Announcing the 2016 Yamaha Fellowship winner: Brooks Robertson!

Taylor Smith Fellowship Spotlight, News

With generous support from the Yamaha Foundation, the Crown Guitar Workshop is pleased to present Brooks Robertson as the 2016 Yamaha Fellowship winner.  An incredible finger-picking guitarist, he will be attending the Crown Workshop to study and perform on the Festival Stage with Doug Smith and Chris Eldridge through the Acoustic Americana workshop.  Brooks currently studies at Berklee College of Music on a full tuition scholarship via Lee Ritenour’s 2014 Six String Theory Competition.  His prowess on the guitar neck and finger-picking agility allows him to masterfully perform a range of styles from the American canon, to reflective Jazz, and Latin-infused rhythmic guitar.  As a Fellowship winner, Brooks will also be performing around the Flathead Valley during the week leading up to the 2016 Workshop.  We can’t wait!  Learn more about Brooks as an artist, teacher, composer, and performer on his website:

Brooks Robertson Biography (from his website)

Brooks was born in Eugene, Oregon in 1989. Seeing Buster B. Jones perform at a festival near his home town became a life-changing experience for the kid from the sticks. Just eleven years old, he was immediately inclined to pick up the guitar. Soon, the world renowned fingerstyle virtuoso and instructor dedicated his spare time to introducing his new fan into the secrets of the fretboard, and after six months of lessons the natural talent performed his first show with his mentor.

When Buster B. Jones took him under his wings, Brooks began playing high-profile gigs such as the Nokie Edwards Festival, the NAMM Show in Anaheim, the Montreal Jazz Festival or the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield among others. By the time he was a teenager he had become the youngest endorsee of Godin Guitars and traveled to several states and foreign countries to perform. Brooks went on to play on Garrison Keillor’s National Public Radio classic “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2004, where he won first place in a talent competition for 12 to 20 year old participants.

In recent years, while still appearing regularly at prestigious events like the Sixth Annual Chet Atkins Tribute Concert and Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) Convention in Nashville, Brooks focused on perfecting his craft, soaking up new tunes and styles and techniques as well as blending them into his own groovy and soulful original music. He entered the “Yamaha Six String Theory Guitar Competition“, which drew participants from more than 40 countries all over the world. Brooks was invited to perform in the finals at the Broad Stage in Los Angeles in March 2010. A star-studded jury, including Steve Lukather and Lee Ritenour, eventually chose him as winner of the country category and second place winner overall.

Although he is deeply rooted in the powerful tradition of the genre, founded by the likes of Merle Travis, Jerry Reed, Thom Bresh and Buster B. Jones, Brooks also draws inspiration from the elegant mastery of the legendary Chet Atkins and other phenomenal players. His own compositions and arrangements have even been compared to fingerstyle jazz champions Lenny Breau and Earl Klugh. Now, as energy and maturity come together, this young man is ready to step out of his mentors’ shadows and electrify the world with the sheer acoustic beauty his fingers create, when touching a set of strings.


Fretboard Journal, “Mountains of Illinois”

Adalt-Sudio Germany, “Live @ Five”

Adalt-Sudio Germany, “I’ll See You In My Dreams”

Chet Atkins Tribute Concert with Tommy Emmanuel, “Borsalino”


If you are interested in becoming a donor or sponsor to Scholarship and Fellowship musicians like Brooks, please contact Diane Kautzman at, or call 855-855-5900.

Announcing the 2016 Dweezil and Frank Zappa Fellowship Winner: Jacob Deraps!

Taylor Smith News

This summer, taking the main-stage alongside Dweezil Zappa at the Crown Guitar Festival will be the 2016 Dweezil and Frank Zappa Fellowship student and young up-and-coming rocker, Jacob Deraps!  The Fellowship offers a young musician who shows great promise and rock performance skill the chance to attend the Crown Workshop on a full-ride Fellowship, which not only includes the week of intensive study under Dweezil in the “Excel with the Masters” workshop but also offers stage time in front of an audience of over 1,000 enthusiastic festival-goers!  Last year’s Fellowship went to Norwegian Haakon Kjeldsberg, and this year Dweezil reached out to Canada to offer Jacob Deraps this life-changing experience!  Congratulations Jacob!


Jacob Deraps was born on March 15 1997, in St-Georges Québec Canada, from two musician parents. His mother being a Piano and Saxophone player and his father a guitar player, Jacob was surrounded by music from day one. He would assist to his parents rehearsals and was exposed to classic albums from Van Halen, Toto, Guns N’ Roses and many other legendary bands at a very young age. At around 4 years old, Jacob started playing drums with his parents but seemed to be a little too young to show any interests in it, despite the fact that he could play. It wasn’t until 12 that Jacob started playing an instrument again and it was the guitar. Showing a lot of interest this time, Jacob was improving really fast and would soon play songs from his favorite guitar heroes, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and many others. Two years later, he would start a YouTube channel and it’s at the age of 16 that everything really started for him. He would play on TV, on radio shows and in front of audiences. He was also featured on guitarist Pete Thorn’s website, twice on the VanHalenNewsDesk website and met the legendary rock photographer Robert M. Knight as well as great musicians such as Joe Bonamassa and most recently Dweezil Zappa. Jacob now has a manager, he is currently working on his own material and wants to release his first album soon. This year, Jacob will be part of the Crown Guitar Workshop and Festival as the Zappa Fellowship Nominee in Bigfork Montana from August 28 to September 3rd.

