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RockyGrass 2014

Here's a video we found of Bryan Sutton giving some advice to one of his guitar students whom he just happened to run into. These two had never met in real life but they're able to jump right into something Bryan had mentioned in a lesson on the site. And since the guy had already submitted some practice videos to Bryan before, it's like they already knew each other - the power of Video Exchange™ in action!

Bryan Sutton at RockyGrass 2014
As many of you who were at the festival know, we had a raffle to give away a free membership to all schools at the Academy of Bluegrass (aka "the full boat"). Many names were entered, but only one could win - and so it was bestowed on Ben, 37 years old, from Elkhart, IN. He currently resides in Littleton, CO and has been playing guitar for 22 years. 

We wanted to catch up with our "full boat" winner and ask him some questions about his background. 

AW: What first inspired you to learn guitar?

Ben: My dad, Robert B, who is an amazing finger-picker ala Chet Atkins was my inspiration and he taught me my first few tunes, set me up with an axe, taught me to read tab so I could explore on my own.

AW: Who are your favorite guitarists?

Ben: Charlie Byrd, Charlie Hunter, Chet Atkins, Trey Anastasio.

AW: Has playing guitar changed your life?

Ben: Yes, it is a wonderful pastime, hobby, meditation, and expressive outlet. I'm not sure if she'd admit it but it was probably the thing that hooked my lovely wife, Sara. It is also a great social instrument and brings people together whether playing music together or listening for enjoyment.

AW: What was your first guitar? 

Ben: Some kind of hideous purple Charvell Jackson suited for shredding 80s rock. The beast could NOT stay in tune.

AW: What's been your experience taking guitar lessons in the past? 

Ben: After some initial lessons from dad, I took a few years of classical guitar lessons from a great player and teacher which included some fingerstyle Beatles songs (which are still some of my favorites to play). After that, it was pretty much all self-teaching via online tab and books and stumbling my way through standards with the jazz band in college.

AW: Have you ever tried online guitar lessons and what did you think?

Ben: I've watched a few YouTube videos (which are hit or miss) but have never really done full-on lessons.

AW: What has been your biggest challenge for learning guitar? 

Ben: Continuing to find inspiration and the time to commit.

AW: Had you heard of ArtistWorks before entering our contest?

Ben: Yes, I saw the booth last year at Rockygrass and found the website online later as I was trying to search for Bryan Sutton tabs.

AW: What are your plans now that you've won subscriptions to all the bluegrass schools? 

Ben: I hope I can see them through: 1) Learn to be a flat picker (never have played with a pick); 2) Learn to play grandpa's old mandolin beyond chords in the key of G;  3) Get some use out of my seldom used tonebar slide; 4) Learn how to make my old Frankenstein of a banjo sing; 5) Buy a fiddle so I can take lessons from Darol Anger and maybe saw off a solo in the campground next Rockygrass.

Tony Trischka and Darol Anger at the ArtistWorks booth

AW: What was the highlight for you at RockyGrass this year? 

Ben: Bryan Sutton's impromptu solo set Sunday afternoon.

AW: Do you go to a lot of music festivals, which ones are your favorite?

Ben: No, Rockygrass is about it these days. This is my second year coming to RockyGrass. 

AW: Who are your favorite bluegrass players? 

Ben: Bryan Sutton, Jerry Douglas, David Grisman.

AW: Do you play other instruments besides guitar? 

Ben: I have a mandolin, banjo, bass, and piano at home that I play once in a while.

AW: Why would you encourage someone to learn an instrument? 

Ben: I think that the enjoyment of music is a basic human need in most people and while listening to others play it well is entertaining and gratifying, it doesn't begin to match the feeling of gratification of being able to play it (even modestly) on your own or with a group.

AW: What do you think are the benefits of learning music?

Ben: It is an artistic and a creative outlet.  It can be a stress-relief or meditative time to reflect. Once learned, it is a lifelong skill that a person can have.

AW: What are your musical goals, do you write/record your own music?

Ben: Not too lofty these days: find the time to play a couple times a week. I'm not currently writing / recording.

AW: What are you looking foward to learning from Bryan Sutton? 

Ben: Learning to flat pick period. I've never played with a pick and I think if I became proficient with one it would add another element to my playing that is currently missing. I'd like to carry that over to mandolin too. Bryan's solos always bring down the house so hopefully some tips and new licks there as well.

AW: Any words for all the people out there trying to learning music? 

Ben: Try to have fun, try to learn music that you enjoy. It can be discouraging to hit "walls" in your learning and playing so anything you can do to stay positive is good. If you don't have other musicians to play with you can at least jam with your own music library. Learn to improv, don't be afraid to hit "wrong" notes, explore new / different styles of music.


artistworks academy of bluegrass logo

Read Radio Bob's RockyGrass Review on Kansas Public Radio for more about this year's festival. For information about the ArtistWorks Academy of Bluegrass visit

crowd at rockygrass 2014



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