Full Moon Resort’s Music Masters Camps: Allowing Songs to Fill the Air

Brian Robbins on March 14, 2013

Imagine, if you will, a jam-friendly country paradise where the mood is peaceful and relaxed … where live music is offered up in numerous flavors in the most intimate of settings … where everyone – musicians, music lovers, players/students/listeners – is cool … where the trees come to life and dance to the music with rainbow-colored koala bears and happy gnomes … and the food is really good, too.


Nope – stone-cold reality, my friends. Well, except for the dancing trees and koalas and gnomes (I made that part up … not that they couldn’t exist, mind you). But you will find everything else mentioned above and more at Full Moon Resort located in the town of Big Indian, nestled in the heart of New York’s Catskill Forest Preserve.

Full Moon Resort’s “Music Masters Camps” are all about getting close-up and personal with the artists and their music. And, as we discovered in the following conversation with Full Moon’s Michael Densmore, the camps have proven to be as much of a hoot for the featured artists as the campgoers themselves.

It sounds like something very cool is happening here …

So which came first, the vision or the site?

MD: The vision. (laughs) My business partner Henry Stout and I were introduced by a common friend back in the mid-90s. We’d each expressed a similar vision of creating a kind of gathering place – a farm-like setting in the mountains – that would serve as a backdrop for intimate music and arts-related retreats and events. We both had a background in music production and presentation: Henry ran a top rehearsal studio in New York for many years; I was involved in concert management at some venues across the Northeast – most notably the Ritz in Manhattan, which is now known as Webster Hall.

And was there an existing operation on the property when you discovered what is now Full Moon Resort?

Yes – we took over a facility with various lodges and barns that was in operation. We bought it and reinvented the whole property – basically brought it back to life with our idea to do these musician- and artist-related retreats.

I believe I saw on the website that there’s over 100 acres?

Yes – with fields, meadows, streams, mountains rising up all around … it’s just absolutely lovely. It has a farm-like atmosphere combined with the quality of a country inn, so there are various lodges with accommodations and what-not, along with camping areas. We have a full-scale catering operation … all the essential ingredients exist to do the kinds of things that we do.

Besides the Music Masters Camps, what are some of the other events that you host at Full Moon?

A lot of the financial underpinnings of the business actually come from a country wedding business that we do. But the music programs are something that we have a particular love for.

So you and Henry acquired the site and had Full Moon up and going by …?

This coming summer will be our 14th year of operation.

And the Masters Camps themselves?

The music events have really taken root during the past five years or so. The vision of doing intimate music retreats and camps and that sort of thing were there from the beginning, but we had to be able to find our way … to come up with a program that really worked in a rural setting.

We were doing other, smaller things but the very first camps to actually take root were Medeski Martin & Wood and Jorma Kaukonen. From there, we began working with a fellow named Dan Heaps who I had met in New York some years before.

Dan had a pretty prominent background in the music business as an artist manager and record company executive. He brought Dweezil Zappa into the camp –

Oh, cool.

Yes! Dweezil was great. And from there, Dan began booking other touring and recording artists who were expressing an interest in this type of experience … that’s a little bit of a genesis in how this has taken root.

At this point you have a number of artists and bands who return every year for camp sessions.

Exactly. It’s really interesting: there are all these artists who have been performing and recording for many years who have never had the opportunity to do workshops and teach … and we are providing that opportunity. It’s as much a novel and interesting experience for them as it is the campers who attend.

How elaborate of an operation is it when musicians show up for a Music Masters Camp – do they usually bring their own sound crews and tech people with them?

It’s a little different with every artist … generally, there’s some production involved and we work out all the details on that, There are always performances at the camps. With different artists the performances take different forms: sometimes it’s nightly; sometimes it’s onsite; sometimes it might be at a venue offsite … but intimate performances with the artists are a very important element in the camps – there’s no question about that.

Along with the artists putting on performances, there are also opportunities for the campers themselves to play music, correct?