Here are some videos that feature Jacobs skills!

ACDC If You Want Blood cover

Van Halen I’m the One cover

If you are interested in funding a Fellowship or Scholarship to the Crown Workshop for a young artist like Jacob, contact Diane Kautzman at 855-855-5900 or email

Help The Crown fulfill its Wish List!

Taylor Smith News

The Crown Guitar Festival is a collaborative event that depends on support from our community and the Crown Family!  This season you can help us get set up to put on Festival #7 by donating items or volunteering to provide services like ushering or helping with food prep to feed our hardworking sound crews.  We will be eternally grateful for any assistance you can offer!  Here are some items we are in need of and some ways you can volunteer:


Enclosed trailer needed for storage of silent auction items on-site at Flathead Lake Lodge, 8/28-9/3.

Shelving for the office

File Cabinets

Small couch

Good used guitars for youth education

16 Channel or bigger PA system

Music Stands

Raffle prizes for volunteer appreciation party

Items for workshop participant and artist welcome bags (160 items to fill bags)



Housing Hosts for Crown guests, 8/28-9/3 within 15 minutes of Bigfork, preferably closer to Flathead Lake Lodge.

Volunteer Office Assistant, ASAP

Ushers 8/28-9/3

Parking Attendants 8/28-9/3

First Aid Staff 8/28-9/3

Meal Prep Assistance 8/28-9/3

Contact Diane Kautzman, or call 406-890-9767 if you want to help The Crown with its wish list!

Crown Guitar Festival offers star-studded Workshops and Masterclasses

Taylor Smith News

This summer, the Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival is going above and beyond in the Faculty lineup for the workshop classes. Now in its seventh season, the Crown has always offered a one-of-a-kind learning experience with phenomenal faculty, master classes by Artists-in-Residence, and special surprise drop-ins by guest artists. This year there are more classes directly taught by the stars themselves than ever! The Workshop offerings have been consolidated to 9 high-impact classes, each assisted or co-taught by the same world-class artists that will grace the Festival main stage during the week of August 28th through September 3rd, 2016.

The festival takes place on the grounds of the rustic 4-star horse ranch, Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge, transforming the resort town of Bigfork, Montana into an epicenter for guitar. The town remains a hidden treasure, comparable to Lake Tahoe in the 1950’s, “almost” undiscovered as it graces the north shore of the largest freshwater lake in the western United States, Flathead Lake. The Crown Guitar Workshop offers participants and their companions a truly Montanan experience, being situated less than 45 minutes from the west entrance of the spectacular Glacier National Park, and providing hiking trips, cooking classes, art classes, and horse trail rides on the beautiful Averill Family horses.

New to the extensive genre options at Crown are two dynamic classes: Acoustic Americana and Gypsy Jazz, Django Style. The Acoustic Americana class is designed to celebrate the resurgence of folk music popularity while teaching participants advanced guitar technique, rhythm, singer/songwriting, and composition skills. The class is led by Grammy Artist Chris Eldridge from the acclaimed Punch Brothers band and Doug Smith, one of the premier fingerpicking and acoustic teachers on the planet. Also joining the team will be Nashville recording legend Brent Mason and Josh Turner, a Youtube sensation and Crown’s 2016 Emerging Artist-in-Residence. This class offers its students a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; 6 days of highly individualized workshop time at a four star Montana resort with a 3 to 1 ratio of students to artist, and the chance to expand one’s musical network to include some of the countries leading acoustic guitarists.

Included in Acoustic Americana is a one-day intensive class with the guitar duo Chris Eldridge and jazz prodigy Julian Lage, who will be presenting a modern blend of bluegrass, folk, and jazz improvisation. These two remarkable artists as a duo perform music that draws upon American folk roots, while playing with the freedoms of improvisation and contemporary composition.  Their melting-pot blend of styles is as American as it gets and their presentation will demonstrate the genre’s adaptability and potential.

The Gypsy Jazz class was added due to popular request after a participant-organized jam sprung up at the 2015 Workshop. Participants in this class will learn Gypsy Jazz standards under the progressive fusion style of Gonzalo Bergara, an Argentinian-born virtuoso and composer. 19-year-old guitarist Max O’Rourke will join Bergara’s workshop and both will be performing as Artists-in-Residence at the (Monday night) Festival show.

The Crown Guitar Workshop will also be offering Excel with the Masters, a by-audition-only advanced electric rock and blues class led by Grammy Artist Dweezil Zappa, rocker Shane Theriot, and published educator Jared Meeker. Limited to 12 students, the course will teach participants to think like a producer, orchestrate original ensemble compositions, and enhance their live stage presentation. These 12 participants will work through the week towards a final Festival performance for an audience of 1000, side-by-side on stage with Dweezil Zappa, Shane Theriot, and other major Artists. There are still a few spots left in this rockstar class and they are going quickly.

