Q&A: Annie Paulsen, a student at Fur Peace Ranch

Can you give some personal background information about yourself?

I’m 56, have a couple of kids — 22 and 20. I was raised in Cincinnati, moved to NYC via Denver in my twenties, and I live with my partner of 13 years in Brooklyn. We have five adult children between us. My career has mostly been in politics and non-profit fundraising — for 11 years I was a major gifts fundraiser at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Five years ago I left PPFA to start a fundraising program at a Brooklyn non-profit called Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. Recently, I left that job to focus on our farm in upstate New York, where we raise grass-fed beef and Morgan horses and grow vegetables.

For my 40th birthday I bought myself a guitar and took some lessons. When I was fifty, after staying up all night with a group of musicians jamming, I decided I wanted to learn to really play the guitar and that I’d sink a bunch of money and time into doing that.

How did you find out about Fur Peace Ranch?

I think I googled guitar camps/workshops when I decided I wanted to get serious about playing.

When was the first time that you attended the camp?

My first trip to FPR was in 2012.

How many times have you attended the camp?

Six. I just signed up for Sept. ’17.

What sorts of classes have you taken?

By FPR standards I’m a intermediate beginner. Mostly I’ve signed up for the Level One course during the annual September Pick ’n’ Putt weekend. However, I took a more advanced Blues Guitar class with Stephen Grossman — who is, by the way one of the kindest and gentlest humans on the planet — at the Dana in San Diego, and a level 2-3 electric class with Steve Kimock, whose meanderings about theory are a little mind-blowing.

What would you say is most unique thing about FPR?

Of course, most people who flock to FPR love the music of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane. That is certainly unique. People who don’t fall into that category are likely to be devotees of the artist whose workshop they’re taking. Again, the majority love Jorma’s music and by extension the whole tradition that grew out of the San Francisco scene of the 60s, so much of which was inspired by the greatest blues guitarists who ever lived. For those of us who love that music and want to learn that kind of guitar, FPR is the epicenter.

I like to go to FPR because it’s a genuine retreat from all the things that I do regularly in work-a-day life. It’s pure luxury like a spa only different and more — the food, Jill the masseuse, the setting, the teaching masters, but also in being a space where the focus is on nothing but learning and playing. There is no other moment in the year when my focus can be so singular and indulgent.

Have you noticed any changes within the camp after all of the times that you’ve attended?

Beyond the physical plant having grown (the parking lot, the Psylo, J & V’s house, etc.), it’s hard to tell because with each passing year my friendships have grow closer and my confidence increases. This past year I felt a bit more pampered than in past years but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m simply more comfortable in a setting that can be somewhat intimidating and challenging in all the very best ways, or if the pamper quotient has increased. I think it may have increased a little.

Was there one class/year in particular that you remember/cherish the most? When was it?

I forget if I took one or two workshops with Marjorie Thompson. Hers was my first workshop at FPR. I was terrified. Terrified. I wasn’t sure I belonged there. I had no idea what to expect. I knew nobody. I was literally paralyzed with fear and legitimately certain I’d be the least proficient player. Marjorie pulled me right in, she hooked me — in that way, but metaphorically, a shepherd pulls a sheep with a crook. She was a brilliant guitar teacher and a very powerfully wonderful and accomplished human being. She died several years ago. I will forever feel lucky to have been taught by her. When I said above that I decided to sink whatever resources I had into learning to really play the guitar, that included garnering the courage to make the trek to FPR. I was karmically rewarded by the gift of three days with Marjorie Thompson.

What have you taken away from attending FPR? 

Beyond learning a lot about the tradition of Blues guitar, I’ve made some good friends at FPR. While most of them I see only once a year, being in their company feels good — they feel like “my people.” Music is a great leveler. I actually do believe music is love. There was no better evidence of how well Jorma and Vanessa strip away all but the music at FPR than the vibe there this past September. We were in the midst of the ugliest campaign cycle in my lifetime. Because of the nature of my work and where I live in Brooklyn, I rarely find myself in politically mixed company and I live my progressive, often radically-left politics fairly out loud generally. Any FPR workshop cohort represents the spectrum, politically — the Federalists mingling with the hippies and all sorts of stuff in between. And yet politics, phenomenally, given the pervasive ugliness going on and a mere six weeks from the election, were checked at the gate. That’s about a vibe Jorma and Vanessa have created and nurture. I take that vibe away with me every time I leave. And it keeps me going back.

This story is part of a month-long multimedia series about the Athens music scene called “Sounds From the Hills: An Athens Music Project” 


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