Music Camp vs. Music Festivals

I’m a big music fan, in case you hadn’t noticed. I love to make music; I love to watch and listen as other people make music. So I naturally gravitate to summertime music camps and festivals. I love to read the lineups for music festivals and to imagine going to see all those wonderful performers. But the couple of times I’ve actually gone were not at all what I had pictured. Maybe I need more personal space than the average festival attendee. Maybe my tolerance for lack of privacy is not what it used to be. Maybe sitting on a camp chair, craning my neck to see past the large man on the camp chair ahead of me, just isn’t my thing. Maybe I should try again. I want to like it. But I don’t.

music camp - a jam in the woods

Jamming in the woods

Music camp, on the other hand, is everything I imagined and more. At music camp, you not only get to see and listen to fabulous performers, you get to learn from them, interact with them, share your own musical talents with them and with your fellow campers. Usually someone else cooks and does the dishes while you go to inspiring classes and jam with amazing people. Heaven.

My first experience at music camp was as a young teen: Cazadero. The name still conjures for me, 50 years later. Beautiful redwoods, a creek with a swimming hole. Inspiring directors of the band, choir and orchestra. Two weeks of (co-ed, yippee!) music and swimming and slow dancing. It was great. I remember walking through the redwood forest and hearing people playing flutes and violins. Music in nature; what could be better?

California Coast Music Camp

Calfiornia Coast Music Camp teachers concert

Since then, I’ve attended several music camps. The California Coast Music Camp (CCMC) in California qualifies as my favorite. I’ve been four times during its 22-year history, the first being its maiden year in Aptos, California near where I lived at the time. Having moved twice since that first year, CCMC now takes place at a camp in the California foothills near Auburn.

That first year was a real eye-opener for me. Imagine spending a whole week with nothing to do but make music! Unfortunately, the nothing includes sleeping, but you recover from the sleep deprivation eventually.

At CCMC, you can choose up to three classes per day (they don’t have to be the same ones every day, although you’re likely to get more out of attending continuously). There are also spontaneous and planned workshops, jams, collaborations, concerts and dances. The teachers and classes are rigorously chosen to satisfy the eclectic tastes and skill levels of the attendees: everything from Doo-Wop Choir to Ukulele Big Band; from Beginning Guitar to Jazz Vocals. You don’t have to play an instrument to attend; there are always beginning classes available.

Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I look forward to someday attending CCMC’s parent camp, the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. PSGW follows the same format, and in fact was the inspiration for, CCMC, but takes place near Bremerton, Washington. Some of the same instructors teach at both camps.

I’ve also been to a weekend camp on Vancouver Island called, creatively, the Vancouver Island Music Workshop. VIMW offers two camps per year, one with classes (the Workshop) and one without (the Retreat). The Workshop follows the same pattern as CCMC and PSGW, while the Retreat offers a chance to jam with, and learn from, other musicians. Since jamming is one of the most fun parts of music camp, the Retreat is definitely worthwhile.

Have you ever been to music camp? What about a music festival? Please share your experiences with our readers.

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