Festival’s kids music camp can make future stars

Ann Zimmerman, at microphone, leads the Feisty Kids Music Camp in singing ‘The Itsy-Bitsy Spider’ on Friday at Stage 6 in the West Campground at the Walnut Valley Festival. The camp, also offered today, introduces kids to music, art and more.

The organizers of the Feisty Kids Music Camp hope to inspire the next generation of bluegrass musicians with music, art and dancing.

Now in its second year, the camp, held the Friday and Saturday of the Walnut Valley Festival, is the brainchild of musician Erin Mae. Three years ago, while camping in the Pecan Grove, Mae noticed a lot of children, but not many playing instruments.

For Mae, who received her first hammer dulcimer at age 7, the festival was her training ground toward becoming a musician. Mae won the National Mountain Dulcimer Championship here in 2004 at the age of 17, and has also studied classical piano and commercial music. She works as a music educator and is a member of the duo Scenic Roots.

Wanting to offer youngsters the same type of musical experience at the festival, three years ago she made a proposal to festival organizers for a more interactive event for children. The Feisty Kids camp was developed out of that proposal. Mae’s co-directors are Peter Thomas Lague, a visual artist and educator, and Aaron Fowler, a musician, storyteller and teaching artist.

When one looks at the lists of WVF contest winners over the years, they include many teenagers. Mae said that, if kids aren’t already passionate about music by that age, then they likely won’t become so. The goal of the Feisty Kids Music Camp is to engage children in acoustic music at a younger age and “keep the art form going,” Mae said.

The camp, which lasts four hours and is offered on two days, includes sing-a-longs, art projects, concerts with WVF artists, the opportunity to try out various instruments and folk dancing. Camps begin with a parade led by Carp Camp members from the information booth to Stage 6 in the West Campground, which hosts the music camp.

Activities last a half hour each, allowing frequent “texture changes” for the kids. Some activities involve listening, others moving or touching things.

Mae said there is something magical about putting an instrument in a child’s lap and letting them play it and feel it moving.

“Watching kids experience this is one of my favorite things,” Mae said.

Mae said around 100 kids participated in the camp last year, although it is hard to get an exact number because of the come and go nature.

The camp is made for kids and their parents or guardians to experience together, and any adult bringing a child must stay for the camp as well.

“If parents see their kids connecting with the music, they are more likely to follow up on that at home,” Mae said.

Another component of the camp is building relationships between main stage performers and the kids, something Mae said was integral to her musical development. Some musicians ask to be part of the camp, others are asked to participate, but there are very few no’s, Mae said.

Feedback about the kids camp has been positive.

“Families like that there is an event very specifically for their kids to participate in,” Mae said. She knows of at least one child whose parents bought her an instrument — a banjo — after participating in camp last year and falling in love with the instrument.

The camp, which costs $10 per child, will be held again from 1 to 5 p.m. today. Participants can either meet at 12:45 p.m. at the information window under the grandstand for the parade to Stage 6, or can go directly to the camp site in the West Campground.

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