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Hot Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen Offers Words of Wisdom: "You're Going to Be OK"

Jorma Kaukonen on the left, with his buddy Jack Casady
Jorma Kaukonen on the left, with his buddy Jack Casady
Scotty Hall

If anyone is an authority on non-authoritarian peaceful gatherings, it is Jorma Kaukonen. Not only did he serve up a psychedelic musical breakfast at Woodstock as a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane, but the legendary guitarist now operates a modern day container for that same spirit of community, musical immersion, and exploration. Fur Peace Ranch is on a sizable piece of land in southern Ohio decked out with all the amenities for guitar players of all levels to hang with top-rate teachers, and each other, for days at a time.

Later this month, Kaukonen will play the role of performer, teacher, and wise elder at Wanee Fest, the annual happening at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, which he considers a modern day embodiment of the consciousness that gave birth to Woodstock and other groovy festivals of yore.

At Wanee -- which also features the Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, and dozens more -- Kaukonen will be playing with fellow Jefferson Airplane alumnus Jack Casady and others as Electric Hot Tuna, the amplified version of their mostly acoustic, decades old project.

And, when he's not on stage, he will be doing what he can to bring others to that sacred spot by offering a traveling version of Fur Peace Ranch, which will feature musician and songwriting workshops with high level players throughout the weekend.

Ahead of Wanee, New Times had the pleasure of talking with Kaukonen about the sixties, Hot Tuna, Fur Peace Ranch, and the Psylodelic Museum -- a new addition to the ranch which pays tribute to sixties culture. And, always the teacher, he had some wise words to offer aspiring musicians during our interview and thoughts on commercialism.

New Times: So Wanee is coming up! That's always a sweet fest.

Jorma Kaukonen: Yeah! So many years after the first music festivals, Wanee maintains the flavor of community and music that we all love. We love this festival. It's just a great place to be.

What are you up to with this Psylodelic Museum?

Well, the play on words is intentional. Most people fill their silos with grains. We made a museum out of ours, which has stuff like Wavy Gravy's sleeping bag, guitars, and lots of literature and artwork from the sixties -- which lasted into the early seventies, as well. There were many different takes on this period of time. Ultimately, we hope to honor all of these.

What is there to be learned?

The most important thing may be the open-mindedness, the acceptance that those of us who were coming of age in that time had for each other.

Had?

Ultimately, as careers began to get underway, commercialism affected all of us and some of that spirit was lost. But there was a period of time from the mid- to late-sixties where there really was this boundry-less love between people. And everybody really supported each other. And it wasn't predicated on how badass you were.

Some may say that sounds a bit sappy.

It sounds a little sappy if you put it into the context of how things are today. But it's not sappy and that's how it was.

 

Is commercialism the reason you have been able to sustain a career?

In a sense, yes. And I became competitive in a way that I was not before and am not now. I think the lesson is that it's not a bad thing to have an ego, but you can't have an ego at the expense of other people's worlds.

What do you say to aspiring musicians who look at your career and say to themselves: 'I want to do that!'?

To begin with, myself and my colleagues in Jefferson Airplane were talented people. We were also unbelievably lucky. Everything went our way in the beginning and helped us get started.

Most are not so lucky.

Right. So, obviously you need to love what you do, because you can't count on being "successful." The great news is, you don't have to be a quote, unquote, star to make it as a musician. If you hang in there and keep putting stuff out there, keep playing live, you're going to be OK.

It seems that the musician's version of "OK" may not match that of people with... more limited comfort zones.

You know, if music is what's important to you, then you're going to have to sleep in a van with six of your buddies, eat noodles, and use old guitar strings and stuff like that. 'Cause we've all done that. The good news is that I don't have to do it anymore. But I have done it!


Wanee Festival 2013 featuring The Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, Electric Hot Tuna, Gov't Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Leon Russell, Michael Franti and Spearhead and more, April 18-20 at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL. Tickets cost $205-$475. Click here.




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