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The Nature of Bass: Victor Wooten

Victor Wooten’s bass playing is unmistakable. Known for mixing fluid jazz technique and heavy doses of funky thump, his virtuosic acrobatics have undoubtedly taken the instrument to a new level of range. For the past three decades, Wooten has exercised his chops as a member of Grammy-winning banjo-driven fusionists Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. These days, though, he’s spending a lot less time in the tour bus and a lot more time in the woods.

This summer the bassist is leading a full schedule of music camps at Victor Wooten’s Center for Music and Nature at Wooten Woods. He’s turned a secluded 150 acres along the richly bio-diverse Duck River into an idyllic retreat for musicians. The property is located west of his Nashville home in the small town of Only, Tenn.

Wooten has been hosting music and nature camps for close to a decade, at first renting space at a nearby state park. When he realized teaching in this setting would become a permanent endeavor, he decided to purchase his own land in 2008. The idea is to give musicians of all levels expert instruction in a peaceful environment. “In the woods you can let go of your nerves and baggage and just play,” Wooten said during a recent interview. “I find people trying to get better on an instrument make faster progress in this natural setting.”

Years ago, Wooten took classes with naturalist Tom Brown, Jr. He noticed some striking similarities between learning wilderness skills and making music and soon started incorporating similar exercises into his music teaching. He believes being in the forest heightens the senses and that ultimately translates to better playing. During courses that cater to specific instruments, students are divided into groups and rotate between instructors, who offer instruction on theory, soloing, and the relationship between music and nature. There are also more specific portions of the camps devoted to naturalism and survival skills.

“We’re trying to raise the awareness of the student in different areas,” Wooten adds. “It gets them away from the normal aspects of music. Most musicians think they need to lock themselves in a practice room all day. That’s true to a certain extent, but it’s a slow way to improve. You need to get out and interact with others—or to use a musical term, jam.”

Wooten certainly has plenty of experience to relay. He was playing in a family band with his brothers by age 5. The group opened for soul legend Curtis Mayfield, and by the time he had finished high school Wooten had shared the stage with War, Frankie Beverly, and the Temptations. Wooten met Fleck in the late 1980s, and along with his brother Roy Wooten, joined the banjo ace to form the Flecktones. The group picked up five Grammy Awards between 1997 and 2012 and along the way blurred the improvisational boundaries between jazz and bluegrass in front of audiences around the world. Wooten also fronts his own band and has released nine solo albums dating back to 1996. Although he’s certainly not done being a professional musician, this husband and father of four is happy to have found a new musical outlet that keeps him closer to home.

“Now tours are being booked around camps,” Wooten says. “It’s time for me to share what I’ve learned from years of being on the road.”

Interlocken Music Festival – Sept. 5-8

Massive new festival heading to the Blue Ridge!

Just when you thought the festival landscape couldn’t get anymore crowded, a late-season announcement is bringing the Blue Ridge a high-profile bash that could be an annual game changer. The Interlocken Music Festival is taking place September 5-8 at the idyllic Oak Ridge Farm in Arrington, Va. Located on a 4,800-acre expansive property between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, the festival is shaping up to be a long weekend of jam-rock nirvana that’s expected to draw up to 30,000 people. Initial artists announced include Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Furthur featuring Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic, the Black Crowes, and the String Cheese Incident. The festival is also focusing on unique collaborations like String Cheese playing a set with country rock hero Zac Brown and Panic doing a full set of Credence Clearwater Revival tunes with John Fogerty. Furthur will also play a set featuring the Dead’s acoustic masterpiece Workingman’s Dead. Additional artist announcements are coming soon.

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