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Kotzen and The Winery Dogs go to camp this July

Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen of The Winery Dogs
Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen of The Winery Dogs
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Winery Dogs’ guitarist and vocalist Richie Kotzen can only dream what it would have been like to have had something like the Dog Camp when he was a kid spending countless hours practicing scales and dreaming of being able to one day make a living as a musician.

And oh, what it dream it was.

“Could you imagine, as a young guitar fanatic like I was, if there was an opportunity for me to go somewhere and meet Eddie Van Halen and ask him questions about how he gets his sound or how he approaches songwriting or any of those kinds of things,” he asks. “Obviously I’m not trying to put myself in any class that I don’t belong, but there are musicians out there that are interested in what I do and how I approach things, and they’re interested in Billy’s perspective and Mike’s perspective as well. So it’s a great opportunity and a chance to give back to people that have followed you and bought your records and created this amazing life of being a musician.”

Next month at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY, Kotzen and his band mates - Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy – get to make those dreams a reality through their Dog Camp, which runs from July 21 through 25. A four day getaway which will deliver a mix of instructional clinics, songwriting sessions, performances, and down time with the trio, is basically a fantasy camp / music business seminar for aspiring musicians and fans, something that Kotzen believes will attract a varied array of camp goers.

“I’ve done a couple fantasy camps which have been really fun, and you get guys that just want to jam, you get young people that are really curious and want to know how to even get in the business, you get guys that have been in the business for a long time that need insight, and you get people that basically just want to learn the instrument,” he said. “So it’s a huge, broad scope of different kinds of people that you come across, and that is a rewarding thing to meet these people and learn what they’re thinking and what their perspective is.”

For attendees, the great part about a camp like this is that in The Winery Dogs, you’re looking at four days of learning from three virtuosos of the hard rock / metal genre. Kotzen, Sheehan, and Portnoy are among the best of the best, and though Kotzen doesn’t put himself in that Van Halen category, if you’re a guitarist, getting to pick his brain and jam with him is like getting to play an inning in centerfield for the Yankees. At the same time, the 44-year-old Pennsylvania native doesn’t believe this is something that would have necessarily worked back in his formative years.

“In the beginning when I first came into the record business, I definitely was all about that idea of the mystery of the artist and keeping things quiet because that was interesting to me as a kid when I looked at other artists and it created this whole larger than life thing,” he said. “But our climate has changed radically, obviously with social media. We’re in a different world now. Everyone’s walking around with a movie camera in their pocket basically, so it’s an outdated mentality. It doesn’t work. As a matter of fact, if you tried to pull that attitude now, people would probably tell you ‘%^%& you, I’m not down with it.’ (Laughs) It’s a different climate and you have to adapt and grow, and in the end, it’s a better climate because being in touch with reality is a good thing.”

So he doesn’t worry about opening up his vault of tricks?

“No matter what you say or show someone, you’re still you,” he said. “Even if you play every single thing Eddie Van Halen ever played, you’re still not going to be Eddie Van Halen.”

True, and while people are signing up to learn from the band, the band can learn a little something too.

“Sometimes you become educated, which is what I like,” he said. “As you speak, you also reveal things about yourself, and if you’re aware and actually speaking in the present time, you discover things. You’re teaching someone but suddenly you’re learning something in the process.”

So if he had his choice, what camp would Richie Kotzen go to?

“I’d like to go to a Rolling Stones camp,” he said. “I actually did five or six shows with them in Japan. I opened up for them back in 2006 and it was crazy being around them, just watching them every night, and seeing how they continued on. I remember seeing an interview with Mick Jagger where he said he wouldn’t be doing this when he was 30, and now he’s up there at 70 and it’s pretty impressive.”

The Winery Dogs’ Dog Camp runs from July 21-25 at Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY. For more information, click here