Workshops with major artists as faculty are not limited only to advanced players! The Singer Songwriter class is designed for all experience levels from beginner to advanced and will help develop a deeper understanding of good writing and song creation. Only available to students in this course is a one-day intensive Songwriter Performance workshop with Grammy Artist Jim Messina! Throughout the week published songwriter Greg Horne and country singer Liz Longley will teach the daily workshop, with visits from Jim Messina and members of his band.

This spring, the Crown Guitar Workshop extended eligibility to apply for the Full-Ride Crown Scholarships to include Missoula County. The deadline to apply for is May 31st and applications can be downloaded at Eligibility is open to Students, Teachers, and Performers from Flathead, Lake, Sanders, Ravalli, and Missoula counties. For a complete list of all the guitar workshop classes offered this summer, along with their accompanied guest Artists-in-Residence, visit: Call 855-855-5900 ext. 3 to register and save your place in the 2016 Crown Guitar Workshop.

Fellowship Spotlight! Phil Goldenberg

Taylor Smith Fellowship Spotlight, News

Crown Workshop Manager, Amelia Thornton, interviews Phil Goldenberg, the winner of Jim Stroud’s Classical Guitar Competition and 2015 Crown Fellowship in Classical Guitar, on the topics of practice, motivation, and his path to Crown.

A:         What is your background in guitar? What is your story of how you got started?

P:         I started playing guitar when I was 14, and I started because my friends wanted to make a band and somebody already played bass, and somebody already played drums, and I didn’t want to sing, so I decided to play guitar. As things progressed in my life, I started to get more and more interested in music and towards the end of high school I started to get into jazz. I was trying to figure it out on my own, which wasn’t going very well, so I decided I wanted to go to school for jazz in college. I ended up going to school at Rowan University in southern New Jersey for guitar. I sort of faked my way through the classical audition and my teacher let me in (he thought I was going to be a jazz major anyway). Then I took the jazz audition and failed miserably, so I was stuck in this program where I didn’t know anything about classical guitar, and my teacher didn’t necessarily want me in the program, but he was really patient and showed me a lot of really great repertoire and I really fell in love with it. I loved that it was real solo music for the instrument, that you didn’t have to play with other people, which is really fun, but you compromise a lot of what you want to do. I wanted to have it all, I wanted to be all the members of the band.

A:        When did you graduate and did you continue school after Rowan University?

P:         I graduated in 2012 and then went on to do a Masters degree at Cleveland Institute of Music, where I studied with Jason Vieaux. Rowan University was really a friendly and kind, communal atmosphere. Cleveland was a very very serious conservatory. The people who went there were really “in it to win it”. It was a very different atmosphere. Jason Vieaux is a really accomplished player so he toured regularly and the students were quite competitive. With Rowan University I went in as a jazz player and came out a classical player, and in Cleveland it was the exact opposite. I went in wanting to stretch my classical training and I came out wanting a whole bunch more because I was inundated with it and wanted something else.

A:         When you came to Crown as a Fellowship in 2015 you were in the Classical class, and I think you really surprised people when you got up there and jammed with jazz guys, blues guys, and electric rock musicians like King Solomon Hicks. I think the audience wasn’t expecting a classical player to get up there and improvise.

P:         I think that the people who used to be into Classical, sort of the born and bred aristocrats, don’t really exist anymore. I would say that the next generation of classical players are people who were really into the technical styles of rock music and then just stumble across a Youtube video of someone playing classical guitar and think, “that’s actually awesome, I’d love to do that!”, which is basically how I came across it. You have the opposite of what most woodwind players would come across, having a classical background and then you branch out into popular styles. Instead you have this popular background and you branch out into the classical style.

A:         How did you come to Crown and did you know much about it before you attended?

P:         I came to Crown because I won James Stroud’s Classical Guitar Competition in Oberlin, Ohio and part of that prize was getting the Fellowship at Crown. I had a friend of a friend who had attended in 2014. Basically the only thing I knew about Crown was that it was a thing you could go to where it wasn’t a whole bunch of people fixing their fingernails! (laughs) My only experience prior to attending was a whole bunch of beautiful pictures he had posted on Facebook.

A:         Tell me a little bit about the Crown Fellowship experience for you.

P:         It was really cool, very very busy. That whole first week you are playing concerts every day, sometimes twice a day. It was especially crazy as a classical guitarist because you are out there in venues you wouldn’t usually be in, like bars and outdoor venues. It’s you and then it’s a blues act and then an electric rock act. You are representing an entire genre to a bunch people who haven’t ever heard that before, which is very different. A lot of the time you have classical people coming to classical concerts to hear classical favorites.

A:         Were you nervous about that?

P:         I was nervous about it, but I was excited to get back to my roots and get dirty with some rock and blues and stuff. I was worried about playing classical for a non-classical audience. It was interesting actually, in the beginning as I was playing these concerts, I felt like I needed to change something about my interpretation or change something about my playing to make the audience more into it. Make it more rhythmic, less rubato, make fewer faces, make more faces… and then as I played more of these concerts, I realized I didn’t need to do anything different. The vast majority of people at Crown are happy to hear classical guitar music; they just haven’t before. It’s hard not to like such pretty music. People aren’t just often exposed to it!

A:         In one sentence, what is the Crown experience from a participant’s standpoint?

