Sign up for The Bluegrass University classes!

If you're interested in attending The Bluegrass University classes at Grey Fox, Thomas Point Beach (TPB), Jenny Brook, Pemi Valley or Podunk, or if you have any questions, please e-mail:





10 Q&A's about The Bluegrass University

Q. What is The Bluegrass University?
A. Seven beginner classes, each two and a half hours of hands-on instruction, for adults and teens. The classes are taught on Saturday at the festival from 2 until 4:30 pm, and the cost is $35.

Q. Who are the teachers and who are the students?
A. See for class descriptions and teacher bios. Although each teacher will be addressing different topics, all teachers will be gearing their classes towards beginners and beginner/intermediate musicians. These classes are geared towards those who want to get the right start or review the fundamentals.

Q. Can I take more than one class?
A. No, unfortunately all of the classes are held at the same time on Saturday from 2 until 4:30 pm. But all of the teachers have additional availability, and we recommended you ask the teacher about other options, such as a private lesson at another time.

Q. Where will the classes be held?
A. The classes will be held at various locations throughout the festival, usually at the instructor's own campsite.

Q. How do I find the specific class location?
A. Come meet your teacher at the Bluegrass University Preview on Friday at 6 pm and/or the Meet & Greet on Saturday at 1 pm. Then be sure to arrive no later than 1:45 pm on Saturday so you can go with your teacher to the class location.

Q. What are the Bluegrass University Preview and Bluegrass University Meet & Greet?
A. Hour-long sessions meant to introduce you to the Bluegrass University instructors and their classes. Please stop by and say hello, and we can answer any questions you may have.

Q. What do I need to bring?
A. You need to bring an instrument and a chair, preferably a folding (armless) chair. You should also bring $35 in cash or check made out to your instructor.

Q. Do I need to preregister?
A. No, you can walk up as late as 1:45 pm on Saturday, but class size is limited and preregistration is encouraged; you can preregister for all classes by e-mailing me (Tony Watt) at or calling 615-330-6396. You can preregister beforehand or at the festival.

Q. What are the limits on class size?
A. The class size is limited to 3 students minimum and 9 students maximum. The maximum class size ensures that every student gets a small group learning environment. Unfortunately teachers may not be able to offer the class if there are less than 3 students. In that case, we highly recommended you ask your teacher about other options, such as a private lesson at the festival.

Q. Can I record the class?
A. Yes, you are welcome to make an audio recording of your class, provided you agree not to post it on the internet or share it widely. Video recording is not allowed without explicit permission from your teacher. Some teachers may even record the class for you and send you a copy later.

Class Descriptions & Instructor Bios

Although each teacher will be addressing different topics (see below), all teachers will be gearing their classes towards beginners and beginner/intermediate musicians.

Banjo - Phil Zimmerman

About Phil:

Phil Zimmerman took up the guitar in high school during the folk scare of the sixties. A New Lost City Ramblers concert introduced him to old-time and early bluegrass music. With Mike Seeger as role model, he developed his multi-instrumentalist chops as a solo performer, and has won regional contests for bluegrass and clawhammer banjo, guitar and mandolin. He’s a founding member of Connecticut’s ground-breaking eclectic string band, Last Fair Deal. For ten years, Phil played mandolin and sang lead with Connecticut’s premier traditional bluegrass band, Traver Hollow. Phil also performs OldTime music in Heroes of Tradition, a duo with Stacy Phillips. Phil is the Music Director of both Mandolin Camp North and Banjo Camp North, and has taught mandolin and banjo workshops at the Joe Val Festival since 2006.

Guitar - Betsy Rome

Break out of your rhythm rut! Being a great rhythm guitarist takes both hands and ears. Learn where to keep it simple, and where to add connective bass runs, slides, hammer-on's. Keep the focus on the lower frets, learn how to play supportive rhythm without overplaying. Develop a dependable right-hand strum. Create confidence: learn to count-off and start a song in a jam, and know what to do when it's your turn.


About Betsy:

Betsy Rome is a well-known guitarist in the Northeast bluegrass scene. Her swing-grass band "Too Blue" performed at Grey Fox 2012, has played at the Joe Val and Podunk bluegrass festivals, and recently opened for Claire Lynch. Betsy's playing blends bluegrass, old-time, Celtic and swing, and she has been featured in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. Noted for her rock-solid rhythm and inventive leads, she has won or placed in contests including Roxbury, CT and the Pizza Hut International Bluegrass Showdown. Betsy teaches from her home in Woodbury, CT and can be contacted through her band's website,

"Betsy plays with a direct, highly effective approach. She’s not flashy, but that’s her strength. Clever, insightful intros, outros, solos and backup parts flow from her guitar like a blue mountain brook rollicking downstream. Everything about her playing is catchy and infectious, the sign of a total pro." (Flatpicking Guitar Magazine).

