Dear Aunt Sarah,
Thank you so much for sending me the link to your online posting of “Jambalaya.” I enjoyed all 12 verses, although not in one sitting. And let me be the first to say that those guitar lessons are really paying off, because you were able to switch back and forth between the song’s two chords fairly easily.
As for me, nothing does more for my guitar playing than a week at Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, where I spent my vacation last week. It’s on a pine forested lakefront in Bremerton, Washington, about 90 minutes from Seattle.
PSGW is a camp that’s been in operation for 44 years. In that time, they’ve absolutely perfected their operation to the degree that everything runs incredibly smoothly.
I like to think of it as the Big Bang from which all other guitar camps originated.
Why, you ask, would an adult want to spend a hard-earned vacation at a music camp? Well, imagine a week spent with other enthusiastic guitar players, free from the worries of everyday life, where the only decisions you have to make are which of the many excellent classes you’ll attend, which workshops you’ll take advantage of, and which spontaneous jams you’ll join. That’s what last week was like for me. I ended up choosing classes on music theory, flat picking, and singing harmony. After the classes, Dave (a guy I met at camp) and I hopped into a canoe and paddled around the lake. Dave lives in my town and likes the same kind of music I do, so we’re going to become music buddies and do open mics together.
And that’s one of the best things about camp, Aunt Sarah. It brings together people who have a passion for playing music, people you’d never meet any other way … people you might just become lifelong friends with.
After paddling around in the canoe or swimming in the lake, I went to one of the various workshops. One day I attended a bluegrass workshop, another day it was a Beatles sing-along, and another day the focus was on Irish music.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, How much music can one sane person stand? As it turns out, the answer is . . . quite a lot. Which is why I’d spend many evenings after dinner strolling from cabin to cabin in an effort to find a jam that suited my mood. And I always found exactly what I was looking for. No, I don’t always want to play the guitar in these jams; sometimes I just want to listen or sing.
I often find myself getting weepy at the sight of a beginner volunteering to perform, knees knocking on stage, getting past the first few timid chords, and finally settling into the song.
Okay, I know what else you’re thinking: I’m not good enough to play guitar in front of other people. Well, a lot of people who go to camp for the first time are terrified that they’re somehow not good enough to appreciate the experience, and might very well embarrass themselves. But in my five years of attending PSGW, I’ve never seen that happen. On the contrary, the camp offers classes and workshops for players of any level, from someone who doesn’t know which direction the sound hole is supposed to face . . . to people who regularly gig.
And everywhere you look, there’s support and encouragement for what you do.
For example, the other evening I was sitting by the lake, watching the sun set, and struggling to get a decent tone when I did a pull-off. An instructor happened to be walking by. She mentioned that she loved my playing on the song I was working on, and asked if I needed help with the pull-offs. And, in ten seconds, she totally fixed the problem I was having. That’s the kind of spontaneous support that happens dozens of times a day at camp. Sometimes it’s one of the instructors helping and encouraging; sometimes it’s another camper. The bottom line is that there’s always judgment-free help available to those who need it.
Which, by the way, is everyone.
There are two activities that alone are worth the price of attending the camp: the teacher concert and the student concert. The teacher concert is just mind-blowing. I mean, where else can you see about 15 working professional musicians taking their turn on stage, each doing two or three songs that just leave you breathless with the skill and energy they’re displaying?
And the student concert?
Every time I see one, I often find myself getting weepy at the sight of a beginner volunteering to perform, knees knocking on stage, getting past the first few timid chords, and finally settling into the song. It’s at moments like that when I feel privileged to witness an event so important in their lives. Oh, and one more thing: all of the instructors are available as backup musicians.
Can you imagine that?
Need a lead guitarist, a mandolin player, a fiddler, or a cellist? Just take your pick from among some of the finest professional musicians you’ll ever hear. Or you can perform with other campers.
In closing, I just want to stress the main benefit of going to camp—I mean, aside from all the support, camaraderie, and new friends I make. It’s what it does for my motivation. I can take lessons at my local guitar shop, watch online videos, and even go to local open mics. But nothing stokes the flames like a week at Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. I leave there each time absolutely rabid to put into practice all the incredible things I’ve learned over the week and to reconnect with some of the people I’ve met.
You really should consider going next year, Aunt Sarah. It’ll do wonders for your playing, and you’ll come away feeling inspired to practice what you’ve learned. You may even find a friend there who can teach you the other 17 verses to “Jambalaya.”
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The Puget Sound Guitar Workshop offers three summer guitar camp sessions, as well as late-summer, fall, and winter retreats. Get details at pugetsoundguitarworkshop.org.