Friday, July 11, 2014

Pete Wernick's Bluegrass Camp at Silver Bay, NY

The Inn at Silver Bay

Over the past decade or so, Irene and I have attended and participated in Pete Wernick's Jam Camps a number of times at four different locations. I went to my first Jam Camp as a very beginning banjo player when they were first located in the Walker Center at MerleFest. Later the camps were moved to Camp Harrison, a lovely YMCA facility near Wilkesboro. Lately, Irene has been attending the Jam Camp prior to the Gettysburg in May. On a lovely, cool Wednesday morning, after huge thunderstorms had knocked out electricity in 68,000 homes in northern New York, we drove down to Silver Bay to spend the morning with Pete's newest venture, a bluegrass oriented comprehensive music camp, including jam instruction, individual instrumental instruction, performance, and much more at the wonderful Silver Bay Association's YMCA camp on Lake George in the southern Adirondack Mountains. Lake George is one of the most beautiful lakes in America, and Silver Bay an ideal place to hold a conference, family reunion, or virtually any other kind of event. Founded in 1902, it recalls a day and time quickly being lost in the mists of a seldom glimpsed American past while providing comfort, activities, and opportunities for relaxation and contemplation seldom found today. The fifty-two people, young and not-so-young, experienced and beginner, knowledgeable or tyro who showed up were in for an unusual treat.

Pete Wernick Open the Third Day of Camp

Pete Wernick needs no introduction as a musician, teacher, or leader in bluegrass music. Read his bio on his web site here. The camp at Silver Bay represents an expansion of his vision and outreach into a more comprehensive camp including individual instrumental instruction focused at all levels, jam instruction, singing, harmony, song writing, rhythm and lead playing, band lab, and more. His flexibility is such that he solicits input from the class and adjusts the schedule daily to meet personal needs. 

Morning Meeting in the Boathouse

Pete Adjusting the Schedule On-the-Fly

From the Boathouse

The Staff
Ellen Carlson Leading a Jam on Bass

The staff for one of Pete's camps is always good, however the group brought together for this camp was highly experienced and large enough to provide widespread support and mentorship. Drawn largely from New England and New York, they represent fine musicianship, membership in top bands, and unusual teaching skill focused on meeting the needs of the group and its individuals. Never once did I see an instructor flaunt his or her ability to show class members "how it's done." Bob Amos, formerly of Front Range and now fronting Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing is a standout teacher. So's Ira Gitlin, a regular at Pete's camps and director of his own jam camps. Alan Epstein, Bob Althschuler, Joan Wernick, and Harry Gambrill on Dobro each led groups with skill and sensitivity to the self-consciousness of many emerging musicians.

Ira Gitlin Leading Jam

Bob Althschuler (Rt) Leading Jam

Pete Wernick Watches as Bob Altschuler Teaches

Alan Epstein Teaching

Bob Amos (Left) Teaching

Joan Wernick (Left Rear) Working with Her Jam

The architecture of Silver Bay is reminiscent of early twentieth century Adirondack rustic with modern conveniences. Beautifully manicured lawns and gardens surround spacious buildings well-designed for practice, performance, large and small group classes. The physical layout of the site is conducive to a flexibly designed program meeting the needs of a diverse community of campers with a desire to improve their bluegrass efforts.

Alan Epstein Helps a Jam

...with Pete Observing

A careful look at the Camp design suggests nothing less than a sumptuous bluegrass buffet. Mornings focus on small group jams followed by instrument classes for each bluegrass instrument taught at beginning and intermediate levels. Afternoons (optional) are divided into a wide variety of small group interest sessions. Here's a sample of some of the sessions: harmony singing, slow jams, elementary bass, songwriting, how to carry a tune, banjo, guitar, mandolin, gear to aid practice, band lab (coaching for bands), and more. Sessions are repeated often enough to allow campers to attend several during the week. 

The Field Building

Bob Altschuler Teaches Banjo Class in the Auditorium

Evenings feature open mic sessions, instructor band shows, Vespergrass (songs for Chapel service), bluegrass history and movies, student band performances, and the week ends with a Concert featuring the instructor bands and student bands created during the week, which was open to the other people staying at Silver Bay. In other words, the Silver Bay experience looks a lot like a cruise ship. Add to this a very active day-camp program led by Silver Bay Emps (employees) along with plenty of places to find peace and quiet, and you have an ideal situation for a bluegrass family to spend a week learning, jamming, playing, exercising, swimming, and so much more. 

The prices for bluegrass camp are as flexible as the schedule. Basic camp costs $225 for five days and includes the morning and evening schedules. For an additional $125 campers can enroll in the afternoon program or opt out for using the Silver Bay facilities - swimming, boating, hiking, tennis, or just finding a quiet place to enjoy a book or make some sense out of what they've been learning. And always, as at all Pete's camps, spontaneous jams emerge. Accommodations at Silver Bay run from modest to quite expensive and generally include meals. For further information about the range and cost, check here. While you're at it, look further into all that Silver Bay offers.

Ellen Carlson (with guitar) Teaches Fiddle Class

Me Practicing Beginner Licks....

Delicious Buffet Lunch in the Cafeteria

Pete Wernick has designed and implemented a bold new approach to a bluegrass music camp held over a five day span at Silver Bay Conference and Retreat Center on beautiful Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York.  The group that assembled there this week was diverse in background, age, gender, and means brought together by their love for and interest in bluegrass music. They were provided with first rate instruction and allowed to grow at their own rate. The environment was friendly, remarkably non-competitive, and supportive. Pete is, perhaps, the foremost educator and practitioner of the principles of ear training and improvisation as the appropriate way to learn to play bluegrass instruments. A week spent at Silver Bay for his Bluegrass Camp would be time and money well spent for an individual or as a site for a family learning vacation.

Bluegrass Camp Group Photo

Kayaks Heading Out for an Afternoon Paddle