playing guitar acoustic blues program at Centrum

ProgramMusicAcoustic Blues

Registration for our 2024 Workshop opens January 2, 2024

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

Attend The Next Session

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 the mainstage Saturday afternoon, and tuition includes admission to that concert. 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 choir is led by Shirley Smith. Tuition for choir only is $175.


Photo of Todd Cambio

Todd Cambio


Todd Cambio is the owner and builder of Fraulini Guitars. Todd has played music his whole life, with a focus on traditional American blues, rags, and old time. As a teenager he played blues with old timers in Chicago and spent time in his 20’s as a street musician playing country blues and ragtime.…

Photo of Pamela English

Pamela English


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 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 Justin Golden

Justin Golden


With roots in the Mississippi Delta, Chicago, and the Piedmont of Virginia, Richmond-based guitarist and songwriter Justin Golden’s origins are deeply vested in the blues.

Photo of Jayy Hopp

Jayy Hopp


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 Chaz Leary

Chaz Leary


Though comfortable in all forms of our diverse American musical heritage, Washboard Chaz Leary has achieved dominance and international recognition in acoustic country blues.

Photo of Corey Ledet

Corey Ledet


Corey Ledet was born and raised in Houston, Texas, but spent his summers in Parks, Louisiana immersed at all times in the Creole culture. He learned everything he could so he could incorporate the culture in all areas of his life – the traditions, the food, and most importantly, the music. His love for the Creole/Zydeco music was instant and hard for him to ignore.…

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 Rodrigo Mantovani

Rodrigo Mantovani


Born and raised in Brazil, Rodrigo has always had a deep love for American blues and roots music from a very young age. Rodrigo has been a member of some of the first ground breaking Blues bands in Brazil and because of his deep knowledge regarding the Traditional Blues, expertise and feel for the Blues, he has also been a first call bassist for many of the premier American Blues acts touring and recording with heavy weights of the Blues scene

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 Bobby Rush

Bobby Rush


Bobby Rush was born Emmett Ellis, Jr. outside Homer, Louisiana, in 1933. He twanged a diddley bow before picking up a guitar around age 11, and his preacher father knew enough about a harmonica to pass along a few riffs to his progeny. The family relocated to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1948.

While still a teenager, Rush became a professional blues musician, adopting his stage name so as not to disrespect his devout dad.…

Photo of Shirley Smith

Shirley Smith


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 Ian B Walters

Ian B Walters


Ian B. Walters plays spirited, updated blues and standards as well as contemporary tunes. Known for his unique piano sound, dripping with soul vocals, and all-around good vibes, Ian’s inventive interpretations of great old songs make them new again.

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: $620 (non-refundable deposit to hold your place: $100)
Tuition, on-line: $120
Tuition, youth and/or scholarship rate: $520 (non-refundable deposit to hold your place: $50)
Room & board: $680
Meals only: $340

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 30, 2023. If your full payment is not made by July 7, 2023, your registration will be canceled; $100 of your deposit is nonrefundable.
Any fee that includes a room: no refunds available after July 7, 2023.
Tuition, meals, airport shuttle: no refunds available after July 7, 2023.

Meals are served at Fort Worden Commons. The first meal is dinner on Monday, July 31; the last meal is breakfast on Sunday, August 6.

Blues Travel Tips
Book flights to arrive Sea/Tac airport Monday July 31 by 1pm Pacific Time, and depart no earlier than noon on Sunday August 6th. 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 31, 2023, pick-up at SEA/TAC airport, 2pm, Pacific Time.
Depart – Sunday, August 6, 2023, depart Centrum at Port Townsend, 9am, 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!

This year Centrum presents THE BLUES TALKS for our online community.  In this series we will reflect on 30 years of Centrum’s Blues workshop/festival with three 30-minute conversations over three days, streamed live at Fort Worden to PT Blues workshop participants.

Hosted by Mark Puryear, the sessions will begin with an exploration of the thin line between Gospel and Blues. A panel of faculty artists brought up in gospel will share their thoughts. The second session will focus 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 will share this panel. The Third and final session will speak to how the blues are not static, how they evolved, and how the musicians evolved. We will explore the evolution of the blues and early electric blues with a panel of artist faculty who play both.

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