Some of you reading this might have arrived having been accepted into the next Bass/Nature Camp and are looking for hints on what to expect from the camp. First of all, congradulations on being accepted! You're in for a whirlwind experience, one of which you are not likely to ever forget. However, if you want a play-by-play of what you're going to go through, you're not going to find that here. Not only is it really hard to put into words what happens at camp, you'll have a better time and get more from the experience if you go in without any preconceptions.
Accordingly, there are a number of things about camp that I will not tell you:
What I will generally tell you:
What I will tell you about my experiences specifically:
Finally, thanks to Rob for all his help with both the FAQ and the recollections of the trip.
On the way back, we did straight from Nashville to DC. It's a thirteen hour drive one way, and we were already bone tired. Seeing some really bad wrecks along the way (one rig rolled into another one, crushing the cab like a beer can) didn't help all that much. Right around Harrisonburg (and midnight or so), Donovan and Rob both sacked out, leaving me all alone to drive. We made it safely (obviously), but only through extensive use of pinching myself, slapping myself and doing other methods of pain induction to stay awake. Judicious use of Krispy Kreme doughnuts helped out as well.
One of the things that I most noticed about the camp was watching the students grow (including myself). Not just as bass players, but as people and musicians in general. Hopefully, one of the main things to take away from this experience for everyone is to listen. I have thought that I do a good job of that when I play, but now I realize how much more I need to listen and how much of a difference it makes when I do.
All of the students really formed a bond with each other as well. More than just being in the same place for a week, I found that we each opened up to each other quite a bit, sharing not only the details of our lives but our inner thoughts and feelings. I'm not the kind of person who is open and sharing by any stretch of the imagination, so if I'm doing that, then you know that this is not the normal, everyday ordinary experience.
Each of the staffers gave some parting wisdom before we broke to leave. We campers also gave something back. Over the last day or two, I had pestered all of the students to sign a camp shirt. We gave it to Victor as a very small token of our thanks and appreciation.
Early in the morning, the camp held a raffle, giving away lots of swag from D'addario and Fodera, a few Fodera practice amps, a few scholarships (BootCamp and Bass At The Beach), a small combo from Peavey, a combo from Ampeg, a donated four string from Aria and a brand new VIctor Wooten issue Fodera.
One guy (Chad Young) won both guitars. Congratulations. I want to hate you, but I can't. I didn't win anything in the raffle, but, as far as I'm concerned, I won the only raffle that counts in that I got to attend the camp at all.
Saturday just happened to coincide with Victor's 40th birthday. We had a free form jam, four or five bassists at a time with Roy Wooten, Derico Watson or J.D. Blair on drums (just back from touring with Shania) and the occasional guest on other instruments. Everyone who wanted to play got up, took a solo or laid back, holding the groove.
For myself, when I was up on stage, I didn't do much in the way of soloing. There were four other bass players up there, each trying to find their space to solo. So, I let them go, laying down as good a groove as I could while locking in with Derico's drumline. I did do the occasional fill here and there, but that was about it. I had a great time doing it, though.
Rob got up twice for the jam session. The first time, he was on stage for about two minutes when the next group was shuffled on en masse. But, he did make it back up later on, playing with J.D..
About midway through the jam session, Victor and J.D. started to jam together, playing U Can't Hold No Groove and a version of Me And My Bass Guitar. For me, this was such a great experience. I caught the A Show Of Hands tour when it was just J.D. and Victor, so this was a nice return home to the stripped down sound.
A very special guest who stopped by that evening was Bob Moore. Mr. Moore was Elvis Presley's bass player, along with performing on over 18,000 sessions and 621(!!) number one songs. It was an honor to have met him.
At the end of the evening, Mama Wooten got up to say a few words. She told some funny and touching stories about Victor when he was a child. While she was talking, my bass -- my baby -- fell off it's resting place and onto the ground. I couldn't curse anywhere near as much as I had wanted to, so I just shrugged and tried to play it off.
Early in the morning, we were asked to come into the main hall for a special event. Sitting on a stool, in front of all of us, not six feet away from me was Stanley Clarke. Stanley Clarke!! One of my idols, the first real jazz I ever listened to, standing right in front of us.
