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At Victor Wooten’s Spirit of Music Camp

Meet Brad Houser –

On Labor Day weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Vic’s camp out at his new acreage, “Wootenwoods”, west of Nashville. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed his book, “The Music Lesson”, I had been interested in attending one of his camps ever since. Having had a thoroughly unremarkable summer, and feeling generally burnt out, I was ready for a jump-start. So, off to camp I went.

The first hint that things were going to be “different” was upon seeing Chuck Rainey in the D/FW airport. We ended up on the same flight to Nashville. Upon arrival we were picked up by Dave Welsch, Vic’s friend of many years. We proceeded to get into a small car, Chuck and I in the back seat (his bass will only fit in the front), and off we go, stopping at Sonic and Home Depot, then on to camp. Hearing Dave and Chuck swap stories was an adventure in itself…

After setting up my tent, I get introduced to the amazing food. Every meal was a gourmet experience. I think I gained 5 pounds in 4 days…

Most events at camp happen in the barn, which has a kitchen and a stage, all built on a series of volunteer weekends. Some folks drove as much as 12 hours to help out on some of those work weekends.

Later, during his final talk, Victor said, “I built this place on a jazz bass player’s budget”, referring to the idea that you can accomplish your dreams if you will only have some faith and let people offer assistance.

Open to all musicians, the camp nonetheless consisted of 30 bass players. All skill levels were represented, from near beginners to advanced shredders. Most of us were somewhere in the middle….

Upon arrival, we were divided into 3 groups – earth, wind, and fire (aar). Each day, we would do rotations, a class with Chuck, a class with Victor, and a class with Bob Hemenger, the wilderness/ tracking/woods teacher. Bob is also a rippin’ tenor saxophonist. One of Bob’s famous classes is the blindfold exercise. He had us line up facing across a dirt road. He then dragged a Clorox bottle full of rocks behind him on a rope. Blindfolded, our task was to nail the bottle with a thrown stick using only our ears for guidance. One guy hit it 9 out of 10 times!! I hit it once…

The one thing that Vic repeated throughout the duration of camp was that he considered listening to be the most important aspect of playing music. In this context, the blindfold exercise makes a lot of sense. Listening seems to be the most effortless thing to do as a musician, and also the easiest thing to forget. One of Victor’s exercises was to have us all stand up straight, with good posture, and listen to the woods. Crickets, birds, etc. Then he had us slouch, with bad posture, listen and notice the difference. Most all of us found that we could hear better when standing with good posture. To me, the difference was quite noticeable.

Chuck Rainey is one of the most recorded bassists in history. He actually played on “Aja” by Steely Dan, which has to be the most harmonically sophisticated pop record EVER. Chuck’s classes were really good for helping players to understand the bass’s function as a foundation/ rhythm instrument. He had us take turns playing along with tracks

That he brought, with commentary geared toward helping players be effective in their role as foundation keepers. He wisely and bravely suggested that if a person did not want to provide solid support for the music as a bassist, then that person might want to consider playing a different instrument. Word. Chuck is like the Friendly Zen Master, with a side of gravy.

One evening, Vic’s brother Roy’ otherwise known as “Futureman” came and gave a talk about music as a language, along with some very esoteric and fascinating information about geometry and numbers as relating to music. Another evening, Vic’s oldest brother Regi, known as “Teacha” came and spoke along similar lines about history, geography, and numerical relationships. I could spend a few years following up on the information these two wizards put forth. No shortage of stuff to do, that’s for sure. Regi opened his talk with a guitar/ vocal rendering of a classic jazz standard (forgot which one – aak) that had to be about the most harmonically bent version of a jazz tune ever. His command of the guitar (an early 80’s Squier strat) was just……….. stupid ridiculous. What’s up with the amount of talent in that family? Good god…

One prime feature of camp was the optional group meditations, morning and night, led by Victor and Bob. These were nothing short of magical………. basically, by the end of camp we were able to establish quite conclusively that people can telepathically transmit images and information to one another easily and naturally. Victor himself seemed quite take aback by our success as a group at this. Works if you work it.

“Spirit of Music” camp was short on dogma and long on enlarging perception and possibilities. I’m not sure what I came away with, except for having a lot of my limitations dissolve. Upon my return to the normal world, I quickly discovered that my gigs had transformed. It has become a lot easier to play bass, physically and psychologically. Everything got easier, more immediate and instinctual. I can hear harmony better. My solos got better and less mental. My grooves and lines have more space in them. My time got steadier and more rooted. Internally, on a moment-to-moment basis, I just feel more at peace with the world and myself

Interestingly, NO bass technique was taught. A person wanting to learn to shred like Victor was Totally Out of Luck. This camp was all about spiritual, physical, musical, and emotional expansion. And all that came in busloads. Someone with a strict Rationalist/ Intellectual perspective might think that this camp was Total Horse$hit. Or, they might experience a radical breakthrough. All up to the User.

One of Vix major themes is the idea of living/ acting for others instead of ourselves. One night he asked us “who believes in spirit guides?” a few hands go up. “Who believes in friends?” hands go up. “When you do something to help others, not only do your friends and guides help you, but THEIR friends and guides help you also…” I really needed that one. I could have packed up and left right then, only applying THAT, and have gotten my $$$’s worth.

These folks are seriously onto something. I needed to be there. On the web, go to www.victorwooten.com/basscamp/. There are many photos up from the weekend. If you are at all interested in going, ……….do it. It works.

In Gratitude, BH

Next issue, a review of Victor and JD Blair’s show from House of Blues in Dallas.

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