Emily Lewis talks about Swallow Hill’s Bluegrass Summer Camp, playing fiddle, and more

Emily Lewis
Emily Lewis

“The camp will be a fun week of making friends and playing great music,” Emily Lewis tells us excitedly. The camp in question is Swallow Hill’s Bluegrass Summer Camp, which runs August 13-17 at our Yale Ave. location for campers ages 12 to 16. Emily is the camp’s director.

We recently checked in with Emily to learn more about the camp, as well as what inspired her to break into bluegrass music.

Emily is well known at Swallow Hill as a violin instructor, and to Front Range concertgoers as part of the acclaimed Boulder-based Monocle Band. In a recent review of the band’s latest album, The Clearing, PopMatters praised the band for songs that “have elements of folk, country, rock, and bluegrass without tipping particularly far in any direction,” while calling Emily a “standout player.”

Broadly speaking, what can campers and their parents expect from Swallow Hill Music’s Bluegrass Summer Camp?

Five days of picking and singing and dancing! They’ll learn a handful of tunes, both fiddle tunes and songs, learn how to write a tune, and perform in a band with other members of the camp. And hopefully they’ll make some new friends in the process!

How did you get started in playing the violin, and how did that lead to you playing bluegrass?

I started the violin in 4th grade, Suzuki Method! So lots of ear training, which I think made learning fiddle tunes later in life easier, since you learn mostly by ear. I picked up a few tunes here and there growing up, but I didn’t really have bluegrass music around me until I moved to Colorado.

When did you start playing bluegrass with other musicians? Does that experience help you in your teaching approach for the Bluegrass Camp?

After grad school at CU Boulder, I moved to Denver and started playing folk and bluegrass music, mostly as a way to meet people since I didn’t know anyone in Denver. I’m not really a born and bred fiddler, which makes my approach to bluegrass different than to those brought up in the tradition. It’s more classical, less traditional. I would listen to recordings of lots of different fiddlers, and other instrumentalists, to figure out the sound.

I’d recommend the campers to do the same, listen to lots of different recordings, to get an idea of what style/sound they want to take from whats out there, and then to make it their own. And then get out there and play! We will try to have some time in our camp every day where the students can jam together, not only with each other, but with the instructors as well!

Monocle Band
Emily Lewis, far left, plays fiddle in acclaimed Boulder-based Americana band Monocle Band.
Can you name an artist or band – or perhaps an album – from the bluegrass world that inspired you when you were discovering the music? Why did it resonate with you?

Alison Krauss and Union StationLonely Runs Both Ways. I listened to that album so much in college that I got the CD stuck in the player and actually destroyed the player just to get it out! Growing up, my best friend’s dad would listen to AK and Union Station, and I fell in love with her voice and her award-winning fiddle playing. I think because she’s a successful woman in a very male-dominated industry, I thought being her, and doing what she did, would be the coolest thing ever. With my first bluegrass band, Blow the Vault, we would perform “Oh Atlanta” and it kinda became my signature tune for the band!

Colorado and bluegrass seem to go hand and hand – why do you think that is?

The beauty of this place! The portable nature of most bluegrass instruments, the fact that you can sing anywhere. And really, we’re all here to spend as much time in the mountains as we can, right? Bluegrass just goes with the outdoors!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Bluegrass music is all about coming together and singing, picking, and sawing on the strings! Even if you don’t know the songs, you can jam along once you get the basic chords down.

Swallow Hill’s Bluegrass Camp takes place at our Yale Ave. location August 13-17, 2018, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for campers ages 12 to 16. You can learn more about the camp prerequisites and register here.

Finally, here is a playlist of songs created by Emily to pique the interest of potential campers: