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Camp Woodland

The Catskills and the Hudson Valley played a recurring formative role in shaping John Cohen's world view. Through the family, he and his brother Mike were involved as campers at Camp Turkey Point - this is where he first learned clawhammer banjo from Woody Wachtel. He also attended Camp Madison Felicia in Putnam Valley, where John later lived for over 50 years. John also worked as a counselor at Camp Woodland. Themes of rural culture, nature and wildlife, and traditional music and dance were all instilled during summers upstate. John's brother Mike also incorporated traditional music into a lifelong career in Outdoor Education.

photo: Mike and John Cohen, Camp Turkey Point, late 1940s

In his comments for the book Improbable Community: Camp Woodland and the American Democratic Ideal John wrote:

"Long before there was a folksong revival, young campers at Woodland spent their “hike day” visiting local farm families to hear fiddle tunes, old ballads and songs which flourished in the Catskills. Who could have realized that there was such a vibrant rural community so close to NYC? The children witnessed how these communities were torn apart by the Industrial age, and the farm houses and graveyards were flooded to make the Ashokan reservoir system which provided drinking water to the residents of New York City (where most of the children came from).

At the camp they danced to the music of Catskill fiddlers, guitars and accordion...with the square dances called by a local resident. They collected the songs, wrote cantatas about local lore and put on festivals featuring traditional music performed by Catskill farmers. It was a handshake between city and country, old folks and children, the passing on of a tradition...Pete Seeger was a regular visitor here, and his father-in law (Toshi's father Takashi Ohta) helped build the camp. Visiting musicians came from Jamacia, Africa and the Georgia Sea Islands. Distinguished musicologists worked here including Herbert Haufrect, Norman Cazden and Joe Hickerson. The camp was racially integrated, which posed real challenges with the local political outlook."

More info about the book here.


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