Campers say farewell to Wilson Chapel as 12th annual camp comes to close

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By Tony Karnowski
For Blount Today

It was a night for endings and new beginnings. At 7 p.m., June 23, the final performance of Steve Kaufman’s 2007 Acoustic Kamp began. The event was hosted at the Wilson Chapel and Fine Arts Center on the campus of Maryville College and marked not only the end of the local guitar giant’s 12th annual music camp, but also the end of the center itself as a venue for the camp. The building is scheduled to be demolished this month to make way for a new Civic Arts Center.

In the last moments before the final performance of the acoustic camp, which is a two-week long experience focused on the instruction of acoustic musical instruments, the backstage area of the Wilson Chapel auditorium was abuzz. Students rehearsed their songs with anticipation while the instructors offered last minute advice.

Acoustic Kamp features some of today’s greatest acoustic instrumentalists as teachers. The instructors are so renowned - some are even Grammy winners - that people come from all over the world to sit in class with these musicians.

"We’ve got students from as many as ten different countries here," Steve Kaufman, an award-winning guitarist and instructor as well as the founder of the camp, said. Every year the camp sees a slight increase in attendance.

"We’re starting to see a lot more kids," Kaufman said, a fact that he’s very thankful for. The camp, most agree, feels like family. "People who have been coming since the beginning are starting to bring their kids," Kaufman said, something that only adds to the familial feeling of the experience.

And while such countries as Portugal, Israel and the UK were represented this year, two of the students were Maryville residents. Garrett and Gavin Gregg, two brothers who play guitar and mandolin, have been attending the camp for three years.

The brothers both started playing five years ago in their native South Carolina. They attended the camp and then moved to Maryville, although, they said with a laugh, not because of the camp.

Kaufman is confident about the camp’s future, though there is still some planning to do while the Civic Arts Center is in process. Participants currently stay at the college and the concerts and classes are there, making it a compact, easier to manage two weeks. Once the new Civic Arts Center is completed, the camp will take place there. Until then, however, Kaufman and his wife Donna Dixon are looking for solutions.

"We’re looking at some of the other facilities on campus," Kaufman said. Stating that he didn’t foresee a problem finding a place for everyone, Kaufman did make it clear that he looked forward to the new facilities.

"Once the Civic Arts Center is built we can start figuring out how we’ll fit in with the new layout." Citing the number of attendees, Kaufman explained that the new 1,200 person auditorium would be very beneficial for the camp.
"With nearly 400 students we don’t have much space for anyone else. We probably won’t fill all 1,200 seats, but it will be nice to have the room."

Kaufman hopes that the Acoustic Kamp’s live performances will see an increase in local attendance once more seating is available.

"We don’t get a whole lot of townspeople," Kaufman said. "I think most people hear of it as a sort of underground event, but I would love it if more locals came to the performances."

With some of the nation’s top performers filling the auditorium with music, perhaps the open-to-the-public performances at Kaufman’s camp are one of Maryville’s best-kept secrets. It’s a secret Kaufman hopes the Blount County community will learn more about and embrace.

To find out more about Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp, visit the website at

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