playing guitar acoustic blues program at Centrum

ProgramMusicAcoustic Blues

About Acoustic Blues

July 29-August 4, 2024

In the depths of summer, Centrum goes deep into the blues. Now in its 30th year, the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival continues to offer a side of the blues that popular culture does not always recognize – its roots! Immerse yourself in a creative community of artists from across the globe who share a passion for early blues traditions and moving the genre forward. Blues week celebrates the music and traditions of African American folk blues, its roots, forerunners, and their stories, while at the same time coming into the future with a new twist on the past. Please join us for a memorable week with some remarkable talent!
acoustic blues lessons at Centrum

Registration is Now Open!

Acoustic Blues Workshops

Acoustic Blues Facts

  • Artistic Director: Jontavious Willis
  • Established in 1993
  • Gospel Choir Track
  • Instrumentation includes guitar, harmonica, piano, mandolin, violin, bass, banjo, ukulele, washboard, voice, and accordion

Experience Acoustic Blues

Participants learn “knee-to-knee,” in intimate sessions with diverse instruments and artist faculty. Daily classroom instruction covers traditional acoustic blues, performance, history, songs, and styles, as well as technical skills and how to play well with others. Afternoons include discussions on relative topics. Each evening, participants enjoy faculty concerts, fireside chats, jam sessions, and house parties.

Most artist faculty teach two one-hour instrument sessions daily. Sessions are in various styles and techniques and focus on certain traditional methods. Instrumentation includes guitar, harmonica, piano, mandolin, violin, bass, banjo, ukulele, washboard, voice, and accordion. Class also offered in performance, improv, ensembles, and a gospel choir that gathers in the afternoon.

Here an example of how you’ll spend your time:

First day:
4–5:30pm – Check-in, Centrum office
6–8pm – Dinner
8pm – Orientation

Next Day:
Most artist faculty teach two one-hour instrument sessions daily, Tuesday through Friday. Sessions in various styles and techniques that focus on certain tradition bearers are offered. Instrumentation includes guitar, harmonica, piano, mandolin, violin, bass, banjo, ukulele, washboard, voice, and accordion. The Gospel Choir gathers late afternoons. Evenings include events and performances, planned and spontaneous jams.

At the end of the week, the artist faculty take to the stages and share in performance a festive celebration of the traditions they carry as well as their own music and style. Friday and Saturday nights, our legendary Blues in the Clubs series hosts a variety of intimate stages, where each artist gives their own unique performance. We’ll host a show or two in McCurdy Pavilion, a former blimp hanger turned performance space, break bread together, and have a really good time basking in and soaking up the traditions passed along at the gathering.


Take the Gospel Choir track exclusively and receive admission to the gospel class Tuesday through Friday, and all evenings in Building 204, Tuesday through Saturday. The choir performs on Saturday at the USO Hall. Gospel tuition includes admission to the Saturday afternoon mainstage concert in McCurdy Pavilion. Tuition does not include Blues in the Clubs or the Wednesday public event.

Gospel Choir is available for youth however, anyone under the age of 18 must attend with a registered participant or registered chaperone over the age of 21. Registered PT Acoustic Blues participants can participate in the Gospel Choir at no additional fee.

The 2024 Gospel Choir will be led by Shirley Smith and Pamela English. Tuition for choir is $175.


Photo of George  Aschmann

George  Aschmann


Among other musical endeavors, George plays violin and sings with the collective Frog and Henry, who’ve played the streets of New Orleans since 2013. They revive the music first made popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s in New Orleans, Chicago, and across the U.S., a mixture of jazz, jugband, stringband, blues, and popular songs. Most of the instruments are from the same time period.

Photo of Andrew Alli

Andrew Alli


This Richmond, Virginia native was always passionate about music and stumbled upon the blues while taking up his first instrument, the harmonica. He instantly fell in love with the blues and the history that comes with the harp.

Photo of Big Jon Atkinson

Big Jon Atkinson

Early Electric Guitar

Big Jon Atkinson speaks the language fluently and with such a well-articulated deep emotion that when you hear this young man play and sing the blues it is an experience you will never forget.

