Flecktones have garnered a strong and faithful following among jazz and new acoustic fans. They have shared the stage with the Dave Mathews Band, Sting, Bonnie Raitt and the Grateful Dead, among many others, made several appearances on The Tonight Show, both the Johnny Carson and the Jay Leno days, as well as Arsenio Hall, and Conan O’Brian. Béla also appeared on Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with David Letterman. The Flecktones went on tour with Dave Matthews Band in 1996 and 1997, and Fleck is featured on several tracks on DMB’s 1998 album Before These Crowded Streets.

In 2003, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones simultaneously released the landmark three-disc Little Worlds with a highlights disc entitled Ten From LittleWorlds.

In 2006 the band released The Hidden Land, which won the Grammy for BestContemporary Jazz Album in 2007. In 2008, the band’s holiday album Jingle All The Way was released, and took home the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2009.

Béla went to Africa in 2006 to film and record Throw Down Your Heart, a sprawling project that included an award-winning documentary and two Grammy winning albums, Throw Down Your Heart, Tales from the Acoustic Planet Vol. 3 (2010), and Throw Down Your Heart – The Africa Sessions, Vol. 2 (2011). Both earned Grammys for Best Contemporary World Music Album.

The journey explored the African roots of the banjo and featured collaborations with incredible African musicians. It led to extensive tours in North America and Europe with Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate and N’Goni Ba, among many others.

Any world-class musician born with the names Béla (for Bartok), Anton (for Weburn) and Léos (for Janacek) would seem destined to play classical music.

Already a powerfully creative force in bluegrass, jazz, pop, rock and world music, Béla made the classical connection with Perpetual Motion, his critically acclaimed 2001 Sony Classical recording that went on to win a pair of Grammys, including Best Classical Crossover Album, in the 44th annual Grammy Awards.

Collaborating and co-producing Perpetual Motion was his longtime friend andcolleague, Edgar Meyer, an acclaimed composer and bassist whose virtuosity defies labels. Béla and Edgar co-wrote and performed a double concerto for banjo and bass, which they debuted with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 2003. They also co-wrote The Melody of Rhythm with world renowned tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, a triple concerto for banjo, bass and tabla. They recorded it with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and played trio and concerto shows around the world.

2008 found Bela recording The Enchantment, a duet record with his hero, Chick Corea. This album won a Latin Grammy and has led to a fruitful ongoing duo tour, and recently a double live album, Two (2015).

In 2011, through a commission with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Béla wrote and premiered his first stand-alone banjo concerto, The Impostor, accompanied by the documentary film, How to Write a Banjo Concerto. This work, along with his new quintet for banjo and string quartet, Night Flight Over Water, was released on the prestigious Deutche Gramophone label. Dedicated to Earl Scruggs, who attended the Nashville premiere, Fleck has performed the concerto worldwide over 40 times. In 2016, Fleck premiered The Juno Concerto with the Canton Symphony Orchestra, with a third banjo concerto planned for 2018.

In 2013, he joined forces with his wife, clawhammer banjoist and singer Abigail Washburn for a very banjo-centric recording and touring project. The impetus was the birth of their son Juno. Along with the obvious musical chemistry, this family band would keep their family together – on tour. Their debut album Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn took home the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk album.

In recent years he’s found himself bouncing between various intriguing touring situations, such as duos with Chick Corea, Chris Thile and Abigail Washburn, in a trio with Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer, performing his concertos with symphonies, concerts with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, performances with African artists such as Oumou Sangare and Toumani Diabate, in jazz collaboration with The Marcus Roberts Trio, rare solo concerts and doing bluegrass with his old friends. And after nearly 30 years, the Flecktones are still performing together.

The recipient of multiple Grammy Awards and nominations going back to 1998, Béla Flecks’ total Grammy count is 15 Grammys won, with 30 nominations. He has been nominated in more categories than any instrumentalist in Grammy history.

From 3:30 to 4:00 (or as long as they are willing) the workshop instructors will participate in an informal jam, taking requests and doing a wrap-up, answering questions and demonstrating techniques discussed in all the previous sessions.

Click here to register now by credit card for Full Workshop $75.00 plus $5.00 credit card processing fee

Click here to register now by credit card for Morning Sessions with Jack Hatfield and James McKinney and faculty jam: $40.00 plus $5.00 credit card processing fee

Click here to register now by credit card for Afternoon Sessions with Tom Nechville and Bela Fleck and faculty jam: $40.00 plus $5.00 credit card processing fee

to download a registration form which you can print, fill out and return by mail, click here:

SPBGMA 2015 Registration Form

It is best to show up early (by 8:30) if attending the morning sessions. You may beat the parking lot attendants there and not have to pay parking onsite. There are other non-pay lots nearby but may require walking several hundred yards carrying your banjo. If you have weekend SPBGMA tickets and are staying at the Sheraton you will likely already have paid for parking.

Suggested hotel if you are not staying at the Sheraton: Alexis Inn, a few blocks away. About 85 bucks per night with full breakfast bar included. 615-889-4466

Driving directions to Sheraton Music City:

from I-40, just East of downtown Nashville, take Briley Parkway North (towards Opryland Hotel/Opry Mills).

Immediately take Elm Hill Pike exit, Merge right onto Elm Hill pike.

Go approximately two tenths of a mile, turn right on McGavok Pk.

Go approximately a quarter mile to Music City Sheraton on left.

Once inside, bear straight ahead just past the restaurant to the Belle Meade meeting room.

Questions? Send email to jack@hatfieldmusic.com or call: 865-426-8063

Call 865-428-8744 or email Jack Hatfield for more information.

The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) email or call 660-665-7172

Click here to return to the Hatfield Music website