P:         The Crown experience is people from everywhere around the globe who play every style of guitar who come together to jam on an E minor blues! (laughs)

A:         I think my highlight was getting to hear you speak at a public workshop at Flathead Valley Community College. You have developed your own brand of practice and teaching. I learned a ton from you in that hour on effective practice methods. Can you summarize some of the points you discussed last summer?

P:         Basically my philosophy of practicing is boiled down to three different types of practice; the first being Observational Practice. You set all other aspects of music aside and focus on one specific thing. For example, if you are just trying to get the notes out and making as few mistakes as possible, eliminate some of the other variables. Say to yourself my rhythm doesn’t matter, my tone doesn’t matter, my left hand fingerings don’t matter, my right hand fingerings don’t matter, all that matters is I play the notes that are on the page 5 times without making a single mistake. And then the next round is “my right hand fingerings have to be right too”, but none of the other things matter. And you need to get lots of correct run-throughs of that.

Then the next one is Procedural Practice, which is once you’ve gotten through and all of your variables have been dealt with, you start solidifying this stuff. That’s when you can turn a lot of these shaky passages into really solid passages. Try to get it right as many times as possible, and getting it wrong as few times as possible. The key thing to think about there is, if you are going to play a passage 10 times, and you are able to play it perfectly 5 times and you mess up 5 times, what are the odds that you are going to get it right the 11th time. It’s 50/50. Whereas if you allow yourself to work on something very meticulously and very very slowly, where you feel silly at how slow you are taking it, but you are getting it right 10 times out of 10, you know that the 11th time is not going to be an issue. That is the base work for Procedural Practice. It is like trying to get a really good batting average and knocking it out of the park 10 times out of 10.

Then the third step is Performance Practice, which is taking all of these little pieces you have taken apart, putting it back together, and performing it. Performance can be by oneself but the best thing to do is to play for people. Playing by yourself, for yourself, you are in a certain state of mind, your body is operating in a certain way, whereas if you have another person in the room your mind is in a completely different place, your body is in a different state, your heart rate is elevated, your hands are going to be shaking, and you aren’t used to playing a piece in that state of mind. It’s all about getting run-throughs where you can put yourself in that state of mind and state of body. Also it is wonderful to play for a video-camera. You can go back and reflect on this stuff.

A:         Is this method something unique that you have created?

P:         Jason Vieaux talked a lot about practice technique in his lessons with me, but maybe didn’t put it into words the way I have. I can’t really say that I invented it because I feel like every good musician has practiced this way since the beginning of time. I just read this book on Augustine Darius, who said he used to take a bag full of 100 pebbles and every time he would play a piece of music correctly, he would take a pebble out of the bag and put it on the table until he had emptied the bag. He also said that every time he would screw something up he would take all the pebbles and put it back in the bag. It is a very old tradition of trying to get good run-throughs of stuff.

A:         In a way it is putting this age-old tradition that hasn’t quite been verbalized yet, into a method. Do you see yourself writing and publishing something that expresses this type of effective practice?

P:         Definitely! I’m working on writing a book right now. Hopefully it wouldn’t just be for guitar, and honestly hopefully it wouldn’t just be for music. No matter your discipline, you can benefit from learning to practice better. That’s really what I would like to do, is talk about how to be disciplined and how to achieve really good results, through the lens of music.

A:         Where do you teach and what was your path to getting the job?

P:         The school I’m really passionate about is the New York Guitar Academy, in Midtown Manhattan. I actually got the job through Instagram. I’d been posting 15 second videos on Instagram and one got picked up by an account that shares other people’s videos to over 60,000 followers. The New York Academy liked my video. I followed them back and thought “hey, they saw my video, they saw I could play and they liked it”, so I sent them an email to let them know I was a classical guitarist living in New York and was looking to teach. They didn’t have a lot of space in their studio, but they liked how I played, so they invited me for an interview. They ended up making space in their school for me and I’ve picked up 8 students through them. A few are group classes, which I’ve really come to enjoy. When you learn in a vacuum there isn’t as much riding on you, practicing and learning and enjoying it.

A:         Tell us a little bit more about Instagram and how social media is important for musicians!

P:         Social media is really important for musicians. I got into it because my girlfriend kept telling me “videos are limited to 15 seconds, you can play for 15 seconds!” She basically said, “Phil, you are setting up an Instagram”. Instagram is basically free advertising. It is very low maintenance and lots of exposure without having to play gigs for free. You make an account, take 20 minutes a day to make sure your accounts are up to date, you respond to your fans and people taking interest in your account, and the account grows with time. It’s great for artists right now. It sort of levels the playing field a little bit.

A:         As a teacher what are your thoughts on finding motivation to practice?

P:         Motivation really has to come from within. Honestly I think it is a form of Observational Practice. If you decide that your biggest problem right now is that you aren’t enjoying playing your instrument, then that is the biggest thing you need to fix. It isn’t right hand fingerings/left hand fingerings, sound… You need to set all that aside and focus on remembering why you enjoy playing the instrument.

A:         Being a professional musician is certainly a strenuous life path, what is it about music that makes it worth the struggle?

P:         If you can do something else, you should do something else. I think that people who want to be professional musicians, who know what the cost of that is, and decide to still do it…there’s not another option for them. You’re completely addicted to it. There’s no going back. There’s not something that makes it worthwhile, you just have to do it. I can’t imagine doing something else.

