Bluegrass and acoustic music enthusiasts now have a chance to develop their skills outside of organic jam sessions at Pickin’ in the Pines or workshops at the Flagstaff Folk Festival.
The inaugural Roots and Boots Music Camp will be held June 25-28 at the Arizona Nordic Village. Enrollment is open to musicians age 19 and up, and prices will go from $685 per person to $725 beginning May 2 through June 15. Campsites at the village can accommodate rigs from tents to RVs, and food will be provided throughout the week. Visit www.rootsandbootsmusiccamp.com for more information.
Roots and Boots offers immersion classes in different tracks – guitar, mandolin, fiddle or banjo. There will also be elective courses on the history of the bluegrass genre, singing and songwriting techniques and more.
The adult summer camp is the brainchild of Julie Sullivan Brace, co-founder and artistic director of Pickin’ in the Pines. She said it's not enough to have jam sessions and short workshops with musicians in the community during annual summer festivals.
“That’s kind of where my desire sprung from, being involved with that and being a member of Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music because we have these regular campouts and we all just go out in the woods and play music until our fingers bleed and just enjoy being in nature, camping, playing music with friends,” she said.
The Nordic Village’s location among a mixed conifer forest with expansive trails along with yurts and tents offered ideal conditions for Sullivan Brace's vision of holding classes outside surrounded by nature.
“It’s soothing and relaxing, and I think you can kind of forget about the rest of the super busy, hectic manufactured world that we have to live in to make our livelihood and such,” she said. “You just feel so good and relaxed and comforted in nature, and I think that really supports a learning environment, too.”
Sullivan Brace emphasizes that the camp is for adult musicians who have some familiarity with their instrument but perhaps need more guidance with more technical aspects. Students can sign up to be in a novice-intermediate track or an intermediate-advance track.
Instructors were hand-picked by Sullivan Brace with their varied expertise and teaching styles in mind. The list of those involved reads like a who’s who in bluegrass and folk music with Rebekah and Matt Rolland of Run Boy Run, John Reischman, K.C. Groves, Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin and Avram Siegel.
McLaughlin said he and Brashear were passing through Flagstaff on their way to the San Juan River when Sullivan Brace was brainstorming and suggested doing a music camp similar to ones held in other cities.
“It sounded exciting to me so I was drawn to it early on, and I think Chris and I were the first ones to get on board,” he said.
At Roots and Boots, McLaughlin will teach various picking and improvisation techniques along with other skills to the intermediate and advanced guitar students.
McLaughlin has been performing and teaching the past 50 years thanks to an appreciation of music ingrained early on. His parents were musicians, and he and his brother grew up surrounded by bluegrass music.
“We didn’t watch TV after dinner, we went into the room where all the instruments were, the music room, and just played music after dinner,” McLaughlin said. “My parents always instilled that importance of having music in your life and not only listening to good music and seeing live music, but also actually actively participating.”
He’s taken that lesson and run with it, playing in groups such as Flying South and The Sonoran Dogs over the years, offering workshops and teaching private lessons at his home in Tucson. McLaughlin understands practice is the key to success.
“Life gets busy, but I always make time in the day to play my guitar at least a little bit,” he said. “Learning and sharing it with other people is a real rewarding thing for me, too, because when I am with an audience or with a student, just seeing them enjoy that or learn something, participate in the sharing, it’s the kind of job that’s not stressful. Music and teaching music is something I’ve always enjoyed.”
It offers him a respite from the stressful environment of his day job as a city planner where he said he often deals with frustrated people.
“When I play music I‘m not dealing with any of that,” he said. “When I’m outdoors and away from the city life, I feel like it clears my mind and I can write better. I’d say 80 to 90 percent of my songs have been about something related to a river or a canyon.”
Both McLaughlin and Sullivan Brace said they look forward to seeing where the camp goes in the future as they believe in the power of musical collaboration.
“It’s such a fun and sweet way to connect with people and it’s a universal language. Your cares, politics, everything just goes away,” Sullivan Brace said. “You can go into the zone with music and there’s something so freeing about that that makes you feel present. I think we need more of that.”