Can you give some personal background information about yourself?
I am 56 years old. I am a partner in a large law firm (800 attorneys) in NYC. My practice involves the defense of Hospitals, Dr’s and nurses from Medical Malpractice lawsuits.I have been married for 25 years and have 4 kids. Katie 23, owen 21, Brenna 19 and Tess 11. I was born and raised in Brooklyn NY. I attended my first Hot Tuna concert at Brooklyn College in 1975 and have been a rabid hot tuna/Jorma fan since that time. I started to learn to play the acoustic guitar in the summer of 1976 because I wanted to play like Jorma Kaukonen. I was fascinated by his style of play. I took 5 beginner lessons and learned the basic chords. I then began to teach myself by ear how to play the guitar and play “jorma style.” This was difficult as it was before the days of video and youtube. I used to sit with a record and a turn table and listen to songs over and over and over in an attempt to duplicate what Jorma was doing on the guitar.
How did you find out about Fur Peace Ranch?
I first got on the internet in about 1997. Somehow I found Jorma’s email address in 1998. I wrote him a fan email. I explained to him what a profound effect his music and style of playing had upon my life. I told him that I was studying for the NY Bar Exam in 1988 when I read an article in the NY post about Jorma teaching a guitar class at the New School. I was heartbroken because I was studying for the bar and couldn’t take his class. I asked Jorma in my email if he would ever be teaching a class in NY again. To my shock, I received a lovely reply from Jorma. Jorma explained that he had moved out to Ohio and would no longer be teaching anything in NY. But, he also told me that he now had a Guitar Camp in Ohio where he would be teaching guitar. I said, oh what a shame that it is so far away. At the time I was working full time and had three kids aged 5,3 and 1. I wished him luck and thanked him for responding. I told him that hearing from him was the thrill of a lifetime. I told my wife about this and she said.. “what do you mean you can’t go to ohio? Sign up for a class, get on a plane and go there! This guy is your musical hero and the reason you play music.”
When was the first time that you attended the camp?
After my discussion with my wife, I signed up for a class and a short while later, in 1998 I attended one of the first sessions at the newly opened Fur Peace Ranch.
How many times have you attended the camp?
I try to attend the Ranch once a year. on a couple of occasions, I have had to cancel my yearly trip do to the fact that I have been on trial and could not fly to ohio. I have been to the FPR 17 times.
What sorts of classes have you taken?
While the Ranch offers a very wide variety of instructors, all of my 17 visits have been classes with Jorma!
What would you say is most unique thing about FPR?
Wow, that is a tough question. From the minute I set foot on the grounds, there is a magical vibe about the place. It is hard to explain. The worries of the world and responsibilities of my life melt away as soon as I set foot on the grounds. From the first moment I arrived there in 1998, I felt as if I have been treated like family. It is the most warm and welcoming place I have ever been. It is a non competitive family atmosphere. You are surrounded by like minded people who love the music as much as you do.
Have you noticed any changes within the camp after all of the times that you’ve attended?
Absolutely! When I arrived in 1998 the landscape was spartan. It has become so much more than it was at the start. Every sunday, there is a Student performance. This has been a staple of the FPR since my first visit. In 1998, the performances as well as the Saturday night concerts were held on a tiny stage in one of the buildings there. Some years later, The fur peace station was built and has evolved into a first class concert venue. One of the coolest and most intimate places I have ever seen music performed. The student performances are now held in this fantastic venue. The psylodelic gallery was added as was the beautiful FPR store. They have added sculptures, places for food on concert nights etc. The landscaping has of course evolved since 1998 and is beautiful and tasteful. The food has always been first class and an important part of the experience. It just runs now like a well oiled machine!
Was there one class/year in particular that you remember/cherish the most? When was it?
In 1999, I took Jorma’s class and met Bob Doherty, Pete Stern and Marjorie Thompson. Three people who would become good friends and important characters in my life. While I didn’t see them much during year, we were in contact and the FPR bond was very strong. We played music together yearly (and sometimes during the year in NY)and shared milestones in each others lives. Marjorie went on to become a very important person at the FPR. She was an associate dean of biology at Brown University. She went on to become Jorma’s teaching assistant and helped to shape the curriculum at the FPR. Marjorie and I grew very close and spoke often by phone, email and text during the years. Unfortunately, marjorie passed away in sept of 2014. I helped to organize a charity concert in Brooklyn NY in memory of marjorie. Jorma and his friends Barry Mitterhoff and Michael Falzarano performed. We raised $25,000 for a cause that was very important to Marjorie. Cold Cap therapy which allows chemo patients to keep their hair. Bob, Pete and 1 continue to go to a yearly class together at the FPR! We miss our friend Marjorie deeply and think fondly back on the class where we all first met in 1999.
What have you taken away from attending FPR?
I don’t want to sound cliche, but the thing I have taken away is that music is a universal language that can in fact change the world. I have also learned that dreams do come true. Jorma was my musical idol and the reason I taught myself how to play the guitar. The fact that I now can call him a my musical mentor and friend is mind blowing to me. When I helped to organize the memorial concert for Marjorie, Vanessa asked myself, Bob Doherty and Greg Franklin (another close FPR friend who plays bass and was Marjories long time musical partner) to open the show for Jorma. We invited Jorma’s mandolinist, Barry Mitterhoff to play with us and did a short 4 song set to open the show. This was an absolute dream come true.
The magic of the FPR and the draw of the location continues to shape my life in a positive way. Vanessa Kaukonen (aided by Brett Thompson and John Hurlbut) is an absolute force of nature. It is her guidance and vision (aided by the immense talent of her husband) that have made the FPR the most unique and welcoming place I have ever had the fortune of visiting.
This story is part of a month-long multimedia series about the Athens music scene called “Sounds From the Hills: An Athens Music Project”