A:         What advice do you have for beginners?

P:         Don’t take days off. You have to practice every day. Otherwise you’ll never get addicted to it. That, and the headstock points to the left.

To keep up with Phil’s work as a teacher and performer, follow his Instagram account: 

or like his page on Facebook:

To donate to the Crown Fellowship and Scholarship program to create life-changing experiences for more young musicians like Phil, 855-855-5900 or visit



Crown announces expansion of Scholarship eligibility to Missoula area

Taylor Smith News

A Rare Opportunity to Study with Renowned Guitar Masters across All Genres!

Crown Guitar Workshop Scholarship Applications due by May 31

Due to the increase of interest from Missoula residents in the Crown summer guitar workshop, the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation (COCGF) has decided this year to expand the eligibility for a full Crown Scholarship to Missoula area residents!

The scholarship provides a rare opportunity to study with a roster of premier guitarists who will be teaching and performing as Artists in Residence during the weeklong event. Scheduled to perform this year are rock/songwriter legend, Jim Messina and his band; Grammy®-winner Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank Zappa; Jazz fusion prodigy Julian Lage; Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers; Nashville recording legend Brent Mason; gypsy jazz artists Gonzalo Bergara and Max O’Rourke; country singer/songwriter Liz Longley; Lee Ritenour who will be returning for a seventh straight year; rocker Shane Theriot; SoloDuo, the Italian classical duo of Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli; and Andy Aledort, Guitar World and Rock pedagogue. More artists are still being signed. These artists will be featured in special workshop clinics and all will perform onstage at various times during the week of the Crown Guitar Festival.

Scholarship applications are due on Tuesday, May 31st to attend the seventh annual Crown Guitar Workshop held on August 28th-Sept. 4th. Students, teachers and performers of all ages who reside in Flathead, Lake, Sanders, Missoula, and Ravalli counties are eligible to apply for the scholarship. The workshop will be held at Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, MT.  Applications will be accepted through Tuesday May 31st with scholarship awards announced on Wednesday, June 15th.


Teacher and Student/Performer applicants need to have taught guitar or been performing for at least two years and have been a resident of the Flathead, Lake, Sanders, Missoula, and Ravalli counties for at least one year.  Guitar teachers can be either teaching privately or in a school setting. They must complete an application, write an essay about the role of guitar in their life, and submit a recording. Financial need will be taken into consideration.

If you are interested in supporting your community’s musicians by becoming a Scholarship or Fellowship donor, please contact Diane Kautzman at 855-855-5900.  For complete information about the Crown Guitar Workshop and Festival including videos from prior years visit

Crown launches Beginner Guitar Program for Bigfork Youth

Taylor Smith News

Crown Celebrates Year Seven by launching Beginner Guitar Program for Bigfork Youth

When the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation (COCGF) and Bigfork ACES after school program decided to collaborate and offer a beginner guitar program for kids grade 5-8, they were hoping to enroll at least six young students. But when they opened enrollment, it quickly became apparent they were going to have a much bigger class. “Lucky for us, we had enlisted not just a great guitar instructor, but an overall wonderful person in general, Tim Torgerson to teach the class,” comments Arin Lever, Crown Festival Manager. As the enrollment numbers kept rising, Tim said, “please don’t turn any kid away who wants to learn to play the guitar, we’ll figure it out.” True to the culture that the Crown embodies two enthusiastic young guitar mentors, Ben Russell and Joseph Torgerson, both scholarship recipients at last summer’s Crown Guitar Workshop, volunteered to help with the class enabling the program to really make a go of teaching 18 enthusiastic beginner guitar students.

Cathy Hay, program director for Bigfork ACES says that Lever came to her looking to team up and start a kid’s guitar program that would dovetail with the already existing 9-12th grade guitar class, taught at Bigfork High. The goal of the initial six-week program was to give kids the opportunity to see if they wanted to pursue learning to play the guitar.

“The kids love the classes, they’re excited and seem to remember to bring their guitars on lesson days,” Hays says, adding that she hopes some of the kids might be ready to perform in the upcoming Cowabunga fundraiser to be held in Bigfork
on April 15-17.

“It’s the perfect age to introduce kids to guitar because they are at a pivotal point where they are learning about who they are and what interests them,” Lever says, adding that a huge part of the program’s success has come from a generous donation provided by the annual Bigfork Brewfest event coordinated by Hilary Shepard. The donation was used to purchase take-home guitars for students that are stored at the Bigfork ACES building so kids can continue to practice. Humbled by the outreach, Lever states “It’s one thing to offer a class, but it’s a whole other entity, when you have so much community support behind what you are doing.”

Extending guitar education opportunities for youth year-round has been a long time goal of the COCGF says Lever. “We love our annual world-class Workshop and Festival in August-September and we’ve hosted many short workshops in local schools, but there was still some room to grow and make a difference in our local youth musician community. Thanks to some amazing local sponsors and educators, that dream has become a reality.”

With the overall response and success of the program, Lever says, the Crown has its sights set on a bigger vision to partner with other communities across the Flathead Valley. “We definitely plan to offer another Beginner Guitar Class in Bigfork, Fall of 2016.

