If summer vacation is starting to wear thin, perhaps it's a good time to go "Bearfoot" and take up the banjo -- or the fiddle, guitar, bass or mandolin.
Barely old enough to be out of bluegrass camps themselves, a five-member, critically acclaimed bluegrass band called Bearfoot Bluegrass returns to Steamboat Springs for three days of education and entertainment during the Beaux Arts Festival. Band members will share their musical expertise on the fiddle, guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin and voice with children ages 5 to 17.
It's called bluegrass camp, and only a few towns (especially outside Alaska) are lucky enough to host this band's special brand of education.
Bluegrass camp requires no experience. No one even has to own an instrument; Bearfoot Bluegrass is hauling enough stringed instruments around in the trailer behind their motorhome to get everyone pickin' by the end of the week. And aspiring bluegrass musicians of all levels are welcome because everyone gets three sessions of individual instrument instruction in addition to a band class each day.
"We start from the beginning," said Bearfoot Bluegrass guitar player Megan McCormick, the band's newest member. McCormick is stepping in to play for tendonitis-plagued Mike Mickelson.
Students will learn the basics of technique and bluegrass style for whichever instrument they choose to play.
"This is a big workshop for kids to introduce them to bluegrass music," McCormick said.
By the end of the third day, Steamboat's bluegrass campers will be armed with a few new chords, a couple of songs and a camp performance for family, friends and anyone else who wants to join in.
"Kids can retain a lot of information, and they learn super fast," McCormick said.
Bearfoot Bluegrass should know -- its members got their musical beginnings at bluegrass camps in Alaska while they were growing up. Bearfoot Bluegrass formed as a band after playing together in 1999 at a bluegrass camp in Cordova, Alaska. By 2001, the young band had won the best new band competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
"We want kids to have that opportunity," McCormick said.
Once they started getting gigs, hosting the bluegrass camps made it possible for Bearfoot Bluegrass to stay on the road, McCormick said. Because the band's early tours didn't regularly include weekday shows, the mid-week camps helped defray the cost of travel and keep the band in music.
Now Bearfoot Bluegrass' performance schedule has become more extensive, McCormick said, and three of the five members, ages 18 to 22, are putting themselves through college. That means the camps may continue, but without quite so much hands-on experience with the Bearfoot Bluegrass band members, she said.
Bearfoot Bluegrass includes Kate Hamre on the acoustic bass, guitar and vocals; McCormick on guitar, banjo and mandolin; Jason Norris on mandolin, fiddle and guitar, Angela Oudean on fiddle, vocals and guitar, and Annalise Woodlee on fiddle and vocals.
For the Steamboat bluegrass camp, the whole band will be here, stringed instruments in tow. And for people too old for camp, Bearfoot Bluegrass will play at the free Beaux Arts Symphony Concert at 6 p.m. Thursday on Headwall.