Last week was a special one for 30 campers from across the country, who descended upon Nashville for the Academy of Country Music Lifting Lives Music Camp. Held June 23-27, the five-day event provided music enrichment through performance and education for campers who have been diagnosed with Williams Syndrome.
Many of the biggest stars in the format took time out of their schedules to share the gift of music with the campers. On Monday, Republic Nashville’s The Band Perry led a songwriting workshop, recording a song with the campers called "Bright Eyes" during a Wednesday recording session with producer Ross Copperman at Ocean Way Studio that also featured a visit from Curb’s Lee Brice. Throughout the week, campers got to visit with rising stars The Swon Brothers, J.T. Hodges, and Casey James, before winding up their week closing out the Friday night performance of the Grand Ole Opry with Chris Janson.
Sandwiched in the middle of the week’s events was a night of karaoke at Music City hotspot Winners Bar on Division. Participating in the Wednesday night event were Atlantic’s Brett Eldredge and the legendary Wynonna Judd.
Eldredge told Billboard that he was glad to be a part of the event for the second year. “I fell deeply in love with this event and ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp," he said, "I woke up and was waiting all day to get to this moment. I called my mom and dad last year after it was over, and told them I wish you could experience what I just did writing songs with the campers. I’ve never been that moved in all of my life. I wanted to be able to use my music ability to help out others and share with others. The campers here have so much energy and love for it, I’m just so inspired.”
An event like the karaoke night is proof of the power of music, and how it can unite, said Eldredge. "Someone is singing ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ right now, and they are getting into it on stage. They’re holding their hands up on stage and enjoying it. That’s what I want to see when I go to watch a show. I want to feel it, and they do that. I get to be here to lend my craft to it, and that’s a touching feeling. Music touches all, and it can take you so many places – it has nothing to do with your struggles you might be having. It can help you with them."
For Wynonna, what sets the night apart is the pure and unfiltered enthusiasm that the campers feel for the music – and the artists involved. "These kids here are so joyful. One of them said to one of the camp counselors, 'I get to see Wynonna. That’s going to make my whole week.' I love that kind of feeling. Country music fans are the most loyal in the universe. I get more out of it than they do. Somebody will walk up to me and say something so real and so tangible that isn’t about show business. It’s real people, and a real loving environment. They get out there and they own the stage. Last year, I had a guy say 'Sit down, I’m gonna sing to you.' He was telling me what to do."
Judd agreed with Eldredge’s assessment concerning the power of music, saying she still is amazed by its' healing power. "I think music saves everyone’s life. I’m on Twitter everyday, and people will talk about listening to my song while I’m going through chemotherapy or one of my songs helping them through a divorce or something like that. Music is a healer, and I don’t care what you’re going through. We all can remember a song from a period in our lives that got us through."
For camper Joshua Dean – who entertained the crowd with take on The Zac Brown Band’s "Colder Weather," it was a week that he will be eternally grateful to the ACM as well as the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities for organizing. "I think this is crazy. I’ve been to a lot of country music venues, but nothing like this. Lifting Lives has really blessed us all, and to be able to come here, and experience this for the first time. ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp gives young adults with Williams Syndrome a chance to experience Nashville and country music, but all kinds of music. To experience all of that in one week is an awesome feeling."