Another summer, another exhilarating, whirlwind tour of the “fiddle camp” scene for this overenthusiast, sending me on a six-week non-stop zigzagging journey to places as close to home as Mt. Shasta, CA and as far off as Pilsen, Czech Republic.
Some highlights: performing a piece by Edgar Meyer with Edgar himself; talking Mozart over wine (or was it wine over Mozart?) with some European Classical music cognoscenti; leading a small army of twelve-year-olds in a musical “raid” against some older students; and jamming with actor and surprise-banjoist Ed Helms (the Office, the Hangover). But this barely scratches the surface…
Do you want to know what really happened at fiddle camp this summer?
First, some personal background: music camps, and fiddle camps in particular, have been a big part of my life. Huge. Throughout my teenage years, they played a vital role in my development not only as a musician but also as a person in other ways. Back then, I would attend as a student – now I usually teach – but I still come to the camps for the same reasons: to be a part of an amazing community, to learn all I can about music and friendship, and to have a funky good time in the process.
At Mark O’Connor’s fiddle camp, held at a state park outside of Nashville every June, the weather tends to be as hot and fast as the jam sessions. This year was intense. At one point, Andy Leftwich (Ricky Scaggs’ fiddler) and I took refuge in a cabin with an electric fan for a couple hours and co-wrote a fiddle tune based off a Bill Monroe bluegrass lick; we performed it that evening. Andy is a terrific fiddler, and he’s one of the many friends I’ve made through camps over the years.
I also got to hang and play with original Turtle Island member Darol Anger at a camp we were both teaching at in California. Come to think of it, fiddle camps are in a big way responsible for my joining TIQ. As I teenager I would learn from Darol at the camps; I remember one epic late-night jam session with him when I was about seventeen. He’s always been very generous, and, from the time initially spent with him at the camps and later as a member of his group “Republic of Strings,” I learned a lot about different ways to groove and improvise on a stringed instrument – techniques that are central to what we do in Turtle Island.
But I love the students at the camps just as much as I love the teachers; students can be of any age, but they tend to be on the younger side. I don’t usually need an excuse to act half my age, but it definitely helps… The afore-mentioned musical “raid” in which a pack of fiddle-wielding twelve-year-olds and I took on the older students was victorious, in case you’re wondering. There’s quite a tradition of these kinds of raids, and not just during the day; if you come to camp, make sure you sleep in the “quiet” section if you plan to actually get any rest.
There’s so much more to tell – cathartic 4 AM jam sessions, a comical venture into banjo, sparkling evening lake-swims, the flattering experience of hearing younger musicians jamming on my original tunes, and more challenges than I’m letting on; I even performed Dvorak in a faculty string quartet at the classical academy in the Czech Republic and coached them on a performance of “Skylife,” by our very own David Balakrishnan (I’m never far off from Turtle Island). All in all: another summer, another tour of the acoustic music world – another happy JK, grateful to get to be a part of it all. -Jeremy