The Fur Peace Ranch is nestled in the rolling foothills of southeast Ohio…
In 1989 Jorma and Vanessa Kaukonen’s goal was to create a place where musicians could come together and surround themselves with music for several days and emerge with a new-found inspiration. Jorma said he wanted to demystify the process of playing music for those who attend the camp. For students arriving around noon on a Friday and leaving Monday morning with classes scattered throughout the days, the process of demystifying music came with ease. Guitar is the main language spoken at FPR.
Over the last 25 years that dream went beyond their original vision. When you came to the Ranch to take classes there was nothing else to do except to talk about the music and geek out about the guitars, as Jorma is fond of saying. “There was just nothing to do but that and it became an interesting community that people who don’t play don’t really get. But whatever you’re into when you’re surrounded by people that are into that thing you’ve got an odd language that you all speak it’s a cool thing,” said Jorma.
The ranch originally started with the kitchen, workshop building, library and the 17 cabins and bathhouse. Over the years, it has expanded to the Fur Peace Station Concert Hall, the Company Store, and the Psylodelic Gallery. The Station Concert Hall, with seating for 200 music lovers, plays host to some of the world’s finest musicians in a very intimate setting every Saturday night during camp weekends and throughout the year. The fact that world-famous musicians perform here speaks to the reputation of the Ranch.
Teachers have ranged from Jorma Kaukonen himself to GE Smith, Arlo Guthrie, Jack Casady, Oteil Burbridge, Steve Kimock, Chris Smither, Warren Haynes, Jill Sobule, Patty Larkin, Happy Traum, Jonathan Edwards, Woody Mann, Tom Feldmann, Verlon Thompson, Tommy Emmanuel, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Bill Kirchen, Bobby Vega, Roy Book Binder, Michael Falzarano, Guy Clarke, Roy Rogers, Pat Donohue and the list goes on. Each instructor has their own way of teaching their classes. For Jorma, teaching was not the only aspect of what he offered at the ranch. His style of teaching is very anecdotal so it didn’t take long for student and teacher to create a language that revealed more than the music. Jorma does not require his students to know how to play his style of guitar but he expects them to rethink the way they approached songs.
The classes at Fur Peace Ranch were relatively small, with no more than 12-15 people. Students came from across the ocean, across the US or they were located an hour away. They were white-collar employees, blue-collar and retirees. They heard about it because they were fans of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna or they just wanted a more intimate musical learning experience. The only characteristic that mattered was their passion for music.
In March of 2020, COVID became the world’s reality and doing anything in person, especially like what they had created at The Fur Peace Ranch, came to an abrupt halt. The Ranch closed down for almost 18 months. A few workshops were held prior to vaccinations but that proved to be a tall order and out of an abundance of caution the Ranch went virtual. To everyone’s surprise, the classes did well and the essence of what they had created in-person, was still very much alive.
Though Fur Peace classes are now available on a virtual and On-The-Road format, Jorma notes that Fur Peace Ranch is not like applying for grad school. The talent level is varied, but we try to have people with similar skill levels in the same class. Workshop levels range from Level One (Beginners) to Level Four (Masters). While each level assists in making class selections best suited for the students’ ability, there may be a range of experience within each of the levels. Some classes may be offered for multiple levels.
Live music was also affected due to the pandemic so the Kaukonens, along with a small crew, went on to create their famed Quarantine Concert Series. The plan was to do one show just to give the fans some music while everyone was sheltering at home. Those Quarantine Concerts soon became a weekly event with thousands of people anxiously awaiting to tune into it every Saturday night. It became a life saver for so many. The shows were always free but dedicated fans donated to pay the crew who had volunteered every week. The shows went on for 52 weeks. The New York Times voted it one of the 10 best virtual concert series.
Live concerts are back on the schedule at The Fur Peace Ranch. As of July of 2022 the Ranch no longer requires proof of vaccination or negative COVID test for entry to public events, and masks are optional for all patrons, staff, and volunteers. The Fur Peace Ranch continues with it’s rigorous standards for cleaning and sanitizing all public spaces easing the minds of patrons still cautious about the ongoing dangers of COVID.
Because of all of these people and their commonality of spirit, Fur Peace Ranch still 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 4,000 “repeat offenders”, and serves as a springboard for forging deep new friendships. Ask someone who has been to the ranch a few times or taken the virtual classes that are offered and you will hear, not entirely in jest, that this is home and the rest is just time in between.
Come and be a part of this welcoming musical universe.