Future rock stars abound at Nuçi’s Space’s Camp Amped, the music camp that brings the local nonprofit’s platform of depression prevention and suicide prevention to a teenage audience.
For the last eight years, Camp Amped has worked to develop the creative talents of young Athens artists. Each program—Nuçi’s Space offers spring, summer and fall sessions—is comprised of 20 kids, ages 11–17, selected through an audition process.
“It’s really kind of a personal development and coping skills camp, all disguised as a rock camp,” says Bob Sleppy, executive director of Nuçi’s Space.
Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Past campers have recently gone on to play prominent roles in the Athens music community. Sienna Chandler, the singer and guitarist for the hit post-punk band Monsoon, is a Camp Amped alum; another former camper went on to be the drum major for the UGA Redcoats.
“We are creating Athens’ next generation of musicians,” says Lesley Cobbs, a Nuçi’s Space counseling advocate.
During the two-week summer session, campers play music from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., practicing diligently to prepare for their finale show at Nuçi’s Space on the last day of camp. Campers also get the chance to record in a local studio.
Besides musical skills, campers are taught practical emotional skills, as well. An hour of each camp day is dedicated to “survival skills for the creative mind”—tools for coping with things like depression and drug use.
“The whole survival skills thing is amazing. I would never have figured that stuff out by myself,” says Gracen Daniels, a recent Camp Amped participant.
Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Daniels was one of a few campers to receive a coveted honor last month: the opportunity to open the first night of the Drive-By Truckers’ annual homecoming at the 40 Watt. In fact, it has become a tradition for a Camp Amped band to play alongside the Southern rock legends. Vocalist Daniels and her bandmates—Alex Kozlosky, Ethan Houseman, Jacob Samuelson and Jacob Conley—were handpicked for the show.
“They are the best kids,” Sleppy told Flagpole before the performance. “They are going to stand up in front of the sold-out 40 Watt and represent Nuçi’s Space. I don’t care if they miss a note or flub an ending. No matter what the outcome, I’m going to be proud of them.”
The Camp Amped band, dubbed Drift, didn’t flub any endings. In fact, the group, comprised of musicians between the ages of 15–17, captivated the largely middle-aged audience with a strikingly mature set of classic rock tunes, including Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” among others.
Leading up to the show, Drift had practiced several times each week, using Nuçi’s Space’s facilities and equipment to rehearse. Onstage, their efforts showed. “I think they’re going to stay together, which is a good thing,” Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood said after the show.
Indeed, the members of Drift say they intend to continue playing around Athens. And beyond their musical chemistry, they have become good friends. Camp Amped aims to cultivate these types of close-knit relationships, says Sleppy: “We try to use the band as a metaphor for family.”
In terms of how Camp Amped relates to Nuçi’s Space’s overall mission, Sleppy says the program targets the creative teenager who might feel she is different or weird because of her unique way of thinking.
“With artists and musicians, we are a lot more susceptible to those kinds of feelings,” says Conley, the lead guitarist for Drift and a Camp Amped participant since the age of 11.
Before Camp Amped began, the average age of a Nuçi’s Space client was mid-20s to late-30s. Nuçi’s Space continues to direct adult musicians in need to a bank of mental health counselors who offer sessions at a discounted rate. (The center also provides its uninsured clients free or discounted access to other health professionals.)
But depression can manifest itself at a very young age, even though it is often not observable until the teenage years, says Cobbs. Camp Amped takes a preventive stance by encouraging productive thinking and meaningful relationships in people’s formative years.
In the future, Sleppy hopes to reach an even younger audience. “I would like to get instruments into the hands of kids for the very first time,” he says.
For now, Camp Amped is succeeding in its goal of positively influencing teenagers through music. “Before I came to camp… I was a shower singer,” says Daniels. “Camp just totally raises your confidence level.”
Camp Amped’s spring after-school program happens Mar 21–28, with the grand finale on Sunday, Mar. 29. For information on this year’s summer program, visit nuci.org/campamped. The summer signup deadline is Apr. 17.
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