Andy May’s Acoustic Ki♪s showcases are festival-based non-competitive performance opportunities for young musicians, singers, and traditional-style dancers of any skill level, beginner through pro. Featured performers must be 16 or younger, but accompanists may be any age, and many family bands participate. The festival setting ensures an interested, supportive audience. In turn, the audience is treated to an Opry-style stream of entertainers, each performer doing 1-3 numbers. Through on-stage dialogue, Andy—in the role of MC, mentor, and educator—sets the young performers at ease and gives folks in the audience practical information about what it takes to fit music into busy lives. Acoustic Ki♪s showcases are about supporting and encouraging the next generation of acoustic music players and traditional dancers, true, but they’re also about the kids providing the audience with a great show. The audiences have proven very loyal, turning out in all kinds of weather to support the kids. And many kids come back year after year, developing a following among the audience, who enjoy watching them grow as individuals and musicians. Returning performers often use the showcase as motivation to practice and improve during the year so they have something new to show at the next Acoustic Ki♪s.
How Acoustic Ki♪s Works:
Putting together a showcase that is successful for both the performers and the audience takes careful planning. Through the years, Andy has developed a streamlined application and review system that serves a dual purpose:
♪ It allows Andy to determine the relative skill level of the applicants so that he can put together a show that builds in excitement and holds the audience’s attention.
♪ Having to put together an audition presentation ensures that the kids are prepared to perform. It also gives them a goal to work toward, and meeting that goal helps build their confidence and self-esteem.
Andy May’s Acoustic Ki♪s workshops and showcases grew out of Andy’s desire to provide kids with a non-competitive opportunity to be recognized for their achievements in learning to play an instrument. As a life-long musician and a long-time teacher, Andy realized that most of the venues where kids can perform music as individuals are competitive: fiddle and other instrument contests and even many school talent shows are geared towards someone winning. And, by definition, when someone wins, others loose, which can be very discouraging for a child. So, Andy developed a concept for a showcase for his young guitar and mandolin students that would encourage goal-setting and performance skills on their part, and would provide them with support and recognition in the form of a welcoming festival audience. Andy’s student showcase, the Acoustic Ki♪s prototype, debuted at 1989 Midwinter Bluegrass Festival in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It was a great success: his students of all skill levels enjoyed the experience of preparing for a performance and performing for an audience, and the audience loved seeing what the kids had accomplished. Bob and Kendra Redford of the Walnut Valley Festival (Winfield, KS) were in the audience and saw in the showcase something they had wanted to bring to Winfield: a formalized, non-competitive opportunity for kids who play music to show what they can do in a supportive atmosphere and to be recognized for their efforts and achievement. They brought Andy on board, and the resulting Winfield’s Acoustic Kids program has been a perennial favorite at the Walnut Valley Festival since 1989. Andy started a similar program at MerleFest in 2001, and it is still running strong.
…It was wonderful to see kids getting such high-quality exposure to bluegrass music in a school context. ...Your experience in arts ed residencies framed the music for them very nicely. —Robert Cogswell, Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program Director
That the entire student body gave your presentation full and enthusiastic attention for a full hour is a tribute to you, …your program of music, and your sensitivity to the context of an assembly of over 900 early adolescents. —John Burruto, Principal, Amherst Regional Junior High School, MA
Your ability to communicate with the children and adapt your program to the response of the audience and the different age levels …was most impressive. —Sue Norland, Canton Creative Arts Council, Canton, CT
All of us down at Mt. Pleasant Middle School ...remember your show as being one of the best we've ever had. ...It's hard to hold the attention of middle school kids, and you and your band certainly did the trick. —Camille Allen, Mt Pleasant Middle School of the Visual and Performing Arts, TN
I thoroughly endorse and encourage your continued work in this area, and I think you’re uniquely situated to help implement future programming of this sort. Every school should be lucky enough to benefit from it. —Robert Cogswell, Tennessee Arts Commission Folklife Program Director
His music and songs are simple and meaningful; his manner is easygoing and conversational. He not only shares his music with students, but also the creative process through which songs are written and instruments are mastered. —Joan Gardner, Cultural Organization of the Arts, RI
Andy May has tremendous respect among traditional musicians nationwide. Andy has developed a program that ... is devoted to the preservation of American traditional music. ...The materials presented in his performances work well with the PBS documentary series "American Roots Music...." —Hayden Roberts, Tennessee Arts Commission Arts in Education Director