As I'm writing this, it's been a week or so (I told you I was going to backdate posts), and I'm still all a-giddy from meeting Stanley. If you aren't familiar with Mr. Clarke's work, let me try to explain it to you. Imagine going to a basketball conference where Michael Jordan is there, Larry Bird is hanging around, Shaq and Kobe lounging in the back, and then meeting Wilt Chamberlain -- someone who was a mentor/idol to all these amazing people around, someone who completely redefined his pursuit. I really can't quite describe the feeling adequately.
We had a Q&A session. For the most part, the questions were pretty good, and Stanley was surprisingly open with his answers. He talked about how he got started, who he studied and idolized, what the price of fame has been for him and where he thinks music (and the industry) are heading. Then he pulled out an upright and played a few songs for us. When he was done, he suggested to all of us that we should each own an upright, if (for no other reason) only to appreciate the history of the instrument, where bass has been and where it's going.
After a few questions, Stanley got out an upright and proceeded to play for us. I have had the good fortune to see Stanley play live once before, but that was nothing like this time around. I had the privilege of watching one of the most influential bass players to ever play perform from a distance of about two feet. Stanley played Touch (from the 1, 2 The Bass album) and his take on Charlie Parker's Confirmation.The best description I can come up with for this is a near religious experience.
Afterwards, Stanley hung around the camp for a while. While I really wanted to approach him and pay my respects, I tried to hold off. After I saw some other students talking with him, though, I lept at the chance. Not only was Mr. Clarke gracious enough to pose for a photograph, he also signed the headstock of my bass.
Will Lee, probably best known to most people as the house bass player for the David Letterman show, flew into town immediately after finishing taping the Friday show. He did a lot of playing and singing as well as answering a few questions from the crowd. He's one funny guy, I'll say that much. After the Q&A session, he invited Chuck Rainey up to play with him. They did a rendition of Steely Dan's Peg, complete with Lee mimicking the trumpet line with his mouth.
Will then invited Victor on stage, and they played together for about twenty minutes. The most amazing thing about their duet was how they completely controlled the entire crowd, even though they never played above 10 dB or so. Now, that's showmanship.
With an upcoming tour, Victor, Steve, Derico and Oteil took the day to rehearse their show. This was one of the more informative sessions for me. All they did was practice the songs, but it was not like very many practices I have had. They broke each song down, deciding what to keep and how to change it to fit the musicians at hand. Each time, they would start playing the song until some question or issue surfaced, then they would stop and work it out. Each time through the tune, it would fill out more, adding a chord coloring here, note choice there, a rhythmic progression or two until the song eventually became quite polished.
On the tour, they were playing on playing a few Jaco Pastorius tunes. Each musician took turns breaking down the song, talking about the passages and how they would voice their parts so as not to step on each other. They had their sheet much on the floor in front of them for reference.
One of the questions asked was how common is it for musicians to have to relearn their songs. Steve Bailey put it this way: "When I go over to Victor's house, there's never a Victor Wooten album playing." I can somewhat relate to this; whenever I have played in bands that do original music, I spend a lot of time trying to remember how the tunes went -- particularly if the songs are older. And I pretty much never listen to my own recordings; usually because I can hear too many boo-boos in them to really be able to enjoy them as music. While I had wondered if musicians at that level would have a different experience, I suppose that it's somewhat comforting that all musicians face that obstacle.
Another interesting question concerned time signatures. The four of them were working through the tune Double Oh Six when someone asked what time signature they were playing in. Derico said "6/4", Steve and Oteil both said "6/8" while Victor said "4/4". All of those will work, but it was just interesting to hear how they were each going their own way but getting there together.
And now for the completely random. Victor called all of us into the main hall, then held up his cell phone (set as a speakerphone). We heard an unmistakable voice say, "What's up, fellow babies?!". It was Bootsy Collins on the phone, just basically saying "Hi". Yet another legend making an appearance.
While at camp, we did a lot of things in nature. I'm not writing much about it, though, since they tended to fall into two broad categories: 1)Things that seem strange but make sense once you've done them and 2)Things that you have to just do to really appreciate.
For example, one morning, we spent an hour or so making fire by rubbing a stick against a piece of wood using a bowed string (I'm really simplifying here). Just that description doesn't quite get across what it feels like to actually make your own fire, or the appreciation you gain for how valuable fire actually is (as well as for matches). For other parts of the nature experience, I grew up in the outdoors, so it may not have been as much of a revelation to me as it was to some of the folk who have never been in the woods before.
