The five kids either sat in chairs or crouched on the ground, clustered around a single acoustic guitar in the main room of Edie Road Studios in Argyle.
As one student began thumping out a rhythm on the body of the guitar, three others picked out different melody lines on the strings — with one tapping out bass notes, another the high parts, while the other sketched out occasional lead flourishes. The youngest, 12-year-old Brendon Seney, occasionally strummed the strings behind the guitar’s nut, as he began singing Gotye’s breakout hit “Somebody That I Used To Know.”
Scenes like this are common at guitar teacher Don Warren’s U-Rock Camps, which are hosted three times a year — twice in summer and once in winter — at Edie Road Studios for young musicians. This particular performance took place at the July camp. The students were imitating a viral YouTube video by Canadian band Walk Off the Earth.
“They only just learned this yesterday,” Warren said, beaming from behind the room’s mixing board.
He has hosted these U-Rock Camps for five years. During that short time, the camp has grown from a handful of students jamming together for a few days, to a community of young musicians and songwriters from the Capital Region and beyond who have begun pursuing music beyond lessons and the camp.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday through noon Sunday
Where: Edie Road Studios, 920 Edie Road, Argyle
How Much: $300 for full camp; $225 for students arriving Friday night
More Info: www.urockcamp.com; Don Warren 292-8950; Edie Road Studios 237-8663
Emily Costa, 16, has attended “maybe five or six” U-Rock Camps in the past three years. She’s now working on her first CD of original material, and has been performing at venues throughout the region — including a showcase, with Warren, for the Nashville Songwriters Association International at the Hudson River Music Hall in June.
“When I first went to the camp I was really shy — I’ve always been pretty shy,” Costa said. “But all the people there were so nice. The kids — we’re all from different places, but we all get along, and that’s what drew me to keep going to them. Everyone is so nice, it made [me] have a major confidence boost.”
Only six students were at the first camp, but over the years it has grown exponentially — at one camp, 24 people showed up, and since then Warren has tried to keep attendance under 20. “I can only really effectively work with that many kids,” he said.
Leaving office job
About six years ago, Warren, 48, quit his office job in New York City to teach guitar full time. (He had taught previously, giving his first lesson at age 15.) He first got the idea for the camps from his younger students, who were looking for more opportunities to play music with other people.
“They don’t always get that opportunity, so I basically created the opportunity,” he said. “I set up a camp where they could come and spend two days and make music with other people they didn’t know yet, and be able to do that all weekend long. And they do; they keep me awake for 48 straight hours.”
Indeed, for many students, the camp is their first exposure to performing in a collaborative situation.
“Some people have never jammed with anyone before,” said Jordan Carras, 16, a two-year veteran of the camps. “You come here for the first time, and you’re actually playing with [people] — if you’re a guitarist, you’re playing with another guitarist, or a drummer. You’re growing.”
Edie Road Studios was the obvious choice of location for Warren to host the camps. He has a long history with it, first recording there with a metal band at age 19, and immediately felt a connection to the place. And the kids who have been to the camps have grown attached as well.
“I remember walking up in the loft where the band’s staying — ‘Man, I’ve got to come back here some day,’ ” Warren said. “We were in there recording and I just fell in love with it all over again, and I said, ‘Other kids should have this experience.’ Now, we’ve been offered to take our rock camp to major places and do it — really cool places with big stages. And the kids are like, ‘No, we don’t care if it’s at Madison Square Garden; we don’t want to leave it here, we love it here.’ ”
In the beginning, the camps had attendees as old as 30, although now they are for the most part in the 12 to 18 age group. “My age group of students is 9 to 80, but the ones that want to have the experience and jam for the weekend, and have that stamina and energy, are in that age group,” Warren said.
Recently, he expanded the camps to three days, with attendees arriving on Thursday at 7 p.m. For the next two days, the kids share original songs and work on cover versions in preparation for the final concert for parents on Sunday at noon, which can feature up to 18 songs, usually half originals and half covers.
There is no real structure to the camp. Attendees work on songs and rehearse at their own pace.
“If you want to do a song, you do a song,” said Chris Warren, Warren’s 15-year-old son, who has been attending for the past four years. “You have to take your own initiative.”
“It’s fun, because everybody else has the same time, so everyone has to really work together to do it and make it happen,” Yanée Zane, 17, said.
Zane has been attending the camps for the past two years, and like most of the participants is also a student of Warren’s. The camps, along with the lessons, have helped her not just musically, but personally as well.
“He’s helped me so much musically; he’s helped me just in life in general,” Zane said. “He’s like everything in one. And I love that I met him, I’m so glad that I met him.”
“These kids learn to lead a group, to do the song they want and take direction, and assert themselves and get respect,” Warren said.
“They also learn when to sit back and follow and take direction; they learn to work in a group that way. It’s always been a really respectful, positive environment, and the kids — it’s taken on a life of [its] own. All the kids have become close friends, and now they go Christmas caroling together under the U-Rock Camp thing, and they’ve done a bunch of nursing home activities.”
Pricing for the camps varies depending on the time of year, with the winter camp being slightly less expensive. The next camp, beginning Thursday at 7 p.m. and running through Sunday, will be $300 per attendee, or $225 for students arriving Friday night at 7. And although space is limited, new faces are welcome.
“Come! Come to the camp,” Zane said. “We love new people.”