My friend Andy Killcoyne invited me to play for his church youth group’s camp up in the Hidden Mountain range north of the Poconos, quite near the New York State line. It was a two and a half hour drive up (and I do mean “up”) into the mountains with printed directions in case the GPS gave up. It was a good thing.

I headed on a primitive county road to the entrance to the camp and drove into a slice of paradise along side a clear mountain lake. The kids and a few supportive parents have been using this camp area, with nice bunk houses, large social hall and nice dining area for 11 years now, and they are the only people on the lake. The quiet was deafening at times.

Andy showed me around, introduced me to several folks who were familiar with me and I started to feel at home, though Andy slowed me down several times, saying time was different up here. A good lesson, indeed.

I was to play at The Circle down by the lakeside at 6:30 or so, and after a great chicken and potato meal, we headed down to the site. The adults have shaped this camp’s philosophy on some admirable ideas, including Native American, Buddhist and other world religions, so I felt quite comfortable, especially with their topic of the day, Awareness. Everyone entered the Circle through a simple gap, with chimes at the point of entry. Liz, the leader started off the ceremony with the sound of a brass bowl, a great way to center everyone.

Before I started my part of the evening, each person in the circle talked about their challenge for the day, to take a moment to examine their feelings, and how it had affected their interpersonal relations during the day. Wonderful.

During my set, I had the chance to talk about my meditation practices, and some other Zen-like experiences that I recognize during my performances. The topic and my performance went quite well together.

I started off with my Watermelon song, with the slurp traveling around the 50-odd adults and teens in the circle. It was a good natured way to break down the differences between us and loosen us all up for singing, dancing and sharing. Through The Tutty Tah, Names to the Animals, there was a lot of back and forth between us, and I was able to do a couple of presentational songs like Lessons from Pete and the Vegetable Song to mix it up theatrically.

Having done The Crypt in Trenton that Monday, I was very aware of the acoustic beauty of this space, and the camp was already into doing controlled shouts out into the lake. Andy told me that, when conditions are right, especially around night fall, the sound would go out and rebound back across the lake and up the hill to the camp sight.

So, we did a reprise of I Like Peanut Butter with the “whoo” headed over and back. Again, it was a Zen-type of experience when every one feels the power and glory of this natural arena. As we finished up the evening, we did it again, and this time we could hear the echo actually travel around the lake. Amazing.

I emptied the bag o’ instruments to play along and did All Around the Kitchen to get every one up and dancing towards the end. It was great to have everybody grooving together, as any camp experience should have.

As the gathering closed up, I finished with Here Comes the Sun. Liz then took time to celebrate the moving on of two long-time campers, with various folks offering their thanks to the kids. There was a lot of strong silence in the circle, and I took note of the place and the community happening right in front of me, I came up with, “Hear the Silence, feel the Love.” It was spot on and I was grateful that I was open to put it into words.

I headed back down (yes, all downhill from there) into Scranton and back to Bethlehem. It was a long trip but an experience worth every minute of the afternoon and evening.