Toss out the bunk beds and bug juice for two “senior” men who head to their respective camps to focus on improving their musical acumen.
Roy Cranman (guitar) and Tracy Holzer (harmonica) periodically return to camp like homing pigeons as they seek out expert teachers and peer interaction.
Cranman has been to six sessions of Guitar Workshop Plus, beginning in 2018, for five days each session. Four times the trek was to Nashville and twice to San Diego. Anywhere from 30 to 60 campers pay $1,800 to $2,500 per session, respectively.
He stated, “Instructions are for specific genres or instruments (rock, country, blues, acoustic, drums, voice, bass) plus electives. Seminars range from music theory to gear. There are nightly performances — some by instructors, some by famous guest artists, and two nights by the students.”
Cranman added that the instructors are often college music professors with degrees and/or years of performance experience.
“Last summer’s featured guest was Nathan East, Eric Clapton’s bass player, and one of the most recorded living bassists.”
In 2018, Cranman was placed in a group with both beginners and highly skilled guitarists.
He said, “Our instructor (a New York City public school teacher) was awesome. He catered to the differing skill levels and kept everyone engaged. He provided great insight into playing and theory. Many things he said then didn’t make sense to me until several years later. The better players took me under their wings. I performed one song with our class and was scared to death but got through it. Stage fright is now a thing of the past.”
Camp was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID. Being disappointed, several campers started bi-weekly Zoom calls and formed their own camp in Atlanta with Cranman serving as volunteer manager. Their band, The Georgia Peach Jam, had nine “campers” and was held at Temple Emanu-El.
“Even though the Guitar Workshop Plus camp resumed in 2022, everyone had so much fun in Atlanta, that they insisted on repeating in 2022 and 2023 at Congregation B’nai Torah. [The] 2024 dates have already been reserved … from a Jewish perspective, it’s pretty cool to see a rabbi from L.A. come here to play Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. Camp has provided me with music education, improved skills, and many new friends, and the confidence to start a band with local friends.”
Are You Experienced?
Meanwhile, Holzer’s Harmonica Experience Camp is held every May and September in Clarksdale, Miss., in the Shack Up Inn, a remodeled cotton ginning facility. The cost is $1,350 and included an evening meal. Lodging and all other food and beverages were extra. The camp runs for six days with the last featuring a performance for each student. Each camper has his or her own 10-hole, diatonic harmonica. Holzer had been playing the harmonica for 10-plus years and got much more focused during the pandemic.
Holzer recalled his experiences at the camp, saying, “With 20 participants and four instructors, the camp facility was very cool with the old cotton gins and memorabilia. The camp was all music during the day, and nights had a full band that we jammed with in the bar at the Inn. The bar was a full-blown stage with lots of kitsch!!!”
The group had free time at night and on Saturday before performances. That left time to see Clarksdale, home of the Delta Blues music scene. Holzer confirmed, “It’s known for being the ‘Crossroads’ at Highway 61 where Robert Johnson made his pact with the devil. He disappeared one day, as the legend goes, and returned as the greatest blues musician in the world!”
His four instructors were all professional musicians and excellent teachers. The days were very busy, but relaxed, he said. Classes started at 10 a.m., after yoga class at 9.
Holzer said, “At 4, the band would crank up, and we would have a jam session and cocktails until dinner at 7. After dinner, we were back jamming.
“On the last day, we all got to pick a song and perform for the group and bar crowd.”
Holzer concluded, “My skill level improved exponentially. Having been, basically ‘self-taught,’ there were so many things that I just had little or no idea how to do. I had taken many online courses and video lessons, but to have professional instruction live was a game changer.”