Nova Scotia

Gordie Sampson reflects on 10 years of namesake 'baptism by fire' songcamp

Every summer inside cabins overlooking a coastal cliff's edge in Ingonish, N.S., dozens of songs are written in rapid-fire succession by some of the region's most promising young artists who hone their skills by co-writing with their cohorts.

'You really have to learn to go with your instincts on so many things,' says Grammy award-winning songwriter

The Gordie Sampson Songcamp helps young musicians hone their skills by co-writing with their cohorts. (Johna Whitman)

Every summer inside cabins overlooking a coastal cliff's edge in Ingonish, N.S., dozens of songs are written in rapid-fire succession by some of the region's most promising young artists.

The unique gathering is called the Gordie Sampson Songcamp, a four-day songwriting whirlwind that helps the region's musicians hone their skills by co-writing with their cohorts.

"It's a little bit of baptism by fire," said Sampson, a Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter.

"It encourages you to make very quick decisions that are a part of the co-writing process. You really have to learn to go with your instincts on so many things, but you also have to learn to not feel too shy about an idea you might have."

Anniversary album features 30 songs

The Cape Breton-born, Nashville-based Sampson started the camp a decade ago, and it has since developed a reputation for sparking catchy tunes and lasting friendships and collaborations.

To mark the camp's 10th anniversary, Sampson and a few camp alumni have put together a compilation album of some of the best 30 songs written at the camp on iconic Cape Breton Island.

The Gordie Sampson Songcamp 2010-2019 is being released on streaming services Friday and features the work of 40 songwriters.

This year’s songcamp is slated for the second week of July, and Gordie Sampson says he doesn’t plan to stop the annual event any time soon. (Gordie Sampson)

The album includes the song Montreal by Port Cities, which has garnered more than a million streams on Spotify and has been making waves on radio stations across Canada.

The band's Dylan Guthro recalled the day that song was written at the picturesque Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa.

"There was just something in the air," said Guthro, sitting next to bandmates and fellow songcamp veterans Carleton Stone and Breagh MacKinnon.

"We've all had those little song nuggets before and never really figured out what to do with them, but just the energy in that day, in that moment, it just all came together in a way we never would have thought, and it kind of blew my mind."

'Did I write that?'

Some of the artists who have passed through the camp over the years include folk troubadour Dave Sampson, pop hitmakers Frank Kadillac and Corey LeRue of Neon Dreams, and indie rocker Mo Kenney.

The songwriters are placed into different groups each day and have to write two songs by day's end.

By the final day, the artists have each co-written eight tunes and "have basically done nothing but write and sleep," said Sampson.

"One of my favourite quotes is, 'That's a great song — did I write that?'" he said with a laugh.

Songcamp ignites inspiration

The musicians in Port Cities met at songcamp as solo artists, but quickly realized they worked well together and decided to join forces.

MacKinnon said the camp breeds a unique and inspiring songwriting environment.

"There's just something special that happens when you get that many creative people in one place for a set period of time that it's just hard to recreate," said MacKinnon from inside her home studio in Halifax.

The trio helped Sampson and artist manager Sheri Jones put the compilation album together.

Port Cities met at songcamp as solo artists, but quickly realized they worked well together and decided to join forces. (Port Cities)

Stone said it was a painstaking process that involved sifting through more than 300 songs, all at various stages of completion — from raw demos to album versions.

"When you listen to it, it's like one big body of work. You can really see how everyone has developed and how we've all developed as a group," said Stone.

The songcamp usually takes place at Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa in Ingonish, N.S. (Cape Breton Highlands National Park)

This year's songcamp is slated for the second week of July, and Sampson said he doesn't plan to stop the annual event any time soon.

"Once you've taken a certain amount of spins around the Earth, you can identify when someone has a God-given talent for this," he said.

"And once you're able to really just boost their confidence, that's when things get really amazing."

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