Photo of Bruce Sunpie Barnes

Bruce Sunpie Barnes


Bruce Sunpie Barnes is a veteran New Orleans musician, former Park Ranger with the National Park Service for 30 years, actor, photographer, book author, former high school biology teacher, former college football All-American, and former NFL player (Kansas City Chiefs). Sunpie Barnes’ many careers have taken him far and wide. He has traveled to over 50 countries playing his own style of what he calls Afro-Louisiana music incorporating Blues, Zydeco, Gospel, Caribbean and African influenced rhythms and melodies.…

Photo of Mark Brooks

Mark Brooks


Mark Brooks is one of New Orleans’ premiere bassist. He is noted for his versatility vocally as well as instrumentally. Mark is a protégée of the late great Jazz Master, Alvin Batiste along with several of his close friends Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison, and Henry Butler. Mark has toured and performed with an array of artists across genres such as Jazz, Blues, R&B, and Gospel.…

Photo of Conrad Cayman

Conrad Cayman


Conrad Cayman is a Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, ukulele, bass (upright and electric), plectrum banjo, and percussion. He leads a traditional jazz group called The Big Butter Jazz Band, freelances for other LA-based early jazz groups, and is a sponsored artist for Ohana Ukuleles.

In the 10 years since leaving the corporate world and becoming a professional musician he has played trad jazz, swing dance, and ukulele festivals in Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Diego, Fresno, Sacramento, and Pismo Beach, as well city and amusement park summer concert series, and special client events for actors Hilary Swank, Alan Tudyk, the Geffen Playhouse, Southern Comfort, Jack Daniels, and the Rose Parade.…

Photo of Pamela English

Pamela English

Gospel Choir

Pam English’s musical journey began at age three, when Pam began singing in the youth choir at Unity Baptist Church Detroit. Private piano lessons began at age 7 and she recorded her first album with the youth choir at age 9. Pam began playing for churches, directing and teaching choirs at the age of 10. This continued throughout high school, college, and well into her adult musical career.…

Photo of Leroy Etienne

Leroy Etienne


Leroy Etienne is a drummer, percussionist, washboard player, and vocalist, based in Lafayette, Louisiana. His critically album released in 2018 features original compositions by Etienne composed in Louisiana Creole. Featured song writer on the album and book ‘Le Kér Creole’ (Creole Compositions and Stories from Louisiana) native Creole speaker Leroy Etienne said in the 1950s, he was told by teachers not to speak “French” in school.…

Photo of Mary Flower

Mary Flower


Mary Flower’s immense finger picking guitar and lap-slide prowess is soulful and meter-perfect, a deft blend of the inventive, the dexterous and the mesmerizing. Her supple honey-and-whiskey voice provides the perfect melodic accompaniment to each song’s story.

Photo of Jayy Hopp

Jayy Hopp

Guitar, Percussion

Jayy Hopp was born in Lagrange and started playing music with Gospel (drumming at first, until his cousin formally introduced him to the guitar). Gospel and R&B music was very influential in his formative years. The guitar grooves and distinctive sounds always caught his ear. As he aged, Jayy Hopp expanded his musical vocabulary. He started listening closely to Jimi Hendrix playing style, which led him to Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Jimmy Dawkins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Son Seals, Hubert Sumlin, Robert Ward (his uncle) and Ike Turner.…

Photo of Benjamin Hunter

Benjamin Hunter


Benjamin Hunter is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, community activist, social entrepreneur, and educator. Benjamin’s work explores the intersections of music & art, community, policy, and culture.

Photo of Hubby Jenkins

Hubby Jenkins


Hubby Jenkins is a talented multi-instrumentalist who endeavors to share his love and knowledge of old-time American music.

Photo of Reverend Robert Jones

Reverend Robert Jones


Rev. Robert Jones, Sr. is a native Detroiter and an inspirational storyteller and musician celebrating the history, humor and power of American Roots music. His deep love for traditional African American and American traditional music is shared in live performances that interweave timeless stories with original and traditional songs.

Photo of Shari Kane

Shari Kane


Shari started playing guitar at the age of five. By the early 1970’s she had become a devoted blues fan, and learned how to play fingerstyle blues on the acoustic guitar.

