About Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch
Conceived in 1989 by Jorma & Vanessa Kaukonen, The Fur Peace Ranch is nestled in the rolling foothills of southeast Ohio.
It was not much at the outset. The hills and trees were pretty and serene, but it took a lively imagination to envision what might be created there, what might be taught and learned, and how hearts could open along with guitar cases.
But in 1989, Jorma and Vanessa Kaukonen looked at a piece of land in Meigs and conceived what Jorma calls "a ranch that grows guitar players." Not a fantasy camp, but this would be a place where both budding and seasoned musicians could immerse themselves for several days, and emerge with renewed inspiration and tangible progress in their music.
Fur Peace Ranch did not spring from the ground full-grown. It evolved gradually into an idyllic landscape of neatly arrayed cabins, workshop space, library, store, dining hall, plus a theater that hosts concerts performed by world-class musicians -- many of whom also serve as instructors.
A guest arriving at Fur Peace Ranch travels on a private country road that opens onto a bright, rolling field. First catching the eye is the Beatrice Love Kitchen, masquerading as single structure but encompassing two log cabins, more than 150 years old, lovingly fashioned into a modern commercial kitchen and a pleasant, woodsy dining room, with a big covered porch for al fresco dining. Here, an experienced chef prepares lush meals that have evoked frequent comment that Fur Peace Ranch is actually a five-star restaurant where music is also taught.
Facing the kitchen, across a beautifully landscaped courtyard, is the workshop building. With its full, covered, wooden porch the visitor might be forgiven for thinking it's something off Main Street in an old western. It houses classes, jam sessions, and mini concerts. The inviting atmosphere is enhanced by colorful rugs, crimson walls and a gallery of framed vintage posters evocative of rock'n'roll history a la the Fillmore, San Francisco, circa 1968.
Further down the wooden walkway one next encounters the Library. Enter through the front door, glance up the big, open stairway, and survey a complete musician's resource library of instructional videos and workbooks, monitoring equipment, and books and journals spanning music history and practice. The arrangement invites serious study and makes off-time browsing equally pleasurable. Downstairs, the Library features a comfortable, laid-back "classroom" plus the Company Store, offering hard-to-find CDs, videos, music accessories, and of course Ranch apparel.
It should be noted that while "guitar" is always spoken here, there is also instruction on a host of other instruments from bass guitar to lap steel guitar, mandolin and percussion, vocals and songwriting. Back across the courtyard, between the kitchen and the first cabin, is a modern bathhouse with complete facilities and showers for both men and women.
About the cabins: these bunkhouses-for-two provide cozy and comfortable sleeping quarters, with ceiling fans, air conditioning and heaters. Some stay instead in nearby lodgings but enjoy most aspects of the ranch experience. This experience includes an important policy that the ranch premises are entirely drug-and-alcohol-free.
Standing in the courtyard after sunset, a visitor may notice a parade of students, with instruments in tow, disappearing behind a couple of cabins; minutes later, music and laughter emanate from the campfire circle, where students (and, often, instructors) gather around the fire, sing, play, talk, and have a hard time imagining there could be a place on earth better than this. For many, there isn't.
Down a path through the woods from the campfire circle (or, for those more practical than rustic, on a little driveway offshoot from the main road) is the A-frame, the first building erected on the site, which now serves as a classroom.
Back to the main campus: Far to the right of the kitchen and atop a gentle incline is the Fur Peace Station, the ranch performance hall, added in 2002. The Station, with seating for more than 200 music-lovers, plays host to some of the world’s finest musicians in a very intimate setting every Saturday night during camp weekends. The fact that world-famous musicians perform here speaks to the reputation of the Ranch -- and truth be known, they love it here, too. Performances at Fur Peace Station are broadcast on the program "Live From Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch" on WOUB Radio in nearby Athens.
Fur Peace Station is also the setting for Sunday afternoon student performances, where the open-mic format provides a relaxed and congenial opportunity for demonstrations of what has been learned, shared with the most supportive audience in the world: each other. In 2006, the Station Break Cafe, offering grill foods, snacks, and coffee and teas, was added to the performance hall, making intermission beneath the wide Ohio sky even more enjoyable.
Of course, facilities do not an institution make. Without a staff that is more like a family, accessible instructors who delight in and classmates who are instantly swept up in the atmosphere, Fur Peace Ranch would be just a bunch of buildings. Because of all of these people and their commonality of spirit, Fur Peace Ranch nourishes the soul while educating the mind and the fingers.
Jorma and Vanessa could not have known in 1989 that their music-farm would germinate as it has, with a following of more than 3,000 "repeat offenders", and serve as springboard for forging deep new friendships. Ask someone who has been to the ranch a few times and you will hear, not entirely in jest, that this is home- and the rest is just time in-between. Come be a guest in this land of musical peace.