If you are one of those who doesn't see how learning about nature will affect music, let me point out one of the lessons that I learned. When we did the blindfold walk, I learned a lesson that very specifically applies to my playing. I was walking forwards, finding my way using only what I could feel with my feet and hear with my ears. As I was moving, I caught a decent sized branch (two inches in diameter or so) directly in my mouth. The lesson here: If I focus too much on one thing -- even one really important thing -- I'm almost certainly going to miss some other details that are going to matter to what I'm doing. The relation to my playing follows; if I'm focusing too much on one part of the music (trying to lock in with the drummer, for example), I'm going to miss something else that happening that will be important (the keyboardist modulating his chord voicing, making the sharp nine I am getting ready to play the wrong coloration for the his chord when I should be playing a flat eleven).
Suffice it to say that you will learn quite a bit about the world around you, and in ways you probably would not have thought about before. I don't mean to say that the nature part isn't important and won't impact your music, so therefore I'm not dedicating much ink (or is it pixels?) to it. Rather, I think you should experience it for yourself. What I can write about it doesn't do it justice.
In fact, if you want more information, you should check out Richard Cleveland's Earth School. Richard was one of the nature instructors at camp. He was very open and personable, as well as a good instructor. I'm actually considering taking a nature class from him at some point, especially since he's only a day's drive from DC.
After listening to Sifu, I started to walk back to the tent. On the way, I heard the usual evening jam session, but it sounded different for some reason. Ducking into the main hall, I noticed that it was not the usual suspects playing bass, and Roy's drum kit was still up. One of the students, Chad, was behind the skins, playing fills and runs, but not a solid pocket. I asked him if he wouldn't mind switching for a bit and then tried to lay down a good groove for the other bass players to build on.
We must have been doing something right, because Rudy Wooten came wandering back in, nodding his head to the groove. He walked over to the group, picked up his sax and then sat in for a while. Definitely cool.
Sifu is Victor's martial arts instructor and a big influence on both his playing and his life. Sifu Edwards talked us through some general discussion of his art (Wing Chun), explaining its strengths and utility. His demonstration was interesting, to put it mildly.
Today, the entire Wooten clan gathered at camp to play. These five guys have been playing together for basically all of their lives, so their on-stage chemistry is so thick as to be visible. I have seen all of them at one time or another (excepting Rudy on sax), so this was a treat. After playing through a few songs, they then took questions from the audience.
Not content with just jamming, Gerald Veasley took some time to teach the students at camp. One of the things that I noticed about him is that he was nearly always smiling, just full of joy and happiness. It's quite infectious, actually.
I have to say that Veasley really impressed me at this camp. Enough so that I'm going to try and go to his Bass Bootcamp.
The first night's guest was Gerald Veasley. He spent some time talking about his experiences, but mostly focused on the things that we could to make ourselves better musicians and how to get more out of the camp.
He also played a good deal, both unaccompanied by himself and with all of the instructors. Actually, when all the staff went on stage to play, they rolled through a impromptu medley of old school funk jams, grooving and soloing as they went. It was probably one of the better jam sessions for the week.
One of the instructors at the Camp was the great Chuck Rainey. I'm not sure as what he was supposed to teach on this particular day, but he ended up spending quite a bit of time telling stories about his experiences in the music industry. I could listen to that man for a month.
Chuck Rainey has been in the business for a very long time, and he's on "the soundtrack of most people's lives," as another student put it. He's played with Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Roberta Flack, The Four Seasons, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles -- if you can name them, he's probably played with them. Not to mention radio, TV and movie soundtracks for over two or three decades. To say it was an honor to have met this living legend doesn't quite begin to cover the bases.
His offhand comments about how to fit in with other people in the industry contained invaluable information. "Music is and has always been a referral business -- if people don't like you, you don't get work. It's just as simple as that." (paraphrasing) So, any kind of advice on how to keep the goodwill going can only help. And Chuck's got the experience to know what he's talking about -- thirty years in an industry that lavishly rewards youth with an almost fetishistic devotion doesn't come to just anyone.
The morning started with all of the students being spread out along the campsite, along the edge of the woods. Then, we each put our blindfolds on and started walking. There's nothing quite like walking blindfolded across strange terrain. And if you had told me I would be doing this just a few days ago, I would have called you quite nuts. As I moved, though, my ears opened up to every possible sound, I started to feel my way forwards using only my ears and my feet.
