Updated Dec 5, 2023
Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp 2001
by Ryan Thomson
This is one of the newer fiddle camps on the scene and on course to become one of the most popular. The site is presently a YMCA camp in the scenic mountains about an hour south of Denver, Colorado. The camp was originally a family ranch, at which a passion for square dancing by the former owners led to the construction of a dedicated dance hall. There is actually two large structures suitable for dancing, one serves mainly as the dining hall, and the other is also the site for evening concerts.
Accommodations are rustic, but neat: cabins with bunk beds, community showers and bath house, gravel walkways, and outdoor wooden benches. There is room for tenting and for RV parking(but not hookups) The entire area is lightly forested, and there's a pond for swimming, wading, and small craft boating. I suggest that you visit the official Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp web site for photos and descriptions of fiddle styles taught, instructor biographies, and general camp activities.
In previous years the camp has been one week long, but this year, two consecutive weeks were offered. Most students enrolled for one week or the other, but 20 or 30 staff and students stayed for both weeks. I drove to the camp from New Hampshire, and opted for two weeks so that I'd have a chance to settle in and get as much playing time as possible. This camp included some dancing every day, including both: classes(step dancing, social dancing); and camp wide participatory dancing in the evenings(contras, squares, and other social dances), but it is primarily organized for music making instruction.
Scheduled activities started early in the morning with Catriona MacDonald's informal exercise and warmup sessions, and ran to midnight and beyond with concerts and post concert dances. Jams occasionally went to 2 or 3:30 in the morning. Some camps require students to stick with particular instructors throughout the week, but Mark Luther, camp founder and director, has worked out a system of scheduling so that some students can sample from many different classes if they so desire. Others can choose to get a concentrated dose of music from a particular instructor for the entire time. I opted to sample several fiddle styles, flute, and piano.
Special features of this camp included: a Thursday night mountain top bonfire with do-it-yourself S'mores - chocolate bars melted with marshmallows on Graham Crackers; a mini triathlon for anyone interested, which involved running, kayaking, and swimming; the biggest selection of food I've ever seen at any fiddle camp in over 27 years of attending fiddle camps; a good environment for the several families that brought young children; free soap, shampoo, and toothpaste provided in the bathhouse; great hiking trails for anyone with enough free time; and a very friendly and helpful permanent YMCA staff. (I experienced a tooth problem while at camp, and the YMCA director helped book me a quick emergency appointment with his personal dentist in a nearby town)
The mosquito count was very low, I saw a half dozen in two weeks, but we were occasionally plagued with small biting flies that went for the ankles. A bit of bug repellent kept them at bay however, so outdoor playing was possible much of the time, day and night. We had some rain, but not an excessive amount. The temperatures varied widely from 60's to high 80's in the day time, and 40's to 60's at night. In all, it was a pleasurable climate, especially for those that enjoy camping.
Basic organization of the camp and activities was well thought out, and included many options for students. There was no chance to get bored, and indeed, the major dilemma was trying to decide which courses to attend, and how to attend classes all day, go to concerts, dances, and jams, and still get enough sleep to make it to breakfast in time. Speaking of breakfast, I was very pleased with the large quantity of fresh blueberries, cantaloup, bananas, and many more delicacies, and the creative efforts of the camp kitchen staff in making hot dishes.
After attending two weeks straight, I give the camp a "highly recommended" rating. Potential attendees should consider: a high quality of teaching staff; high altitude terrain that may prove a bit difficult for the physically unfit; the slightly primitive setting(after all, this is a "camp," not the Holiday Inn!); nutritious and plentiful food: and lots of nice folks(staff and students) who share the love of good fiddle music.
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written by Ryan Thomson, 2001