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Dar Williams Retreat

ABOUT | Dar Williams

"…I'll just say that her songs are beautiful. Some are like finely crafted short stories. They are, variously, devastatingly moving, tenderly funny, subtle without being in any way inaccessible, and utterly fresh—not a cliché or a clunker in her entire songbook." –Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker

Dar Williams has been writing songs and touring for over twenty-five years, drawing inspiration from her travels over four continents and from the Hudson Valley where she lives. She has recorded ten studio albums (eight with Razor & Tie Records), clocked in over 2,000 gigs, and has enjoyed teaching at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival song school, Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch, Steve Earle's Camp Copperhead and in conjunction with the music programs at many high schools and colleges. Teaching an undergraduate course at Wesleyan University about music movements and democracy renewed Dar's faith in the importance of making music and also in the intrinsic, life-affirming value of creating songs, a process she is excited to be sharing in her neck of the woods.

If we're lucky we feel our lives
Know when the next scene arrives
So often we start in the middle and work our way out

we go to some gray-sky diner for eggs and toast
The New York Times or the New York Post
Then we take a ride through the valley of the shadow of death.
But even for us New Yorkers, there's a time in every day,
The river takes our breath away,

And the Hudson, it holds the life
We thought we did it on our own

- Dar Willliams, The Hudson

“Perhaps the best that can be said is that everyone who I speak to about it says they haven’t heard me sound this alive and passionate about something in a long, long time… Since I’ve gotten home, I’m writing with new confidence and inspiration. I gained more out of it than I could put into words.” -R.

ABOUT | The Team

Our retreat team is dedicated to ensuring your week with us is fun, enriching and memorable. Not only will you be guaranteed a one-on-one private song consultation with Dar and have an opportunity to share with her in multiple group settings, but we offer a daily a la carte menu of workshops and song circles conducted by our staffers. This allows you to be very much in the moment with your muse and decide how much time you would like to carve out for solitude and song exploration. In addition, we will be introducing special guest songwriters, so stay tuned for updates as we get closer to retreat time!

Remembering team member, Rick Gedney

We are saddened at the sudden loss of our dear friend and founding retreat member, Rick Gedney, in January of this year. His music, paintings and life touched so many here within the retreat and beyond. He will be missed by many. We would like to carry forward his love and enthusiasm for this community in the form of a scholarship fund in his name. Simply called Rick's Fund, any contributions received will be put towards tuition assistance for returning retreaters facing financial hardship. To contribute or learn more, please contact us at: To view Rick's paintings and listen to his music click here.
Michele Gedney, Song Whisperer

Michele Gedney, Songwriting Coach

Michele Gedney has been writing songs since she was seven years old. She continued writing throughout her life, mostly in the privacy of her room. In 1999, she ventured out to explore performing and met her musical partner and husband, Rick. Under the name Open Book, the duo released several albums which received critical acclaim and national airplay. In 2013, Michele and Rick, along with Raquel joined Dar as founders of Writing a Song That Matters. Witnessing the growth of this vibrant songwriting community over the past decade has been an amazing experience for her. She will be conducting workshops for any songwriters wanting to benefit from her refined perspective. Michele would love to help you develop your phrasing, melodies, and chord progressions so they support your song in the best possible way. To hear Open Book, click here.

Raquel Vidal, Retreat Coordinator, Song Whisperer

Raquel Vidal, Coordinator, Songwriting Coach

Raquel Vidal is a singer-songwriter and also leads Diamond Hotel, a band performing throughout the Hudson Valley and NY metro area. She can also be found supporting others musically, both live and in the studio. Raquel plays guitar and piano, often switching instruments while writing to further a song from different perspectives. She see songs as not only opportunities to communicate messages and narratives, but as having the ability to carry us through a rich array of emotional terrain. We can make a song uniquely our own by closely looking at: how we use our voices melodically and dynamically, what chord choices we make, how the song format affects the flow, how our lyric editing can be optimized, and how rythm, tempo, key and instrumentation can further nuance a song. Raquel will be offering workshops during the retreat for songwriters looking to dial up the focus on these elements to honestly, effectively and beautifully connect their song with the listener. Whatever level you are at is the perfect level to be at – she (like the other coaches) will meet you wherever you are!

