In my earlier life as a performer and song writer (1965-2005), I labored under the delusion that I could do it myself--that it was just a matter of practicing enough and listening to recordings of myself. The first clue I got that this was a very limiting perspective came when I began to attend monthly sing-alongs in Boulder in 2001. Once a month a group of 15 to 25 singers and players got together. We sat in a circle and took turns calling a song we would sing. Most of the time we picked songs from Rise Up Singing, an excellent compilation of folk music. 

I learned several valuable lessons from three years of attending these sing-alongs. First, I had a lot to learn about playing guitar, and from watching the others I learned how to transpose keys and how to play in different keys. I learned that the finger-style guitar that I played at parties did not create enough volume to carry when I was trying to lead a big group with a bunch of other guitars. Welcome to flat picking, Bob. I also learned that I didn't know most of my preferred songs well enough to lead them and at the same time play and sing them well. I began to let the other pickers play and I just sang the lead. I also learned how to play with other guitarists, to blend in. All of these experiences and new skills were very important when I went to Song School. I came prepared to perform in ensembles.

After Song School in 2008, at the suggestion of Rebecca Folsom I teamed up with Ed Edwards, an experienced music engineer, producer, and virtuoso guitarist, to produce a 17-song CD. My initial intention was just to do a simple "demo" that I could give to my family so that if I kicked off, my grandkids would have a way to remember Grandpa's performing. But as I listened to Ed's finished mixes, I realized that we had put together something much better than I had anticipated and I took the steps to turn this work into a real CD--Life Lessons. I put it on CDBaby, which meant that it also went to iTunes and Amazon.

I went to one of Rebecca Folsom's gigs in Boulder and gave her the CD. She mentioned that she was leading a performance workshop for singer-songwriters and I might like to join. I signed up then and there.

The workshop puts together 8 to 10 performers and singer-songwriters who want to work on their songwriting and performance skills. The workshops go for about four months, meeting monthly for an all-day workshop, working like hell in between, and at the end of the "term" performing a show, usually called a "Singer-Songwriter Showcase." I have been part of this workshop for two years, and the impact on all aspects of my music career has been stunning. One of my performer friends joined the workshop, saying "I heard Bob before, and I heard him after, and I wanted some of that."

So why has this workshop experience been so effective in accelerating my evolution as a singer-songwriter-performer? First, it is a "Master Class" led by a star performer and song-writer who also happens to be a fantastic teacher and human being. Everyone I have ever talked with who has worked with Rebecca Folsom agrees on several things: she reinforces what's positive about what you are doing, she does not shy away from things that need improvement (often it's small things that are getting in the way of your best performance), she cares about you as a person as much as she cares about you as a performer, and she hears everything in everyone's performances. Second, the workshop participants are incredibly talented and reinforce each other's commitment to improvement. There is a spirit of support and cooperation--no zero-sum, dog-eat-dog juice invited. We can all succeed. Third, in this type of environment--incredible teacher who holds the field, participants who want each other to succeed--it is much easier to let in the constructive criticism we all need to hear. Most of the time the lessons apply to all of us, not just one or two. This process has enabled me to push through the mountain of fear that held me back in the past. There is not the slightest doubt that without the support and companionship of all the people in this workshop, I would not be the performer and song-writer I am today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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