Yesterday I returned from my first week at Clifftop and it was utterly amazing! I was fortunate enough to have a fellow MI banjo player to camp with, and though we didn't have any definite plans we ended up being adopted by a group of amazing old-time players (and great people!) from Boston and their associated crew. My head is still spinning so its hard to organize my thoughts about the week in any coherent order so I'll just list some bullet points that may help future first-timers below:
Yes, it did rain several times - ...really, really hard. This is one thing I've always heard about Clifftop and it proved true. It was also fairly humid most days when it wasn't raining. However, it was pretty fun to ride out the rain in a good jam : )
Food is not hard to come by - My buddy and I were pretty concerned about going hungry but there are several vendors and even a farmer's market stand. Also, plenty of camps have big "food nights" - my new buddy Bruce generously bought everyone in our vicinity pizza one night and the nearby Texas camp was scheduled for "Frito Pie" night on Saturday (though unfortunately I left a day early and didn't get any...)
People play all night - Yup, bring your earplugs - I wore them to bed every night and I'm not sure how I would have slept otherwise. It seems like the most inappropriate time to play a banjo would be ~8 am when the last of the night owls have finally fallen asleep. The frequency/loudness of jams may vary with camp geography; we were in the moderately-mellow section (go down the hill and take a right at the basketball courts). It seems like the swampy area at the bottom of the hill (past our camp) gets pretty wild, while the area near the water tower (I was told its' called "geezer hill") is probably a little more tame.
People can be a little funny about claiming campsites - The area we were in (described above) was fine to camp in without stepping on anyone's toes but some sections have the same visitors from year to year; while there's no real mechanism for formally claiming space, its probably best to ask the neighbors before setting up.
Cell service/wifi do exist....but they're not perfect - Clifftop is remote. I had cell service but it was spotty at times. Also, there is free wifi in the main cabin but its not very reliable - I ended up driving into McDonald's (45 min!) one day when I had to book plane tickets for an upcoming trip.
There are plenty of ways to spend your money at Clifftop - Food, coffee, crafts, and an amazing CD/music tent, and plenty of instruments....seems like banjolele's were quite abundant!
Also, my buddy and I got interviewed by Noah Adams from NPR for a story about Clifftop. Apparently he was going to record ~4 hours of footage for a 4 minute story and our comments were unfortunately cut out : ) However, our twin-banjo rendition of "Spotted pony" survived - it starts at around 1:45 below (I think we sounded pretty good!):
Next week, I'd like to talk chord substitutions a bit - they're one of my favorite "tricks" when I'm the only chordal instrument in a jam, and they came up a lot at clifftop!