Currently, the COCGF sponsors ten or more scholarships for Flathead Valley teachers, performers and students to attend the annual, week-long, highly esteemed workshop which this year will be held August 28 to Sept. 4, 2016.

“It’s amazing to think that five years down the road these students taking lessons may be applying for scholarships – that is our hope!” she finishes.

For more information about the Bigfork ACES guitar programs contact Cathy Hay at 249-9598. To learn more about the Crown Guitar Workshop Scholarship program contact Diane Kautzman at 855-855-5900 ext. 3 or email

Fellowship Spotlight! Shem Kahawaii

Taylor Smith Fellowship Spotlight, News

This is the February edition of Crown’s Fellowship Spotlight! featuring 2015 Hawaii Fellowship student, Shem Kahawaii!  Amelia Thornton, Crown Workshop Manager, interviews:


Amelia:  How did you start playing guitar? Did you immediately start by playing the slack-key style?

Shem:  “I started on the ukulele when I around 6. Towards middle school I picked up chords and got more basic study and progression. In high school, I picked up the guitar. Throughout my whole life, my dad was playing a little slack key and a little standard electric, but I didn’t really know what slack key was, what the tuning was, or anything about the genre. One day I was like, how do you do that? Finally I was looking online how to play slack key and they tell you the tunings in the Youtube videos. There is a website called that gives you a whole list. It was more helpful than to just play bar chords all the time. And a while later I was playing and my dad heard me playing and asked, “is that slack?” and I was like, “yeah!” and then he went over the scales with me. I kept practicing and practicing. I was introduced to a guitar teacher, and he told me that I was improving quickly. I asked him if he could teach me on slack-key and he told me “Well at this point you could probably teach the class!” So I ended up having a little session with the school music classes, and he began inviting me to his gigs and I did concerts and performances for the school.”

A:  What other guitar workshops have you attended?

S:  “My dad’s best friend, Kevin Brown, told me to go to the George Kahumoku Slack Key and Ukulele Workshop. I ended up getting a scholarship to go out there. I just enjoyed it! The setting… to be playing with the greatest musicians in slack-key in the world. It gave me the inspiration of a lifetime. Right after the workshops, George asked me to come play with him. I got so nervous when he called me up! We played a few small gigs, and because of the small settings I didn’t have too much of a nervous breakdown.”

A:  You were so poised in your FVCC Workshop at Crown this summer, and in your performances. Do you just hide stage-fright well or have you overcome it?

S:  “Well, I went back George’s workshop a second year and they asked me to play the talent show. You are on stage by yourself in front of the greatest musicians in Hawaiian music. I got really nervous at that point. But when I played, I was just in the mood. I couldn’t explain it. When I got on stage I was nervous, but when I started playing that fear kinda just left me. I realized, “all these guys are here to play, they aren’t here to judge you.”

A:  Is there anything in particular that you think about that helps when you get nervous?

S:  “I take all the nervous energy out. At the talent show, the song I was playing talks about a place in Hana. I was thinking about that place and the essence of being there, and understanding what the song was about. It let my mind just think about the beauty of the song, and not playing it.”

A:  How did you get connected to Crown?

S:  “After playing with the George Kahumoku workshops, George recommended to me to go to the workshop in Montana because he felt I had a lot of potential, not only with guitar playing, but he saw that I had the nerve to go up on stage to perform in front of people.”

A:  What changed about your performing and practicing after you came home from Crown?

S:  “I have picked up a whole array of different styles of guitar playing, just being influenced by the jazz players and classical players. By watching them and coming back here to Hawaii, I’ve noticed I’m using a lot of different techniques than I was before I came to Crown. I really think that this opportunity really changed how I play as a musician now. I would say Crown improved my guitar playing, my knowledge on the fret board of the guitar, theory, and of standard tuning. It really helped me to practice and to get involved in a wide range of styles.”

A:  Have you kept in touch with some of the connections you made at Crown and the other Fellowship students?

S:  “I’m not really on the Internet too much, but I do watch their videos and I’m thankful I am friends with them. You know, just because it isn’t my genre of music, doesn’t mean I don’t have to listen to it. It is beneficial for me to hear them play and to see how they’ve improved over the year. That feeling of motivation really helps.”

A:  What is Crown Experience?

S:  “The Crown Experience to me is having the opportunity to learn from and play with people from all around the world and their genres of music. It’s important to know we are all there to play music. We are not there to judge other people. We are not there to look down upon anyone. We are there to improve. And everybody is there to improve, even the instructors. You can pick up alternate ways of learning just by watching and practicing with other people. Having collaboration is key to being a great musician. I believe that Crown to me was probably the most important thing, being a musician.”

A:  How did you enjoy Montana? What is similar about Montana and Hawaii and what is different?

S:  “I’ll tell you the differences immediately: the weather. (laughs) I was not expecting it to be that cold. I did pack well, I’m thankful for that. Jumping in the Flathead lake felt like jumping in a fresh water stream in Hawaii, just without the palm trees. Cedar Island seemed like the small little beaches out on the North Shore of Maui. There were a lot of similarities in the landscape!”

A:  What are you currently working on in your academic studies?

S:  “I’m currently enrolled in University of Hawaii, Maui College. I attend the Institute of Hawaiian Music. We play small venues and gigs and get our names out there. It is really good exposure to play with groups of different instrumentalists. I’m taking all music classes. I’m just having a great time. These music classes are actually run by the same person who runs the Institute, so I’m making great connections too.”

