Last Updated on February 27, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
By Carla Marie Rupp
Adult camps are popular since not all adult travelers are flying off to Europe, Hawaii and Asia this summer. Many are instead going back to summer camp, just as they did as kids.
But these camps are quite different: there’s no camp counselors and no curfew! Instead there’s a lot of singing and dancing, fiddling, laughter, learning and good fun, and you can stay up as late as you like.
Since I enjoy playing the fiddle I’ve attended the Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp in Ulster County, NY. Named for the nearby reservoir of the same name, Ashokan also offers a Guitar Camp, as well as a great variety of other dance and musical activities.
Campers choose their own schedule in music and dance classes in a beautiful rural, woodland area of the Catskills. It’s not too far from Woodstock, just 2 ½ hours north of New York City, and 4 hours from Philadelphia and Boston.
Music adult camps are popular with people who enjoy playing guitar, mandolin, flute, clarinet, drums to fiddle, saxophone, trumpet and bass. There are all levels of classes (all instruments welcome), even “scratch” classes for total beginners. Many campers try a new instrument, such as ukulele or fiddle. One camp piano teacher told me he thinks this camp is almost more fun than it’s legal to have. Another camper said she was retired, but that she wasn’t retired from fun. I totally agree with both!
Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour would have been hard-pressed to choose from the assembled talent. There are dancers in the woods, melodies in the night, and campers who close their eyes with smiles on their faces. Words can hardly describe the “good feel” of this adult camp.
Every year the four Ashokan camps host hundreds of talented adults, as well as some teenagers and children, and it’s one of the highlights of their summer. For adults, spending a vacation week at an adult camp at Ashokan provides a unique twist on the typical bunk-bed camp experience.
Even the cuisine, notoriously bad at most camps, is way more than palatable! A sign in the cafeteria reads, “Come for the music, stay for the ‘bacon,’ attesting to the delicious communal, buffet-style or sit-down meals prepared by singing Chef Michael Hughes and his staff. The beloved chef belts out a beautiful song at the talent show and also traditionally sings “Amazing Grace” a capella to great applause at the last Saturday brunch.
I’m a big fan of Ashokan and have been going to adult camp for many years. It’s one of my favorite places because of its nurturing, loving and accepting atmosphere. Here I can fiddle to my heart’s content and there’s the opportunity to play in many settings.
The camps (Western & Swing, Southern Week, Northern Week and Guitar Week) were created by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, a noted song-writing and performing duo of fiddler and guitarist. Jay is renowned for writing “Ashokan Farewell,” which everyone has heard if they’ve listened to the Civil War series on PBS.
I also always like Jay and Molly’s waltz class, which they teach outdoors, as well as learning each of the songs they’ve written and scored. They opened the first camp in 1980.
The public is invited for the Saturday dance and dinner the day before each camp begins. Overnight lodging is also offered, with brunch in the morning.
Adult amps such as these provide experiences that many baby boomers and campers of all ages — from all over the country and other countries as well — look forward to each summer. After all, who needs to hula in Hawaii when you might find your own luau in the Catskills?
Camp might seem like a big party week. But there’s a lot satisfaction in knowing you improved in some way on your instrument or in your dancing, and also met new friends in the process.
An adult camp is a wonderful vacation away from the stresses of work. It’s a place to let the good times roll.
And I’m definitely going back.
If you go to adult camp:
Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps
PO Box 49
Saugerties, NY 12477
(Since the camp offers a complimentary taxi on the Sunday start of each camp from the Kingston, NY, bus station, the Trailways bus is a good way to get to camp from New York City)
Jay Ungar and Molly Mason
Ashokan Fiddle & Dance hosts
New York State Tourism
Ulster County Alive!