Welcome to Camp Copperhead
In 2000, Steve Earle decided that it was time to share some of the wisdom he has gleaned, so he presented a songwriting course at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. He fine-tuned that material in 2012, presenting classes as part of Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch workshop. This summer (July 7 – 11, 2014), Earle will be donning his teaching cap once more to present his most refined and in-depth course yet: Camp Copperhead. This fully immersive learning experience will take place at the Full Moon Resort, about 30 miles west of Woodstock in the enchanting Catskill Forest Preserve. Earle will be the sole instructor at Camp Copperhead, with about 100 students in attendance. This once-in-a-lifetime experience offers students uniquely intimate access to a true master craftsman. It’s open to people of all levels of skill and enthusiasm. The cost is all-inclusive—covering classes, meals, and accommodations.
Discussing his vision for Camp Copperhead, Earle says, “It’ll be an intensive, all-day-long songwriting workshop, which I’m going to teach every minute of. I love to teach. I have fun doing it.” Each morning, Earle will present a class on a specific aspect of writing. There’ll be workshops in the afternoons—time when students can pair up to work on their assignments under Earle’s supervision. There’ll be an open-mic every night after dinner, offering students the opportunity to play the brand-new songs they’ve written.
In the first day’s masterclass, Earle will illuminate the relationship between new songs and traditional material. “It’s basically the history of that,” says Earle, “and the folk process. In other words, what you can get away with and what you can’t. When it’s stealing, and when it’s really art—at least in my opinion.”
“The second day,” Earle continues, “will be about craft and structure. We’ll look at examples of some of the stuff that I admire—stuff that I think you can learn from. For me, that’s always Gilbert and Sullivan, Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and Townes Van Zandt.” Other masterclass topics will include a study of Guy Clark’s work (“narrative songs, or story songs,” as Earle describes them), as well as using haiku to develop poetic skills. “Haiku is great” he says, “because there are rules to the number of beats and what they’re about.” In the English adaptation of this classic Japanese form, a poem consists of 17 beats (or syllables) divided into three lines. “The first line has five beats,” Earle explains, “the next has seven, and the last has five. And there must be one word in each poem that tells you which season of the year it’s set in, without actually saying fall, winter, spring, or summer. I taught this at Jorma’s camp last summer, and I think people learned a lot from doing it.”
Earle is zealous about writing and teaching, but pragmatic as well. “I can’t teach anyone to be a songwriter,” he admits. “But I can teach the things that I’ve learned—from doing it—that make you a better songwriter if you already are one. Even if you weren’t put on the planet to be a songwriter, I think you’ll appreciate and understand songwriting better through taking this course.”