A:  What is your advice to guitarists looking to branch into slack-key style? Who do you listen to?

S:  “The best albums: Gabby Pahinui. That is the traditional slack-key. You will hear a range of the most common slack key songs, but played in a back-yard folk type style. It isn’t a real clean fingerpicking style, its sort of Hawaii old-school, outdoors music. That is the style that was really prominent in the 1970’s and even up until the 80’s and 90’s. Following him is Ledward Kaapana, the grandmaster of slack-key.”

A:  What are your goals as a professional musician and as a Hawaiian artist? What is your trajectory?

S:  “Hawaiian music, or slack key, is very important, but not too many people are playing slack key. The people who have been playing slack key are in the older generation or they have passed away already. For my age, to be playing it, is actually very rare. What I want to do in the future is to promote awareness of it and for me to pass it on. It’s part of a culture. It is not something you just want to lose. The musicians that I have played with really want me to play and keep going because I’m 19, and it is very rare for them to see someone my age doing this.”

A:  Do you think you will become a teacher of this music?

S:  “I would have to say, teaching this type of music…before, it wasn’t really taught. It was more of a folk genre, for family events or for gatherings, but today that is not the case. It is almost dying out. I could potentially teach people if I had a good mindset. But it is kind of hard to teach somebody this style. The student has to understand a lot more about tradition and culture before trying to learn the music. It is more of a lifestyle actually.”

A:  You have clearly found a passion. How is that important in motivating a person to continue being a musician?

S:  “One thing about passion when referring to music, is if you are playing, and you call it practicing, it kinda throws you off. Because it is like, “oh I gotta do homework…I don’t want do it”. If you have that feeling it is not more of a passion thing. But if you pick up the guitar and just randomly start playing, you don’t know it, but you are actually practicing. As long as you are doing what is comfortable and not playing something that’s not going to help you. Another thing about passion and having motivation in music is, knowing what you are playing. Is it alright if I tell you a little story?”

A:  Yes!

S:  “My sophomore year, I was coming home from school one day and I saw this unfamiliar car in the driveway. I walked in the house and this guy was sitting and talking to my dad, and he had a guitar in his hand, and my dad had a guitar. So I sit in and listen, and I’m like, “wow, this guy is really good”. I failed to realize who he was. I didn’t get his name. Later that year, this guy passed away, and I didn’t really know him too well. I just met him once, I didn’t really get his name. A little while after his death, I heard a recording on the radio and I was like, “ok, this is my favorite song. I love it!” I was playing it one day in the house, and my dad was like, “do you know who’s recording that was?”. I said no, and he said, “Remember that guy that came over and was playing with me, that was him.” I was like, “what!”. He was a very great musician, one of the most inspiring musicians for me. Because now that I play his songs, I know that he was such a good friend of my dad’s and that he was just a great person. I felt that I should have known him a little better… but overall it did work out. In a way I feel his spirit when I play.”

A:  What was his name?

S:  “Pekelo Cosma.”


What an inspiring young artist. Shem, we are proud to have had you at Crown and look forward to seeing your future work in the preservation of the Hawaiian slack key music!

If you are interested in learning more about how to sponsor a student like Shem, visit our Foundation Page.    To register for your very own Crown Experience, visit our 2016 Workshop Page.

Fellowship Spotlight! Leandro Pellegrino

Taylor Smith Fellowship Spotlight

Amelia Thornton, Crown’s Workshop Manager interviews one of Crown’s fantastic fellowship students from 2015, Leandro Pellegrino.  Leandro was born and raised in Brazil and completed his Bachelors degree at the Berklee School of Music in 2015.  He resides in Boston and is a full time performer and private teacher.  Here’s a little more insight into Leandro, the guitar, and Crown!  Enjoy!


Amelia: Tell me about how you got your start in guitar?

Leandro:  I remember when I was really really young, six or so, there was an end of the year party with the students and the parents, and there was a band playing The Beatles, and that was the first time I was like, “oh that’s a guitar”. And I felt some attraction, because I already played a cornet in band at the school. When I was 12 I started to really learn. Mainly it was because of Jimi Hendrix and Tony Ayomi, the guitarist in Black Sabbath. I just watched a video of “Hey Joe” on MTV and it just blew my mind. I was like, “what the heck is this guy doing?” he was playing guitar with his teeth, or behind his head. That was I guess, what ignited the fire. My mom put me through a guitar school for 2 or 3 years, and then I went to a conservatory, which had a partnership with Berklee. Then I studied composition, classical music, Brazilian music, until I found my way to Berklee School of Music.

A:  What does going to an intensive music workshop do for a musician?

L:  I’ve gotten the chance to go to smaller camps, larger events like the Crown, or even single day clinics. All information is valuable, sometimes you can relate to it right away, other times it may take one or two years for it to sink in or for you to get to a level where the information is valuable to you. At a big organization like Crown there are beginner, intermediate, or advanced players, you just have to hang around, doesn’t matter the level, and try to absorb, or record it on your phone, as much information as you can. Because at some point it might make so much sense in your life and you will be like, “oh yeah I remember!”. That’s the difference between Crown and going to a small camp where it’s all one level. Also the different genres. Just hang out with the rock guys, or the country, classical guys, or the jazz guys, or the guys like Dweezil. Take advantage of the broad choices that the festival offers.