Photo of Valerie Kirchhoff

Valerie Kirchhoff


Valerie Kirchhoff (aka “Miss Jubilee”) is a vocalist and bandleader born and raised in St. Louis. Valerie grew up singing in church and school choirs, and discovered a passion for early jazz and blues while in her teens. She formed her first band in 2007 and has been a staple of the St. Louis music scene ever since.…

Photo of Judy LaPrade

Judy LaPrade


Judy LaPrade is a life-long musician and teacher. She grew up in West Virginia where she played and sang in church. By junior high school she led and accompanied the patient choir at the local state mental hospital, then as an adult took the Blues into schools and music therapy groups for people with developmental challenges.…

Photo of Ethan Leinwand

Ethan Leinwand


Barrelhouse blues pianist and preservationist based in St. Louis, MO, and a student of the music’s rich history and varied regional styles, Ethan Leinwand presents personal interpretations of many of the great (and forgotten) old-time masters.

Photo of John “Greyhound” Maxwell

John “Greyhound” Maxwell

Slide Guitar

John “Greyhound” Maxwell brings his singular approach to slide guitar and mandolin, paying homage to the craft and tradition of the masters, while infusing the music with fresh energy. David Lindley is quoted as saying, “John is the best bottleneck player I’ve heard in a long time.” With an approach that is authentic and understated, Maxwell plays with the warmth and dexterity of someone who has loved the blues over a lifetime.…

Photo of Tom Mitchell

Tom Mitchell


Tom Mitchell is a guitar player and singer rooted in the styles of the 1920’s and 30’s jazz, western swing, country blues and old-time music; he’s happily been both sideman and leader for a great variety of musical endeavors. In addition to singing and playing guitar, he’s played mandolin, banjo, tenor guitar or tiple when the need arose.…

Photo of Jerron Paxton

Jerron Paxton

New York

Jerron Paxton is a skilled interpreter of Black traditional music, having spent his life learning the multifaceted musical dialects of blues, old-time, ragtime, and Cajun music and playfully dressing them up in their brightest hues. He is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, playing guitar, banjo, piano, fiddle and other instruments with deep histories and ties to Black American music — each with a master’s touch.…

Photo of Nick Pence

Nick Pence


Nick Pence is a well-known guitar player from St. Louis. Nick plays with The Bottlesnakes, The Dust Covers or The New Missouri Fox Hunters. These two have worked together in the past, including forming a gospel group The Houndsteeth.

Photo of Mark Puryear

Mark Puryear


Mark Puryear is a musician, ethnomusicologist, and curator. For the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, he curated the 2011 Rhythm and Blues: Tell It Like It Is program as well as the Freedom Sounds event that celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Photo of Lauren Sheehan

Lauren Sheehan

Band Lab

Lauren Sheehan brings her down-home music uptown, mixing old blues, early jazz and roots of country for a bluesbilly-good-time sound. Dubbed “Portland String Queen” by The Oregonian for her multi-instrumental prowess, Lauren is also known for her unforgettable voice and sings like “an angel with horns”, (Charlie Rowley, fan). She tours, teaches at Pacific University, and has recorded 5 CDs played on radio world-wide, including BBC, NPR, and BBKing’s Bluesville.…

Photo of Shirley Smith

Shirley Smith

Gospel Choir

Shirley Smith is a Detroit native who studied under the tutelage of one of Detroit’s premier harpists and vocal instructors, Patricia Terry-Ross, who was her teacher at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School. Shirley studied voice, piano, and harp under Mrs. Ross.

Photo of David Steele

David Steele


Dave began performing as a barroom acoustic solo guitarist and singer while attending Allegheny College in Northwest Pennsylvania in the 1970’s. During the 80’s, Steele expanded his interest to electric blues, as a founding member of the Zipper City Blues Band.

Photo of Clay Swafford

Clay Swafford


Firmly rooted in the blues tradition, Clay Swafford was raised in the small rural community of Providence, Alabama. Born into a musical family; he was immersed in the sounds of Baptist Hymnals, Country and Bluegrass. He took interest in the piano at an early age and, after hearing the music of B.B King and Bobby Blue Bland at age 15, Clay was hooked on the blues.…

Photo of Phil Wiggins

Phil Wiggins


Phil Wiggins is a versatile traditional harmonica player, continuing the Piedmont blues tradition, a gentle and melodic blues style of the mid-Atlantic region. He plays the diatonic ten-hole harmonica in the country blues style, cupping both hands around the instrument and playing acoustically.

