Tucked away in southern Ohio, close to that mighty river, The Fur Peace Ranch sits back from well-traveled state highway 33. It helps to know where you are going when you get this fur from everything. Cell phones search desperately for a connection and end up roaming. Your car is perpetually dusty from traversing the roads. But you also hear frogs and crickets at night, the stars look close enough to touch, and the air is crisp and clear in the morning, when Debbie blows the conch shell to announce breakfast. Ranches are generally associated with horses, cattle, and roundups, but the Fur Peace Ranch has other purposes. Now in its tenth year, The Fur Peace is a music camp for folks wanting to concentrate on their guitar playing with professional musicians as their instructors.
Spencer was one such teacher this last weekend. He shepherded ten gentlemen in the fine art of playing guitar and singing. I listened over the few days we were there as the men grew in confidence and the camaraderie developed. Sessions were punctuated by communal meals of students and teachers, which included owner Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Cassady, and Warren Haynes. Saturday night featured a concert by Warren, backed by the other teachers. Sunday afternoon was the student performance, followed by an evening concert of Down the Dirt Road Blues by Spencer. But there was more... this particular weekend was dedicated to motorcycle rides through the beautiful hills of southern Ohio.
I observed the dynamics of this insular group, and I realized that The Fur Peace Ranch is, yes, teaching music to people who want to know more about it. But it is also creating community among people. From this little retreat, the waves of community reach out to the nearby town of Pomeroy, from which some of the employees come as well as services like banking and groceries. The deeper community, though, is the one that develops among the students coming there. Many return time after time, with friends, brothers, sons and daughters, or wives on the couples weekend. We know several alumni who continue their relationships when they get home, supporting each other's concert series and attending musical events together. It occurs to me most of all, though, that I don't know many places where men go for a retreat. Women do it. Teachers do it. Yoga students do it. Why not men? The Fur Peace Ranch is filling an important need. The results are higher self-confidence, personal support, a network of new friends. In other words, community. And in doing so, it supports peace in a way that is fresh and honest. Congratulations to them!