Regulars and Shorts

Feature Calendar: Moab Folk Camp

By Charlotte Bell

Southeastern Utah Music and Songwriting Workshops.
by Charlotte Bell

Bob Cantonwine really wanted to write a song. A longtime performer on Salt Lake’s acoustic music scene, it had been years since he’d written a song.

It was not for lack of ideas. He has a notebook full of “song starts”—some 240 of them. “Wonderful, inspired musical ideas would come to me,” he says. “I just couldn’t find my way to finish them.”

So when he traveled to the 2013 Moab Folk Camp (MFC), he took along his guitar and his notebook full of song fragments. He even had a song in mind to finish. “It didn’t happen,” he says.

What did happen took him by surprise. The rest of song fragment #92 in his notebook, inspired by his brother’s fatal cancer diagnosis in 2006—contracted from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam—poured out of him one afternoon. The song became “Made of Wood,” referring to the wooden guns he and his brother played army with as kids that eventually became the deadly real thing when both fought in Vietnam.

Cantonwine credits creativity exercises he explored with songwriters Sloan Wainwright and David Roth at MFC for his sudden burst of inspiration. Singer-songwriter and MFC cofounder Cosy Sheridan told Cantonwine that what happened to him was “pretty simple. You’ve been opened. You’re allowing the creative process to happen now.”

It’s this sort of creativity explosion that Sheridan and the late singer-songwriter TR Ritchie had in mind when they founded MFC in 2008. The two made Moab home base for many years, while they traveled the country performing, sometimes solo and sometimes together. Sheridan had taught at many folk camps around the country for about 20 years. After she and Ritchie took 18 people to Ireland for a songwriting retreat they thought, “Why not bring people to Moab?” The camp precedes the Moab Folk Festival and will run this year from November 2nd to November 7th.

Camp participants learn much more than songwriting. Classes take place every morning and afternoon, and include subjects such as creativity, songwriting, guitar, mandolin, banjo, performance techniques and singing. A few years ago they added photography and painting. Hiking is always an option, if not an imperative in slickrock country. Folk campers can stay in guest cabins on campus, in area hotels, or they can camp.

Participants range from seasoned performers to complete novices. Salt Lake-based singer-songwriter Anke Summerhill has been involved with the camp since it began, and teaches workshops in beginning guitar. One of her favorite memories is of a newbie who attended her classes. “He was a man in his 70s who had never, ever played the guitar. Before the camp, a friend gave him a guitar and a set of strings. He came to class with a freshly strung guitar, all ready to go. I just loved his spirit of adventure.”

The student concert is a highlight for everyone. “They’re so brave,” says Sheridan. “It’s so inspiring to see what they’ve learned, whether or not they’ve ever been on stage before.” Even though performing is optional, Cantonwine says that in a way it’s not. “There’s just so much support that you want to be a part of it,” he says.

The community is what inspires Sheridan the most. Many participants have come every year since the first. “I have such respect for people who come to camp. They’ve come all this way to learn something new. They are all so kind, compassionate and helpful to each other. For me the week is about creating community. The music is simply the method we’re using to create the community. The campers have all become my friends and I love getting to spend the week with them.”

Moab Folk Camp
Sun., Nov. 2-Fri., Nov 7
Registration, schedule, lodging, directions:

This article was originally published on September 27, 2014.