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 are competitive: fiddle and other instrument contests and even many school or community talent shows are geared towards someone winning. And, by definition, when someone wins, others loose. Not only can that be very discouraging for a child, it does not support the collaboration and community that are so much a part of performing music.
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 Colorado’s 1990 Midwinter Bluegrass Festival (in Ft. Collins at that time). 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 1991. Andy started a similar program at MerleFest (Wilkesboro, NC) in 2001, and it is still running strong. In August of 2015, Andy May’s Acoustic Kids Showcases debuted at Guitar Town (Copper Mountain, CO). The program has also served as a template for youth showcases at festivals around the nation, spawning a new generation of non-competitive performance opportunities for youth.
I first developed the Acoustic Kids concept as a way to showcase my students who had the desire and the ability to share their talents with an audience larger than their family and friends. As a performer and educator myself, I wanted Acoustic Kids to be a positive experience for my young students. In the friendly and supportive environment that we provide, we have seen youngsters develop into wonderful performers.