A:  You grew up in Brazil surrounded by Brazilian music.  Is that why you chose to work with Romero?  How was the experience of studying with him last summer at Crown?

L:  During my life I sort of overlooked Brazilian music because I was always trying to get deep into jazz. I felt it was a great opportunity to really get into Brazilian music and see what Romero’s approach was, his technique, or groove, or just the timing feel that Brazilian music is. And that was just mind blowing because I was finally able to get some questions answered. He just exposed his concept of groove and was really open to it. In this sense, I was able to get the best Brazilian guitar class I’ve ever had in my life, in Montana, with Romero.

A:  What kind of player do you see yourself as?  Any specific genre?

L:  I’m definitely still searching. I don’t think it as totally clear as I want probably. I would say just a melting pot of many things. Recording and putting a lot of time into shaping (the album) is going to make it more clear, to be honest. I like classical music, I like hip-hop, I like jazz, I like Brazilian music, I like bluegrass, percussion, African Music. And this is not stuff that comes out in your playing, but somehow the intent is there. It’s really tough to think about yourself and to sum yourself up as an artist. I don’t see myself as a straight ahead player, and I don’t see myself as someone who only plays Brazilian music, with very strong roots in a tradition, but at the same time I feel like I’m open to a lot of different genres.

A:  You are a teacher yourself, what is one nugget of information that you find you stress to your students in lessons?

L:  As guitarists, we can be maniacs for melodies, so sometimes we overlook the power of rhythm. And that is the very start of music, it’s in our core, our hearts. If there’s no rhythm, you just like, die. I try to make my students understand the importance of devoting time, the same time that you apply to scales and theory, to rhythm.

A:  You came last year to Crown as a fellowship student.  Did you enjoy your time here?

L:  It was great to spend more time in Montana than just one week. I think one week, especially a packed week like the festival, would feel like 5 minutes. And hanging with the other fellowship guys. I learned so much by seeing their approach to practice and performing, and their repertoire. It was a really, really valuable lesson.  Just like, creating that special bond since we spent more time together before the festival. It was really cool, a very special opportunity getting to know a lot of people.  It’s a special festival for sure. And it’s getting more and more special.

A:  We are going to have Julian Lage back again for 2016 as an Artist in Residence and will be co-teaching the Jazz class with Mark Dziuba and the Americana class with Chris Eldridge.  You told me you have met and worked with Julian before.  What do 2016 Crown participants have to look forward to?

L:  Julian is really open to learn. He asks everyone what their issues are, and likes to play with people. He makes everyone critique and leads a very interactive class. It is very cool because not always you get to play with whoever the teacher is. Julian is willing to play duos with each and every person in the class if there is time of course. He is a very humble guy as well. I feel like he was learning as much as us.  That is great, because he says he likes to watch beginners on YouTube, so he can see what is a natural movement before people get used to playing a certain way. That’s the kind of guy he is, he is always learning.

A:  In a few sentences, what is Crown Guitar Fest to you?

L:  Crown is a great guitarist community sharing their passion in a beautiful location full of special people. And we all love guitar, so it’s also like a guitarist’s club…like the biggest guitar hang EVER. Crown’s amazing, you can tell by the amount of good words that people are going to spread about it.


Register for 2016 Workshop Today!

A first look at the 2016 Workshop Offerings!

Taylor Smith Events, News

The 2016 Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshops are in the final stages of planning, and are awaiting your name on the registration list!  This summer we have a number of our beloved faculty members returning to teach workshops with a new twist on their genre.  Acoustic guitarist, Doug Smith will be teaching “Five Styles of Fingerpicking”, Jared Meeker is leading a “Studio Guitarists” course on building technique, versatility, and rock improvisation, James Hogan is moving from Jazz to teach a “Bluesy Fusion” course.  Bret Boyer will be leading the “Singer/Songwriter” course along with Country singer/songwriter, Liz Longley.  Mark Dziuba is also returning and collaborating with Julian Lage to teach “Dziuba and Co. Jazz.”

We have two new genres this year: “Django Gypsy/Jazz” with Gonzalo Bergara and “Americana” led by Chris Eldridge and guest faculty Julian Lage.

A few courses are still in the top-secret planning phases, including the Faculty announcement for the “Crown Beginners” workshop.  We can divulge that the class will be assisted by incoming Artists in Residence and is certain to be a very inspiring experience for any beginner guitarist.

Lee Ritenour will collaborate with Dweezil Zappa on an advanced course called “Excel with the Masters” which will include a mainstage class performance on one of the final nights of the Festival!

Crown is now accepting registrations and deposits to hold your place at the 2016 Guitar Workshop, located on the rustic grounds of the historic Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, MT.  As if a fabulous line-up of teachers and artists wasn’t enough, Crown is situated on the edge of the West’s largest freshwater lake, complete with mountain views and herds of horses.  Crown offers registration discounts for both new registrants and alumni.  Visit to learn more about our 2016 rates for tuition and housing or call 855-855-5900 to learn how you can take part in “a week that will change your life.”