Guitars and the meaning of life

We host a guitar retreat in late January every year. The people that attend are more than wonderful, they are something else. Ravenswood had its 3rd annual David Barrett Guitar Summit and for some of our guests, this was the third consecutive year that they have attended. Why?! 5 incredibly good reasons!

1. The star of the guitar – David Barrett

Simply stated, David Barrett gets it. He wanted to have an event that took everything to the limit: food, guests, workshops and great music. Watching and listening to Dave talk about guitars is the inspiration that we’re all looking for. Passionate, pragmatic, stylish and grounded. The workshops are inclusive yet give us a view to the musicians life, with all of its risks balanced by accomplishments; the yin and yang. We, the normal, looking into a culture of talent and aspiration in which fame is difficult to attain. Dave approaches the workshops with humour, realism and with a fine teachers’ goal: make sure they leave the room with knowledge and inspiration.

2. The food (and drink)

On Friday night, it has become the 3-year tradition for Dave’s brother Steve to cook the most succulent ribs imaginable. His Jim Beam rib sauce is applied lightly with a bucket of extra to suit the sauciest diner. Combined with the perfect Caesar salad, it’s a no-lose meal. Steve also hosts our wine-tasting “contest” where a half dozen mixed bag of wines get judged. Educational and at times, hilarious! Breakfasts consist of maple-baked steel-cut oats, thick, meaty bacon, back bacon, eggs, pancakes, juice, gallons of excellent coffee courtesy of Kawartha Coffee Company, yoghourt, fruit, nut bars, and ribs (if so desired!).

Before the Saturday evening dinner extravaganza, we have the most excellent, Pieter van Oudenaren – our cheese guy – display some of Canada’s very finest, world-award-winning, cheeses. Made in Lindsay, Ontario, Celebrity Cheese is a true crowd-pleaser. Luxurious goat cheese, in many flavours, extraordinary Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheese and the brilliant Tania Toscana Sheep Milk Cheese are voraciously gobbled; the perfect way to start the main course.

Saturday evening’s catered event is invented and created by local food guru, Sacha Douglas. Taken directly from Sacha’s email:

To start

    • Organic Tortilla Chips, Smoky Tomato Salsa and fresh Guacamole
    • Citrus Shrimp Ceviche Shooters



    • Soft mini tacos with Pulled Organic Beef and gourmet toppings and accompaniments (such as goat Cheese, Pickled Red Onion, Charred Corn, Lime, Cilantro, Jalapeno, Fresh Salsa, Avocado, Chipotle Cream, etc) served with a fresh Napa Cabbage and Heirloom Carrot Slaw Salad


Passed Desserts:

    • Housemade Strawberry Daiquiri and Lime Free-zees
    • Spiced Chocolate Cinnamon Brownies with Dulce de Leche


 The last thing to be said here: “Wow!!”


3. The guests

The quality of guests we have had over the three years has been absolutely top-shelf. We have professionals of all types and the mix is wonderful. And while there is much cerebral charm to go around, there is also a lot of “party ’till you drop” energy. By Sunday at noon, it’s sure that there have been friendships kindled and the drive home will have weekend guitar memories pulsing through the cranium.

For the last two years we’ve been very fortunate to have two guest luthiers take the speakers’ helm. Last year, Pete Swanson of Dagmar Custom Guitars fascinated us with his mathematical artistry in creating some of the most interesting electric guitars on the planet. He showed us several guitar art pieces that also gave us the art of audible power.

This year we had the great Tony Karol of Karol Custom Guitars take us through the beginnings of an actual build of his next resonator-style acoustic guitar. Mirroring wood and using a mould to heat the form of a guitar body! His custom-built guitars; 6-string, 12-string, baritone, and harp-guitar, were absolutely stunning in fit, finish and sound. Anyone considering a custom-made acoustic guitar should really check out Tony’s craftwork. He also teaches people how to create their own guitar – check it out!

4. The music

It all starts here, really. With Dave’s prodigious playing leading the inspirational way, he has an entertaining manner to level his jaw-dropping finger-style techniques – both in classical and pure progressive rock platforms. The diversity in styles makes you realize how much he appreciates music of many genres, playing everything from Steve Howe, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Page, Liszt, Ennio Morricone, Les Paul, and of course his own exquisite compositions.

The nights are generally reserved for jam sessions in the kitchen. This year we had the addition of the Vinyl Lounge and the Steel Guitar Garage. Both were big hits. The Saturday night jam was a total blast, singing and playing songs from Eagles, and other rock classics.

5. The setting

Ravenswood is a unique space to host a guitar retreat. We don’t know of anything other guitar retreat like this. It’s intimate, high-quality, reasonably priced, and not too far from all points in the GTA. Some guests come from as far away as Hamilton, Guelph, Cobourg, and Toronto. There is something about being in a really old log home – the wood, especially, is warm and resonates with the power of music and laughter. Before the weekend, the main room is emptied of all unnecessary furniture and re-arranged to accommodate a progressive rock power trio, 12 guests and 4-6 staff. One day an addition will make the space less intimate and more grand, but we’ll enjoy the current closeness while it lasts.

While it’s quite the maintenance-heavy property, especially in the snowy winter, Ravenswood is 15 acres of gorgeous maple and oak woods with a mixture of massive white pines and scraggly hemlocks. With the addition of a small waterfront property directly across the road, we had a quick hike on the Miskwaa Ziibi river (Red River in Ojibwa), until we saw flowing water and promptly headed back to the warmth of the kitchen!

We are incredibly fortunate to have wonderful neighbours who have a cottage property across the road from Ravenswood. While we can accommodate 9 guests on site, we are able to house another group at Red River Retreat – a warm, large, modern cottage on the Miskwaa Ziibi River. Truly a beautiful gem!

Last words

We’re hoping to get Paul’s photos up on the site soon, after he recovers from a weekend of marvellous music and company. If you’re feeling inspired to join us next year, email us at and we’ll keep you on our mailing list for the David Barrett Guitar Summit 2016. To our wonderful guests, thank you for joining us! We are already planning next years’ event!