Tuesday, 26 September 2017 11:44

Pickin’ and grinnin’: Acoustic music camp offers personalized instruction and the chance to jam with an all-star lineup

Written by  Marla R. Miller
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Set on the shores of Lake Michigan, the inaugural Great Lakes Music Camp welcomes students and music lovers to learn about and enjoy the many styles and sounds of traditional Americana, roots and folk music. 

The three-day acoustic music camp, running Oct. 6-8, includes small, personalized group sessions and two benefit concerts at Camp Blodgett. The instructors are some of the finest acoustic musicians in the country, and the camp is open to all skill levels, ages 12 and up.

With various registration and lodging packages, campers can come for the day or spend the entire weekend waking up to lake views and immersing themselves in the camp experience. Plus, a portion of proceeds from the camp and two public concerts support Camp Blodgett and The Grand River Water Festival. 

The Oct. 7 concert features The Matt Flinner Trio, Don Julin and Fauxgrass. On Oct. 8, Betse & Clarke and the Hawks & Owls String Band will perform during a contra dance. Led by a professional caller, the public can experience the spirit and community of traditional dance. 

Registration is underway now and closes Sept. 13. With the camp already two-thirds full (at time of reporting), musicians are encouraged to sign up to secure a spot, said the camp’s Executive Director Jason Wheeler. He wanted a low barrier to entry, so pricing ranges from $200 to $750, and the camp has a youth scholarship program for participants 16 years old and younger.

A local entrepreneur and musician, Wheeler has had the idea to host such a camp in West Michigan brewing for several years. After playing guitar and mandolin for nearly 20 years — attending similar camps and touring the country with the progressive bluegrass band Fauxgrass for seven years — Wheeler said he wanted to offer a similar experience in an inspiring, natural setting and handpick his “dream team” to share insights and talents. He also has a young family, which means less time for travel, and the camp is a way to give back and carry on old-time tunes and traditions.  

The camp offers guitar, mandolin and fiddle instruction from award-winning musicians: Don Julin, author of “Mandolin for Dummies;” Darol Anger, founding member/violinist of the award-winning David Grisman Quintet; plus Kenny Smith, Betse Ellis, Ross Martin, Matt Flinner, Hayes Griffin and Bruce Ling.

“My passion for music and community drove me to do this,” Wheeler said. “This is a way to keep music a full-time venture without having to fly all over the world, and to create another healthy piece to the already thriving West Michigan music scene.”

Limited to 30 campers, the weekend is designed with smaller classes in mind, affording personal time with instructors to hang out and play. The goal is for participants to leave with new techniques, skills and inspiration to carry on and pass along.

“Music is about building community and having fun together,” Wheeler said. “I hope everyone learns a lot and has a great time.”

While GLMC is a for-profit venture, Wheeler partnered with local nonprofit The Grand River Water Festival (GRWF), an environmentally inspired music festival that takes place in Grand Rapids in June, to serve as the fiduciary for the camp.

“I’ve had many students over the years who I’ve passed on songs, tunes and stories to, Jason being one of them,” said Bruce Ling, an instructor, performer and president of The Grand River Water Festival. “He’s been talking about a music camp as long as I’ve known him.”

The camp includes performances by the instructors, along with classes, discussions, demonstrations and circle jam sessions. 

“It’s a smaller camp, with three to five students per teacher — you’re getting real up-close and personal attention,” Ling said. 

The camp’s secondary goal is to raise money and awareness for traditional music education programs, local water quality issues and environmental causes, using a portion of funds raised through the public concerts, beer sales, sponsorships and tuition donated to Camp Blodgett and The Grand River Water Festival.

Ling — skilled on numerous instruments including fiddle, mandolin, mandola, guitar, viola, banjo and cello — teaches and performs with the Hawks and Owls String Band. He is also a keeper of musical “oral tradition,” the passage of knowledge from older to younger generations.

“It’s an acoustic music camp dealing with styles of music from roots traditional to swing improvisational,” he said. “In addition to that, we are really environmentalists in this whole thing. There’s a spiritual aspect to this. There’s a spiritual aspect to the music and the building of community through musical involvement.”


Great Lakes Music Camp

Camp Blodgett

10451 Lakeshore Dr., West Olive

Camp Oct. 6-8, public concerts Oct. 7-8 

greatlakesmusic.org, (616) 437-1519

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