Portrait of Amanda Gates-Elston

Amanda Gates-Elston, Team Facilitator/SoFab Collab Workshops

Amanda Gates-Elston is curious about the electronic transfer that happens among people, animals, instruments, and objects in communication as well as the alchemical changes within oneself made possible by and through e/motion. Amanda is a Texas and Maine transplant living in Brooklyn, sings and plays ukulele and banjo, really likes to make things, and enjoys the ways that art in any medium creates community, breakthrough, and an unmistakable feeling of possibility,

Portrait of Kellie Lin Knott

Kellie Lin Knott, Tech Coach

Minneapolis based Singer-songwriter, Kellie Lin Knott, was enlisted by the Writing a Song That Matters team to help ease the transition from in person to virtual retreats in July of 2020, and has been involved with all virtual events since. Kellie has a passion for problem-solving and dispelling stressful situations, and loves taking part in the camaraderie and magic of the Writing a Song That Matters community. When not working with the retreat team, Kellie runs a business offering streaming solutions for independent artists, offers tech support and coaching for those wanting to learn how to create their own livestreams, hangs out with her pitbull cocker spaniel mix, Donna Dog, and performs online. She continues to write and play music as a soloist and as a for-hire vocalist, rhythm guitarist and songwriter (her absolute favorite thing to do is to howl harmonies at the moon).

KJ Denhert, Songwriting Coach

KJ Denhert is an award-winning songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and bandleader living in Ossining, New York. She is a consummate artist with a rich history; a legend of Urban Folk & Jazz who channels a wide range of influences to create something completely unique. She performs regularly in New York and around the world and has shared stages with internationally renowned jazz and pop musicians such as GRAMMY Award winners Alicia Keys, Roberta Flack and many more. KJ has a residency at The 55 Bar in New York City's West Village performing with her all-star band when she is not touring. She has released 10 albums including her latest "Destiny", and is at work on 3 new original projects. Learn more at

Justina Golden, Vocal Coach

Justina Golden, Vocal Coach

Justina Golden is a mezzo-soprano who has been teaching students aged 11 to 82, shower singers to professionals, for thirty years. She has sung in the contemporary folk, Celtic, early music, jazz and classical genres. Justina is a member of the Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble, the 5-member early music ensemble Cantabile, The Wilde Irish Women Repertory Company, and is on the staff of the Umbrian Serenades, taking groups of professionals and talented amateur singers to Spoleto, Italy to perform choral concerts under the direction of conductor David Hayes. Justina worked with Dar in the early years of her career and will be joining us with some vocal tips, tricks, information and inspiration to help better understand our unique vocal instrument and learn how to access our finest voice while presenting our songs.

Lara Demberg Voloto, Yoga Instructor

Lara Demberg Voloto, Yoga Instructor

Lara began practicing yoga because she thought it would be easy. By the time she realized her mistake, she was hooked and has now been teaching in the Hudson Valley for the past 15 years, offering creativity, careful attention and thoughtful conversation. She is also currently pursuing a master’s degree in mental health counseling with a specialization in trauma and the body. Lara’s classes are challenging, accessible, empowering, sometimes goofy, and fun. They are about building an ever-deepening conversation with ourselves through stories, metaphors, and experiential learning in a safe and welcome space. Lara encourages students to bring their curiosity, their challenges and their intellect to the mat. Lara will conduct an all level yoga class for an hour each morning, incorporating our songwriting focus into the practice. It's by no means mandatory, but if you haven't been to a yoga class before, this would be a very friendly place to give it a try!

Sandra Slokenbergs, Yoga Instructor August

Sandra Slokenbergs, Yoga Instructor

Sandra received her 200 hour yoga certification in 2006 and has been sharing her love of yoga the last twelve years to adults, teens and kids. She is a certified Chair Yoga instructor and teacher/trainer for Kidding Around Yoga, a company whose goal is to promote peaceful, happy children. Sandra spent a decade living in Riga, Latvia, where she was the owner of Satya Yoga, a studio which attracted a wide diversity of nationalities and led classes and retreats in English and Latvian. In addition to teaching yoga at various studios locally, Sandra offers private sessions for yoga and public speaking. She is an adjunct professor at Marist College, where she teaches Public Speaking and integrates yoga principles into public presentation. She is a member of the Hudson Valley Writing Project and strives to devote her time to creative writing and promoting the love of language to teenagers and young adults. Sandra is honored and delighted to spend a week among inspiring and aspiring singers and songwriters!