Midwest Uke Camp – 2017 Review

I had so much fun at the 1st Midwest Uke & Harmonica Camp that there was no question I was going to attend again this year!  Ben Hassenger and Stan Werbin have once again planned a terrific weekend for music with an amazing array of instructors.

A view looking north while walking across campus

Held on the beautiful campus of Olivet College, this can be a very relaxing, even though busy, weekend.  Located just off Highway 69, it is easily reached from any direction.  The campus is very picturesque with an array of architecture from the 1800’s to the modern looking cafeteria.  The main road through town cuts across the middle of the campus, but has very limited traffic.

This year’s instructor line up included the return of many instructors as well as new ones.  Steven Espaniola, Cathy Fink, Stuart Fuchs, Rachel Manke, Marcie Marxer, Dave Passant, and Sandy Weltman arrived for the first time.   Jim Beloff, Craig Chee, Ben Hassenger, Sarah Maisel, Li’l Rev, Gerald Ross, Andy Wilson, and Frank Youngman all came for a return engagement.  The Friday night concert typically has the new instructors to introduce the campers to their music and techniques, in an attempt to make it easier to chose what workshops you want to take!  In my mind, it just makes it harder, as all the workshops are going to be great!

The learning is divided into 5 tracks, Beginner, Confident Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced Intermediate, and Harmonica.  No one polices your skill level, you are free to attend any workshop of your choice.  There are also a couple of additional offerings during most time slots.

Sarah Maisel working us through alternate chords for jazz arrangements using Autumn Leaves.

Sandy Weltman – Plectrum Tuning for the Baritone

Classes included Fingerpicking, Clawhammer, Ragtime, Blues, chorded melody, Swing, transposing, song writing and arranging, and harmony singing.  There were even three that focused entirely on strumming.  The instructors participate in jam sessions and are available to answer questions about music or life in general!  After the Friday night concert, I asked Cathy Fink a question that fed off the class I had taken with her earlier in the day.  Without hesitation, she opened up her case, re-tuned her ukulele and picked out the piece I had the question on, providing an answer on the spot.  Pretty cool to be able to ask a Grammy winning musician a question and get an answer!

Frank Youngman, Cathy Fink, Gerald Ross, Marcy Marxer, Jim Beloff, Sandy Weltman and Rachel Manke with some of the campers jamming in the lounge Friday night.

Another of the cool things is the ‘Camp Store.’  Elderly Instruments sets up a nice remote location filled with instruments, cases, song books, strings, tuners and other accessories.  And, of course, there is the camp t-shirt!  There is also the instructor’s section where all the instructors have their books, music and other items for sale, and you can get them autographed.  The store is manned by Elderly Instruments’ knowledgeable staff.  They were even able to do an emergency string replacement when one of the Barrys popped a string right before his open mic slot!

The price works out very reasonably, the cost includes your orientation session, 8 workshops, 2 concerts, Open Mic, various jam sessions, 2 nights’ lodging in the dorms and 6 meals (and a late night snack on Saturday) from the cafeteria.  If you can fit it into your schedule and budget, this is a great opportunity to learn and share, I certainly hope to be able to return!

You will walk away energized with a dozen things to work on!

So much to share from this camp!  I’ve got a number of blog posts coming that were triggered by the classes and events, including “What’s Your Favorite Ukulele Chord and Why?”, “Taking Care of the Musician,” “Practice, Practice, Practice” and “Playing with Alternate Tunings.”


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