As March rolls into Toronto with a casual, spring-like confidence, I’m thinking back to my weekend in Haliburton, where winter still means wind and snow, and provides the perfect backdrop for a gathering of music-makers.
I was attending Winter Folk Camp, a 4-day getaway packed with concerts, workshops, song circles, great food, and outdoor activities.
Now in its fourth year, this initiative, supported by the Haliburton Folk Society and many dedicated volunteers, offers campers the opportunity to participate in focused “streams”, each led by one of the talented artistic staff. This year’s group featured Ken Whiteley (playing the blues), My Sweet Patootie‘s Terry Young (fingerstyle guitar) and Sandra Swannell (fiddle), Eve Goldberg (ukulele orchestra), Lynn Miles (songwriting), and Teresa Doyle (choir).
I chose to participate in the songwriting stream, and was initially anxious, having never taken a songwriting workshop before. I was quickly put at ease, thanks to Winter Folk Camp’s brilliant practice of providing delicious, healthy meals, served family style.
At dinner on Friday night, I found myself seated across from Lynn Miles, as we joked and laughed and Lynn offered me pointed life lessons. Conferences and festivals should take note — there is no better way to build community than by eating meals together. It’s a real leveler.
The songwriting class convened five times over the weekend, with each meeting going deeper into the process. As we got more comfortable, we got braver, sharing songs without hesitation — something that could only be accomplished as a result of the feelings of support and camaraderie that were established so quickly.
In past years, the songwriting group had performed a class co-write at the Monday morning campers’ concert. Our group opted instead for intense critiques of each others’ work and inspiring discussions about the songwriting process, which I maintain was a much better use of our time.
I was chosen to perform one tune at the campers concert. Since we had just spent the previous day ripping apart my newest song, Grace, I decided to play it and incorporate a couple of my classmates’ suggestions, to an overwhelmingly positive crowd response.
Groups from each stream performed, proving that excellent work can be accomplished in a short period of time. The room glowed with pride as performances were met with standing ovations.
I was grateful for the chance to meet all the artistic staff and get a taste of each person’s expertise, not only in the ceilidhs that occurred on Saturday and Sunday nights, but also in the open workshops they led throughout the weekend. Many stayed around for evening song circles or jams, resulting in collaborations and new friendships.
In between, campers were also given the opportunity to take advantage of the beautiful natural setting and engage in outdoor activities led by the energetic Camp Wanakita staff.
A challenging but invigorating snowshoe hike perked up one of my afternoons. It was such a different experience from the stuffy, isolated setting of a conference hotel.
There was obvious pride in the surroundings and visible support from the Haliburton community. The dining hall walls were covered in vibrant paintings by local artists and information booths from local businesses were prominently displayed.
There were many campers from the local area and the evening ceilidhs were open to the public for further community integration. The Wanakita staff were thrilled to take part in classes and music events and many spent their weekend as volunteers in order to partake.
The youth presence at Winter Folk Camp was refreshing. Two campers were recipients of special scholarships specifically developed to send young people to the camp. To further this initiative and encourage more people to attend, perhaps a youth discount registration fee could be offered in the future.
Word is spreading about Winter Folk Camp, with the highest ever attendance this year. I found profound impact in the fact that this was a true retreat. I had no access to my phone and no internet connection. I didn’t have to cook for myself or run any errands.
I wasn’t preoccupied with the business of music, only the art of making it. I was free from the mundane tasks of everyday life so I could completely immerse myself in the act of creating and learning.