We recently uncovered this gem in our archives! Andy wrote this article about the 1993 Acoustic Kids Workshops at the Walnut Valley Festival (“Winfield”) for the festival newspaper, The Walnut Valley Occasional. Sean Watkins had participated in Acoustic Kids in 1992, but 1993 was was the first of several years that Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sean Watkins, Sara Watkins, and, back then, Scott Thile on bass) was a part of the showcases. Nickel Creek participated in Winfield’s Acoustic Kids for several years, both as performers and, after the band was hired by the festival, voluntarily coming by the showcases and mentoring the younger kids in the program – who were thrilled to bits. They were awesome, of course, and a total delight to work with. For those who know the current format of Acoustic Kids Showcases, you’ll notice we did things a bit differently back then. This was “early days” for the program – the first Acoustic Kids Workshops at Walnut Valley Festival were in 1990 – and things have evolved through the years. Seems like every time we do a showcase, we learn a better way to do some aspect of it! In any case, we hope you enjoy this little bit of history.
Andy May’s Acoustic Kids
The Front Range of northern Colorado is covered in snow, and “Headin’ Home to Winfield” is a sunny memory!
Interest in the ’93 “Acoustic Kids” program was definitely high. I started getting inquiries from kids, parents and grandparents as early as last December and it kept up till a week before the festival. As a result, we had a large – and enthusiastic roster of young musicians from all over the country – and a great audience to cheer for them.
For those who aren’t familiar with Acoustic Kids, the program is a non-competitive (NOT a contest!) workshop and showcase situation that is part of the Walnut Valley Festival. It is set up for youngsters who want to share their musical skills and experiences with each other and with the festival audience. My wife, Lauren, and I start things off with an informal get-together early in the festival. This is our organizational meeting to see who this year’s crop of talent is, and to organize them into beginner, intermediate and advanced groups. Then for the rest of the festival we showcase the groupings of kids ending with a Sunday morning talent extravaganza.
For the third year now, the youngsters and their families who participated were a wonderful bunch. We had lots of promising and talented young fiddlers in the beginner/intermediate category, including Amanda Grey, Brooke Wehner, Jeffrey Reavis, Liesel Wilson, Drew McDaniel, Ann and Tori Toler, and last year’s December Occasional cover kids, Brandon, Katie and Maria Hall, and Rachel and Harriet Rosenberg, as well as the singing of Briana Baker.
In the advanced workshops we had a real variety of skills. Jeremy Sharp delighted the audience with arrangements on harmonica, concertina, and cello. Jason Luton on guitar and Heather Luton on fiddle featured fine duets and a few of Jason’s great new solo pieces. Leon Casselman did a beautiful job on guitar and mandolin tunes. Talk about showmanship, we found out later that Leon was running a fever during most of his performances. Nica Christensen wowed everyone with her banjo playing, and Adriane Hall came in from Dodge City and sang some wonderful Country & Western tunes for us. Jacob Cantrell did some hard-driving banjo picking, leaving everyone looking forward to hearing him again next year.
Jeff Graham’s fiddling was on fire. His fiddling buddy, Kyle Nix, also did a super job. Sean Watkins, who participated in the workshop last year, returned this year with his Nickel Creek band-mates. Added to Sean’s terrific guitar and mandolin playing was his sister Sara’s superb fiddling and Chris Thile’s outstanding mandolin and guitar playing, and Chris’s dad, Scott on driving bass. Not only did the group make enthusiastic fans of the entire workshop audience with their playing and tight trio singing, they also scored high in individual contests at the festival including Chris’ world championship performance in the mandolin contest.
There was some great dialogue from the kids and their families this year, both on and off stage. They discussed, among other things, successful practice techniques, finding good teachers to study with, and ways of fitting music into family, school, and community life. In all, it was a very full program.
We were glad to see Acoustic Kids ’93 so successful. Our thanks to all the participants and their families, the festival audience (which, as everyone knows, is the best in the universe), the great sound crew, and to Bob and Kendra Redford for making a place for the kids at the festival.
Hope to see you next year! Yours Truly, Andy May