By Bayla Davis 

The 2023 Béla Fleck Blue Ridge Banjo Camp was one of the best music camps I have ever been to! I attended in 2022 and liked it a lot. There weren’t a lot of kids last year, but I learned how to read tab and how to convert bluegrass songs into clawhammer style. This year, I entered the Bela Fleck campus and saw so many kids, up more than 10 from last year. It made the camp a hundred times better than it was last year!

Every evening after classes we would all gather for dinner and laugh and talk about banjos and music. I attend a public school in Western North Carolina, so not many kids are aware of how great banjos are! Just being with other teenagers that are the same age as me and that love traditional music just as much as I do was an amazing experience. After dinner we would all walk to an outdoor auditorium where our teachers—Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka, Kristin Scott Benson, Adam Larrabee, Greg Liszt, and Mark Schatz—would perform for us along with Casey Driessen, Casey Campbell, and Bryan McDowell. I also loved seeing Ms. Josie, who is one of the most fun at the camp. She’s always really kind to everyone at the camp along with Ms. Claire and Mr. Jeff.

During one of the evening performances, the youth got together and played a melody on stage which was arranged by Kristin Scott Benson. (Thank you, Ms. Kristin!) We had the best time performing for our teachers and parents and friends. I got to play alongside some of my friends: Molly Johnson, a phenomenal clawhammer AND three finger player that I have known for a while; Dante Flores, a prodigious three finger player (who is only 11); Nikolai Margulis, a jazz and classical banjo player who I met only last year but have connected with; and so many more, including RockyGrass banjo winner Luciya Sullivan, who has also become one of my banjo friends.

I want to thank the IBMA Foundation for the Fletcher Bright Memorial Grant for allowing me this opportunity. I would not have been able to attend (and wouldn’t have had one of the greatest weeks of my life!) if it wasn’t for the scholarship. It is important for grants like these to continue to help youth musicians.

I had so many great experiences at the Béla Fleck camp this year, including playing with Mr. Béla on stage, making a whole bunch of new friends, and getting taught by incredible banjo teachers, like Dr. Greg Liszt, who might even teach me more later if I get accepted into my dream college, Berklee College of Music. Playing for people and laughing and making jokes for the final Saturday concert was so much fun, and I hope to be accepted next year. My goal is to become a Walnut player as I continue to progress as a three-finger player and become a more versatile musician.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the Fletcher Bright Memorial grant, so thank you so very much!

RETURN to the September 2023 issue of The Cornerstone.

Here is a link of me playing with Mr. Béla: