July 14, 2018, Vero Beach – Couches were dragged into the hall from the lobby. Chairs were brought over from classrooms around the building. Concertgoers ran back to their cars to bring in folding camp chairs. All while staff at First Presbyterian Church scrambled to find more seating to fill McAfee hall for the record-breaking standing room only audiences at the 2018 Vero Beach International Music Festival from July 11 through 14 on the campus of First Presbyterian Church, 520 Royal Palm Boulevard, Vero Beach.
The Vero Beach International Music Festival concerts are centered around the Mike Block String Camp. Each year, award-winning professional folk, bluegrass, Americana, traditional, and jazz musicians gather to share their gifts with students from around the country. Students ranging in age from 6 to 75 attend the week-long camp to experience the language of music at a whole new level. This immersion into improvisation forces students to hone in on their listening skills and learn to communicate more freely on their instrument. The experience relieves them of concern with “directions” (sheet music) and allows them to engage in musical conversations beyond the typical classical ensemble style of performing.
Typically, concerts in the past have drawn audiences between 150-200 people each. This year was a pleasant surprise for camp faculty and staff. Mike Block, the camp’s Director and namesake, said, “The support from the community audience at our concerts this year was the greatest we’ve ever had, both in attendance, and in scholarship donations, and it makes an invaluable difference for us have such a warm audience to share our music with, and for the students and faculty to feel the support for all of their hard work!”
Performances included advanced student ensembles, solos by faculty, and collaborations between the two. The faculty line-up included award-winning artists Mike Block, Joe Craven, Darol Anger, Joe Walsh, Eric Wright, Zack Brock, Arun Ramamurthy, Hanneke Cassel, Kimber Ludiker, Lauren Rioux, and Phoebe Hunt.
Block opened the first faculty concert with a cello and vocal mash-up of Hank Williams meets Indian folk song, followed by a Scottish fiddle collaboration with his wife, Hanneke Cassel.
Joe Craven, an entertaining musician with a passion for the mischievous, gave a monologue about the language of music that left the audience amused yet inspired. His skill on the Mandolin is top notch. Craven’s quirky, fun personality also shone through his self-proclaimed “fashion-insultant” choice of attire- a Hawaiian-style shirt adorned with sugar skulls, brightly colored striped pants, mismatched crocks, and a straw hat.
Phoebe Hunt’s composition, Pink and Blue, was inspired by a trip to India. She has also traveled throughout the world to perform and collaborate with different cultures, including a peace summit in South Africa. “My two favorite loves are peace summits and summer music camps”, she said.
Arun Ramamurthy, one of the country’s leading classical Indian and crossover artists from New York, performed a traditional Carnatic violin work that allowed for a peacefully meditative moment for the crowd.
Faculty took the stage together to create collaborations that, in many cases, were only learned within hours of the concert. Advanced student bands also demonstrated their skills. The audience was also treated to a performance by two-time Grand National Fiddle Championship winner Kimber Ludiker.
A second faculty concert held on Friday, July 13, featured a different set of faculty members and advanced student groups to an audience of about 400. The week-long camp wrapped-up with a final student performance on Saturday at 3:00pm that drew a crowd of 350. It included a barn dance to celebrate another successful camp. Every concert offered was free and a $20 donation suggested. The proceeds go directly toward the Mike Block String Camp scholarship fund. Thanks to the incredibly large audiences, the fund has raised $7,000. This will allow up to ten students to attend the camp on a full scholarship. Faculty members also offer their CD’s for sale in the lobby along with t-shirts, handmade jewelry, candy, snacks, and adorably themed cupcakes.
Although the Vero Beach International Music Festival is in its ninth year here, it seems that the secret of these amazing performances is finally out around the local community. If you’d like to attend next year, make sure you arrive early- unless you want to bring your own chair.
For more information, please visit http://www.verobeachinternationalmusicfestival.com or call Jacob Craig, Director of Music and Arts at First Presbyterian, at (772) 562-9088.