Every year, Full Moon Resort, a cozy plot of land in Big Indian, New York, hosts a series of Music Masters Camps.
Music Masters Camps offer attendees the chance to get hands-on learning experience from a host of musical greats, including Paul Gilbert and Dweezil Zappa — and to meet and play with like-minded musicians from around the globe.
Last week, the Winery Dogs — guitarist Richie Kotzen, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy — hosted their first-ever Dog Camp, and I was fortunate enough to attend.
Monday, July 21, also known as arrival day, featured an open bar (which ceased to be an open bar sooner than my bassist, James, and I would have preferred). There was an opportunity to chat with some of the other campers, plus a Q&A/meet-and-greet with the band and counselors.
Counselors (beyond members of the Winery Dogs) included John Moyer of Disturbed/Adrenaline Mob fame, Dylan Wilson and Mike Bennett (bass and drums for Richie Kotzen’s solo band, respectively) and Dave Wood, an accomplished jazz guitarist. Afterwards, we ate an excellent dinner and headed to a building called the Roadhouse to watch an intimate performance by the Winery Dogs.
Day 2 began with Richie’s clinic. He discussed everything from his fingerstyle technique to his vocals and songwriting approach. This was followed by Dave Wood’s clinic, “Jazz Funk Guitar 101," during which he spoke about improv, interesting scale tones, mixing records and one of my favorite moments of the Camp: networking and being kind to your fellow musician. We had lunch, followed by visits to what were called “Discovery Rooms,” select classes with various counselors that took place in different locations all over the campgrounds. Since they took place simultaneously, they provided a much more one-on-one atmosphere.
The first day of Discovery Rooms, James and I made our way to Billy Sheehan’s tent. He answered questions tirelessly, let campers play his bass, gave James some great exercises for his right hand and jammed with everyone and anyone for about two and a half hours. I can only imagine he was exhausted, but that didn’t stop him from talking to whoever approached him, even after the event was over. Afterwards, we made our way to dinner and then the Roadhouse, this time for a powerhouse performance by Richie’s solo band.
Day 3 kicked off with Mike Bennett’s class, “Demystifying Drumming." After giving a wonderful description of his own back story and development, he gave useful advice on odd time signatures, playing styles, dynamics and his approach to playing musically.
Billy’s class followed shortly. Again, he answered questions and discussed his rig, signal chain and playing. We had lunch, and then it was time once again for Discovery Rooms. This time, James went to Dylan Wilson and Dave Wood’s room, and I went to Richie’s.
Richie answered a variety of questions and then pulled players up individually to work on whatever they felt was weakest in their playing. He gave me some killer exercises for utilizing odd passing tones and a few licks to put them in a musical context. Meanwhile, in Dylan and Dave’s room, Dave Wood took the time to write out a chart and explain its practical application to help James in his quest to utilize more “outside” tones. After dinner, Bennett, Wilson and Wood performed as a jazz trio, one of the highlights of the week.
Day 4, the last full day, opened with John Moyer’s clinic, “Live Performance Do’s and Don’ts.” He discussed everything from being on time to connecting with your audience to utilizing a proper power stance. This was followed by Dylan Wilson’s clinic, “Bass for Hire,” where he discussed pocket playing, learning material, choosing proper attire/sound for a gig and networking.
Later that night, the Winery Dogs played a killer set at the Roadhouse. Afterwards, everyone grabbed drinks together and Billy DJ’d a set of old bootlegs, deep cuts and rare recordings, all while telling amazing stories about the material, his early years and everything else you could imagine.
Overall, it was a tremendously unique experience. If they choose to do it again next year, I’ll see you there, campers!