We sat under the large tent at picnic tables in Chicot State Park with anticipation and excitement. I was eager to meet my fellow campers and leaders. This memory could be from when I was 10 years old, yet it is in fact much more recent.
In April I attended Louisiana Folk Roots - Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week, named after a Cajun fiddler who was a passionate tradition bearer and teacher. I was surprised, when I looked around at my fellow campers, to see that most of us appeared to be in our 50's and 60's! Camp is clearly not just for kids.
Though it certainly helps to have the energy level of a child. The daily schedule began with breakfast at 8 am, and then we moved to our morning intensive classes (I took beginning Cajun fiddle) from 9 - 10:15. For the second session classes from 10:30 - 11:45, I chose to participate in Band Lab. Other choices were Cajun and Creole Vocals or Cuisine.
Our band was comprised of a man from England, a woman from Nova Scotia and another from Texas, my husband and me. Each day we practiced the "Love Bridge Waltz" and "The Back Door," the two songs our band had chosen to play. Two different instructors gave us feedback and mainly encouragement each day.
What I imagined would be scary and stressful, ended up being a whole lot of fun. My band mates were wonderful folks; we took it seriously, but not too. My role as a beginning fiddler was to "second." That means to play chords on the fiddle as rhythm back up. I felt comfortable with that role by the end of the week when we performed in front of our fellow campers. What a rush to get up on "stage" and perform.
Back to the schedule for each camp day; we haven't even gotten to noon yet. After Band Lab came announcements and lunch.
The 1:30 - 2:30 session included the opportunity for one-on-one sessions with instructors. One of my private lessons was with Al Berard. I asked him to teach me a new seconding pattern. At first, I struggled with getting my fingers to do what my mind heard, and then suddenly I was able to do it. Al was encouraging, and I felt like I had my camp breakthrough moment.
The 2:45 - 3:45 pm time slot was perhaps my favorite. Each day invited musicians were interviewed by Christine Balfa (daughter of Dewey Balfa and member of the bands Balfa Toujours and Bonsoir Catin) and they also played acoustic music for us. Musicians included Preston Frank, Milton Vanicor, Sheryl & Russell Cormier, and Tommy, Louis and Andre Michot. The guests musicians were joined by camp instructors. It was great to hear and watch our instructors play too and in such an intimate environment.
On the final day everyone in camp played together, "Reel de Joie" in memory of a longtime camper who had died in the past year. It was quite moving even though I had never met him.
From 4 - 5:15 pm, we had several options that included singing in French, dancing, fiddle, accordion lessons and more.
Dinner was early and then we headed over to the dance stage where a different amazing band performed each night until 10:30 pm. People from the towns near camp would come to the dances too. Afterwards, campers and instructors would jam into the wee hours of the morning. I skipped this final activity in order to save my energy to start all over the next day.
Camp was filled to the brim with activity which we shared with people with similar interests from Canada, Germany, France, UK, Denmark, Switzerland and 20 states.
Dewey Balfa Camp is one of just many camps for adults. If you want to stretch your mind, body and spirit, treat yourself to camp! (See below for a sampling of ideas.)