Folk Songs of the Catskills—the Spirit of Camp Woodland

July 23rd, 2010

New Exhibit at the Historical Society of Woodstock Examines the Renaissance of Catskill Roots Music

Pete Seeger at Camp Woodland—near Phoenicia, NY—in the 1940s (Photo reproduced courtesy of the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University at Albany Libraries.)

Woodstock, NY—On Saturday, July 31, 2010, a retrospective exhibit on Camp Woodland opens with a reception from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Eames House, 20 Comeau Drive in Woodstock. The Camp Woodland story, its influence and legacy, is told through film, music, artifacts, images and archives culled from the collections of former campers, the Norman Studer Papers (University at Albany), and from the Historical Society of Woodstock.

 Camp Woodland (1939–1962) was founded near Phoenicia, NY, by Norman Studer, a former Ph.D. student of John Dewey’s and an educator at the Elizabeth Irwin School in New York City. Studer sought to bring America’s democratic roots alive to his students. His vision embraced cultural diversity and a multidisciplinary approach. He brought city kids up to the country and put them in touch with old-time Catskill Mountain folks—like Aaron Van De Bogart from Woodstock. Not only did Woodland Campers hear stories from the hill people, but they were put to work collecting and preserving hundreds of folk songs for posterity.

 The camp was an annual destination for Pete and Toshi Seeger and they proved to be an incalculable influence. Pete performed for each division of campers, for the camp as a whole, and—when the campers had gone to bed—for the counselors. In 1954, a 15-year-old camper named John Herald saw Seeger sing and decided to become a musician. The camp’s multi-cultural population was a fertile incubating ground for Seeger. One counselor, Hector Angulo, introduced him to a Cuban song, “Guantanamera,” which became hit for Pete in 1961. Another time Pete wrote three verses based on a Russian folk tune and left it with counselor Joe Hickerson. Joe worked with a group of campers on the rhythm and personally wrote two more verses. This song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” charted on Billboard for The Kingston Trio as a “B” side in 1961.

Perhaps the most important element of the Camp Woodland program was the annual end-of-summer folk festival. It was at these fêtes that hill people like George Edwards and George Van Kleeck came to perform. Equally important, the campers called and performed their own dances. This gave them the chance to learn and carry on the folk tradition of mixing work, community and music. When the camp closed in 1962, the area’s folk action migrated to Woodstock. That year the Café Espresso came under the ownership of the Paturels. The next year Bob Dylan moved to town and did some great song writing in a studio above the Café. In 1967 the Sound-Out folk rock concert series was launched at Pan Copeland’s farm. This series inspired Michael Lang to stage his Woodstock mega-concert in 1969.

 The show gratefully acknowledges the support of Ulster Savings and Heritage Folk Music. The Eames House museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. The show runs through September 12. For more info call 845.679.8111 or log onto www.campwoodland.org.

2 Responses to “Folk Songs of the Catskills—the Spirit of Camp Woodland”

  1. Linda Neukirk Calderon says:

    I remember the end of summer folk festivals. They were multi-disciplinary: music, painting scenes, dancing. I attended when I was 6, 7 and 8 years old. Wonderful enviroment.

    My mother worked for Camp Woodland for a short while as did my dad. They met there and married shortly thereafter.

    I remember the “ushy gushy swamp” filled with “life” and all the activities a city child would not have access to.

  2. juliablelock says:

    Thanks, Linda, for your comment. Not sure when you were there, but Bill Horne (I believe he attended from 1951 to 1962) is writing a book about Camp Woodland.

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