Harvest Festival Workshops: Creative Pursuits for All
With the fresh Ozark breeze blowing on top of Mulberry Mountain and the twangs and rolls of bluegrass, the last thing students at Harvest Festival want to think about is class. But for this weekend only, the classes in session require no analytical responses and no lengthy passages to read.
The scheduled workshops at Harvest cover storytelling, improvisation and songs of bluegrass masters. The professors, instead of holding Ph.D.s, are members of the bands gracing the stages of the festival.
The three music workshops are “Nearly All of It’s True! Storytelling with Ben Kaufmann,” “Creating Something out of Nothing: Experiments in Improvisation” with Jeff Austin and “A Tribute to Fathers of Bluegrass: Performing songs of Bill Monroe, Flat and Scruggs, Ralph Stanley and more” with Cornmeal.
The workshop’s instructors know their stuff. Austin plays the mandolin, and Kaufmann plays the bass for Yonder Mountain String Band, while Cornmeal is a bluegrass band from Chicago.
Yonder Mountain String Band is known for their lengthy jams on stage, so improvisation is a key component of the band’s picking style. Songs can extend to 10 minutes or more, so the band’s members are experts at playing on the fly.
But the band’s style isn’t just 10 minutes of instrumentals. Yonder’s lyrics can be surprisingly insightful for a hippie band. Take a listen to “Complicated” on their newest studio album “The Show” for a prime example.
At first thought, some may wonder why they should take a class in mountain legends like Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs from a bunch of guys from the big city. Listen to any of the band’s albums, and it becomes clear that Cornmeal have studied their bluegrass roots.
The workshops are free and open to all festival-goers, said Chelsea Boisen, workshop coordinator. Boisen does recommend getting to the events early, though, as they fill up quickly.
“It’s fun for the bands because they get to let loose, and it’s fun for fans because they get to interact with the musicians on a more personal level,” Boisen said.
The workshops vary in structure, but all provide time with artists in a more intimate environment. Some bands make the workshops Q-and-A sessions, while others play content that fans may not be able to find anywhere else. People come to watch, listen and enjoy a smaller show. Some even bring instruments.
Past workshops have included one led by banjo guru Bela Fleck, a Railroad Earth Q-and-A and Elephant Revival covering songwriting. One-man-band That 1 Guy even did a magic workshop. Last year, Greensky Bluegrass and Cornmeal teamed up for “Rock Covers, Bluegrass Style,” which Boisen said drew a big crowd.
Workshops generally have around 100 people each, Boisen said. They are scheduled early in the day to avoid conflicts with stages and other activities. Despite being open to the entire festival, the workshops maintain a one-on-one feel.
“A packed workshop is still much more intimate than any set on any of the stages,” Boisen said. “That’s what makes them so special.”
For those who may not be musically inclined, Boisen said Harvest offers several informative “how-to” workshops. Topics include glass-blowing, making your own instrument and poi, a type of performance art using tethered weights. Other workshops include yoga, belly dancing and tie-dye. A complete list can be found at yonderharvestfestival.com.
Whatever the material, workshops at Harvest teach unique skills in a creative environment. Whether it’s a homemade guitar or a new way to write songs, participants can come back from Harvest Festival
inspired to pursue new creative outlets.