Photo of Jontavious Willis

Jontavious Willis

Artistic Director, Acoustic Blues

Blues musician and multi-instrumentalist, Jontavious Willis, from Georgia, has been named Centrum’s Artistic Director for Acoustic Blues beginning in 2020.

Centrum has a variety of ways to be able to attend our workshops even if you’re on a budget. If you need financial assistance, Centrum has a robust tuition scholarship program awarded on a first-come, first-served; and as-needed basis.

Workshop tuition includes admission to everything including great seats at all public performances. We have room and board choices to keep your costs as affordable as possible. A full meal ticket is good for three meals per day.

Tuition, in-person: $640 (non-refundable deposit to hold your place: $100)
Tuition, youth rate: $540 (non-refundable deposit to hold your place: $100)
Room & board: $700
Meals only: $360

Those who stay on the Fort Worden campus are provided with private dorm rooms in Buildings 203 and 225 with shared bathrooms. There is late night jamming in Building 204 and jamming in Dorm 203. Dorm 225 will remain quiet, so folks can rest anytime. Choose the jam or quiet designation when signing up.

Apply online as you register. Please note that except in rare cases, scholarships are available for tuition only. Centrum requires a $50 deposit of scholarship applicants, which is fully refundable if you are unable to attend.
If you are interested in volunteering, or a work trade position, please contact Mary Hilts at mhilts@centrum (dot) org.

Cancellation/Refund Policy
Full payment is due June 17, 2024. If your full payment is not made at this time, your registration will be canceled; $100 of your deposit is nonrefundable.
Any fee that includes a room: no refunds available after June 17, 2024.
Tuition, meals, airport shuttle: no refunds available after June 17, 2024.

Meals are served at Fort Worden Commons. The first meal is dinner on Monday, July 29; the last meal is breakfast on Sunday, August 4, 2024.

Blues Travel Tips
Book flights to arrive Sea/Tac airport Monday July 29 by 1pm Pacific Time, and depart no earlier than noon on Sunday August 4th. Port Townsend is two hours from Sea/Tac on a good day.

If you’re interested in transportation from SeaTac Airport to Fort Worden, choose the shuttle option for when you register. The shuttle costs: $120 round-trip or $60 one-way.

Acoustic Blues shuttle schedule:
Arrive – Monday, July 29, 2024, pick-up at SEA/TAC airport, 2pm, Pacific Time.

Depart – Sunday, August 4, 2024, depart Centrum at Port Townsend, 9am sharp, Pacific Time.

If you have any more questions about Acoustic Blues, please contact Mary Hilts at 360-385-3102, x116, or mhilts@centrum (dot) org.

Find more answers - Centrum FAQs

There is no age or skill restriction however, to get the most out of the workshop, one should be familiar with your instrument and be able to move about on it.

Most of our workshops are family events, and we welcome musicians of all ages and abilities to participate. 

Info for Parents of Under-18 Participants
If under 18 and participating in the workshop, a parent or guardian over 21 years old must register and accompany the minor. Blues participants under 18 years of age are required to review a Centrum Student Contract. If staying in the dorm a parent or guardian must also stay in the dorm.

Coming Soon!

In 2023 Centrum presented THE BLUES TALKS for our online community, reflecting on Gospel, Acoustic Blues and Early Electric Blues with three 30-minute conversations over three days, streamed live at Fort Worden to PT Blues workshop participants.

Hosted by Mark Puryear, the sessions began with an exploration of the thin line between Gospel and Blues. A panel of faculty artists brought up in gospel shared their thoughts. The second session focused on early acoustic blues, its importance in people’s culture socially, its origins, how it changed the world and more. Our artist faculty steeped in knowledge of early blues shared this panel. The Third and final session spoke to how the blues are not static, how they evolved, and how the musicians evolved. We explored the evolution of the blues and early electric blues with a panel of artist faculty who play both.

This series is available on the Centrum Foundation YouTube channel.

We are still planning our online offerings for 2024 and will post that information here in the spring of 2024

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