Mandolin - Tony Watt

About Tony:

Award-winning flatpicking guitarist Tony Watt has performed throughout the United States and Europe, on the Grand Ole Opry, and elsewhere. He has been featured in Bluegrass Now Magazine and Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, and toured and recorded with Nashville-based Cages Bend, east Tennessee-based Meridian, with Rounder Recording artist Alecia Nugent, and most recently with Leigh Gibson, guitarist for The Gibson Brothers. Tony currently performs with his band, Southeast Expressway. He has taught privately for over 10 years, and now teaches courses in bluegrass guitar, mandolin and jamming for the Boston Bluegrass Union's Bluegrass Academy. He has also taught workshops and Kids' Academies at bluegrass festivals including Grey FoxJoe ValThomas Point Beach, and many more. Tony teaches lessons,classesworkshops and jam sessions in Albany, NY, Cambridge, MA, and points in-between.

Fiddle - Bill Thibodeau

Bill Thibodeau has been teaching for over 20 years in between performing and working. The most important thing when teaching is to understand a persons learning style. Bill remembers that he was in that place at one time. He likes to focus on the basics of fiddle and a good foundation to make each step in learning the fiddle solid. Learning to play solid rhythm and learning a few basic solos can be done in a short time and you will soon be able to participate in a jam. Bill likes to keep it fun and remember this is a hobby for most of us so teach what people want to learn. Bill will also teach some care and maintenance task to keep your fiddlein good playing condition. Bill is determined that you will have fun and enjoy the fiddle class.


About Bill:

Bill Thibodeau started his musical career at an early age with help from Sam Tidwell (his father) and Fred Pike. They would teach him as he wanted and eventually performed with both of them. Bill also performed with Bluegrass Supply Company, Stan Tyminski, Union River Band and White Mountain Bluegrass and many others. Bill was involved in developing Main Street Music Studios in Bangor, Maine where the design was to have a complete musical experience from learning to play to recording a full length recording. Bill taught Bluegrass music to many students teaching mostly mandolin and banjo and assisting with many recordings at Main Street Music Studios. Bill moved to Rhode Island 2 years ago and began teaching at Rick’s Musical Instruments in Cumberland RI where he still works and teaches. Most of the students he has are currently learning mandolin or banjo with a few fiddle and guitar students focusing on Bluegrass.

Lead & Harmony Singing - Mary Maguire

Ever try to stick to your own harmony part and find someone else is on your note?  What’s up with THAT?  Mary Maguire will quickly show you how to solve that problem without the use of duct tape!  Our small-group class at Jenny Brook will give you a strong understanding of harmony and fun exercises guaranteed to expand your range and ability to find those ever important intervals which make harmony. We’ll ask you to bring your song ideas for us to work with as you sample new ways to deliver a convincing lead vocal. We’ll help you increase your comfort with lending your voice in a bluegrass jam or anywhere, as you build your knowledge of how to choose keys and make the most of the voices at hand. Most of all, we’ll have FUN!  Recording the class for your own practice needs is permitted.  We’ll have hand-outs for you to minimize note-taking.  Please bring drinking water to wet your whistle.


About Mary:

Formerly lead singer and guitarist for Northern New England’s renown acoustic swing and bluegrass ladies, Sweet, Hot & Sassy! , Mary Maguire now heads her own distinctive trio, The Mary Maguire Band. She has 6 recordings and has been a guest artist on recordings of others, and toured with southern New Hampshire’s Second Wind Bluegrass Band.  2011 will be Mary and Jeff’s 11th year presenting their well-loved vocal workshops at New York’s Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, as well as repeat classes at Joe Val (MA), Podunk (CT) Bluegrass, and Thomas Point Beach (ME) Festivals.  Mary is also a long-time teacher of guitar and piano, and a song-writer.

Bass - Jeff Horton

In this class we'll look at ways to keep the beat, some time signatures, some bass patterns, and practice a song or two (or more, time permitting). We'll talk about holding the bass, proper height, hand position, and stance. We'll talk about tone and intonation. We'll talk about all that plucking stuff we do. And we can, if there is time, talk about playing the bass and singing at the same time.


About Jeff:

Jeff Horton has been playing and singing bluegrass for thirty-eight years. He was a founding member of the Neon Valley Boys, once Rhode Island's premiere bluegrass band. For six years in the early 90’s he played with Northern Lights, touring nationally and recording three CDs. With Northern Lights, Jeff performed with Jonathan Edwards, Peter Rowan and the late fiddle legend Vassar Clements. He currently plays with The KroppDusters, a trio of Northern Lights alumni and two other top musicians. He and Mike Kropp are also members of The Pegheads. As if he isn’t busy enough, Jeff also plays with The Mary Maguire Band and electric bass with Nickel Jukebox, a Motown band out of Providence. And there is more... for 16 years, Jeff has done bass workshops at the Grass Roots Stage at Grey Fox, sometimes with such notables as Mike Bub.