Later on that night, about ten bass players hung out in the main room, trying to jam. I say trying because it wasn't a pretty thing. Of the players that were there, it seemed like a number of them were not listening to what the others were playing. Instead of finding space for their own part amongst the activity, several of them were just playing what they wanted to play. This would be somewhat of a recurring trend throughout the early part of the week -- I started to call it the "Look At Me" syndrome. Mary, one of the campers, tried to bring some order to the chaos, but it wasn't very successful -- people keep getting louder and louder, making what little listening that was happening even harder. I sat in with the session for a very short period of time until I figured out what was going on, then pretty much didn't do the jam sessions anymore.
Part of the evening was to introduce yourself to all the other musicians at the camp using only your bass. Imagine this: you -- all by yourself -- standing up in front of sixty-one bass players, with luminaries like Steve Bailey, Chuck Rainey, Anthony Wellington standing behind you listening to every note. Add to that Victor Wooten (one of my idols, and I'm sure most of the other campers felt the same way) sitting immediately on your right, and you got what can only be a nerve-wracking experience.
Needless to say, I completely whiffed my entire playing. I tried to do the Arabic groove from Sahara Dance, but I was really nervous. So I rushed, then tried to get myself out of trouble with a simpler groove only to find even more problems.
Once everyone had finished eating, the camp got started. Each member of the staff was introduced, and Victor then started to talk about the relationship between music and nature.
To be honest, the major reason I went to the camp was to learn about bass. Nature wasn't all that high on my list. I grew up in the outdoors, not too far from the Appalachian Trail. I'm no expert by any means, but I figured I knew my way around the woods well enough that I wasn't particularly worried about it. Having Victor explain how he viewed the relationship was a real eye opener. While I was listening to Victor speak, I made a conscious decision to try and be as open as possible to what was going to happen for the week. I had already come to camp without a specific agenda, so this was just the next step in broadening my horizons.
After a while, dinner started. I really have to take some time to talk about the food. Ron and the guys made some really great grub -- easily some of the best food I have eaten at any camp.
Starting at about noon or so, people began to filter in. As they arrived, they would check in with Toné, drop their gear and then mill around, talking with people. More often than not, some would get out their bass. A few played their bass to comfort themselves in a new environment, others played to try and impress everyone else, while a few just played because they liked it.
Rob and I awoke with the sun, and we both got up to start our mornings. As I was walking across the dewy field, I noticed two people by a red car in the parking lot. I had though I had heard a car pull in the night before around 2am, but I wasn't completely sure. Later, I found out that two of the campers (Mike from Germany and Christian from Austria) had arrived on Monday as well, didn't know where else to go and slept the night under the stars.
That left me setting up my tent fairly late at night. We cleaned up the ground as best we could and then built the tent. Once it was up, I anchored the tent to the ground, tying off the line to a pair of trees in anticipation of Hurricane Frances rolling through. As it would happen to turn out, there were huge poison ivy vines running up the length of both trees -- how I didn't end up completely covered is a small miracle.
We got down to the campsite not too long before Anthony and the crew arrived for setup. We spent most of the time setting up chairs and amps, trying to split the equipment between the various sites as best as possible.
Before we left, my folks fed us a good breakfast. One of the things about being from the South is that mealtime usually means enough food to stop a small famine, and this time was no exception (and thanks Mom, Dad for hosting us for the night). The remainder of the trip was uneventful.
Three of us (Rob, Donovan and myself) all pilled into Rob's Cougar for a trip to Nashville. We each had our camping gear, but bass guitars consumed the lion's share of available space. I took two (the Fodera and the Kubicki), Rob took his Fodera, Donovan his Spector, and then we had four guitars (two Foderas and two M-Basses) for Anthony. To say it was a tight fit doesn't begin to cover the bases.
Since we didn't have to be at camp until the following afternoon, we stopped off at my folks' place along the way, cutting the drive in half. The break made for a much nicer trip, as we could get a bit of rest instead of arriving completely exhausted.
Through luck and good fortune, I've managed to find my way into going to Bass Camp. What does this mean? It means that I get to spend a week in Tennessee, studying bass with some of the best players around today (Steve Bailey, Anthony Wellington, Dave Welsch, Chuck Rainey, Regi Wooten, Adam Nitti and, of course, Victor Wooten) as well as learning about both nature and the outdoors (from Wilderness Survival instructors as well as a few martial arts instructors). It promises to be a rather interesting week. This is a chance for me to learn from both legends and my personal idols. To say I'm excited about it would be a understatement.
Trust me, I'm seriously doing the happy dance over this!