Absolutely. It’s great because you have all these different participants who are attracted to the certain genre or style of music of a particular Camp Series … so you’re with other people of similar musical interest or sensibilities. We’ve always felt that providing opportunities for the campgoers to play music with one another is very, very important.

We have different session rooms which are always set up where people in attendance can play with each other. And then there are the artists themselves who perform in intimate settings for the audience – plus, there can be interactivity between the campers and the artists in different scenarios … it’s all very, very special.

Are there any campers you’re aware of who came to jam and learn and then went on to their own careers?

Oh, that’s a very interesting question. (laughs) I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that different campers who have come to Full Moon stay in touch with each other and get together.

Maybe we’ll hear from somebody when the piece runs … wouldn’t it be great if we ended up with the Full Moon Band?

(laughs) Exactly!

A typical Music Masters Camp session is how long?

Generally four days – arriving on Monday and departing on Friday morning. Each artist has their own individual approach to the camps – they are essentially the hosts – so some of the camps take on more of a teaching kind of feel, while others are a bit more social and festive … they’re all a little bit different.

When you arrive on Monday we have a meet-and-greet with the artists; usually there’s a concert that evening after a big dinner. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are breakfast, lunch, and dinner interspersed with various workshops, Q&A sessions, panel discussions, maybe some masters classes … it depends on what the host artist has planned. It’s not uncommon for various industry people to be involved – say, an artist’s management – and give little talks about their relationship to things. Then in the evenings, the host artists will usually perform, special guest artists come in …

Can you tell us about a few past surprises?

Sure! Let’s see … last year Todd Rundgren brought in Peter Buck from R.E.M. … Umphrey’s McGee brought in Stanley Jordan to work with them … Medeski Martin & Wood always bring in incredible people such as John Scofield … the list goes on and on. (laughter)

Also there are often evening jam sessions, films, various social gatherings …

And campfires – tell me you have campfires.

Absolutely! (laughs) So, to answer your question, I guess that’s a very basic template for the week, ending with our Friday farewell.

Unless you’re staying to get married that weekend.

(laughs) Very good point!

Sounds like the food’s pretty darn good, too.

Oh, the catering’s exceptional. It ranges from really lovely down-home country barbeques outside to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to full-on dinners with all kinds of really exceptional gourmet dining.

I’m going to apologize ahead of time, as I know this isn’t a fair question to ask you at all – but (laughter) Do you have any favorites from these first years of sessions?

Oh … (laughs) Well, in the very beginning those intimate performances with Jorma Kaukonen and his special guests – such as Artie Traum, David Bromberg, G.E. Smith and others – were great … all the early performances by Medeski Martin & Wood …. Umphreys McGee’s “sUMmer school” … Three Of A Perfect Pair – that’s Tony Levin, Pat Masteletto and Adrian Belew – have been here in the past … the list goes on and on. That’s a really challenging question! (laughs)

I know, I know – that wasn’t fair. But how about this: let’s give folks a quick run-down of the artists you have on board for 2013. That should be easier.

Great! (laughter) Let’s see … we have Sarah Fimm’s Sparkle Camp, which is really quite wonderful. Drummer Benny Greb will be hosting a Master Session. There will be some real jazz greats on hand for Creative Music Studio’s 40th Anniversary retreat: John Medeski, Karl Berger, Dave Douglas, Don Byron, Oliver Lake, Harvey Sorgen are some of the names.

And then we have Butch Trucks and Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers along with Luther and Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars … two generations of rock ‘n’ roll! We’re really looking forward to that. Let’s see … Railroad Earth will be with us … Umphrey’s McGee is coming back … Richard Thompson is returning – that’s a fabulous camp … Dweezil Zappa will be back … Paul Gilbert, a brilliant guitarist, is on board for this year, as is Steve Howe from Yes. And – we just confirmed Dark Star Orchestra, which is really exciting.

And more to come, I assume. We should encourage folks to check the website for the most recent schedule.

Absolutely – we still have a few more artists we’re finalizing things with that we’ll be announcing soon.

Brian Robbins pitches his tent over at www.brian-robbins.com