I Left My Heart at Camp Barefoot
Camp Barefoot 10 Review
Aug 18-20, 2016, Elkins, WV
Written by Elise Olmstead
Photos by Roger Gupta.
Sometimes a festival comes along that means more than just a lineup, more than just a weekend of music, vendor food, and suntan lotion. Sometimes it becomes a wild refuge, a reunion, a celebration, and must-attend attend event because of the vibration and the people we share it with. Camp Barefoot, from the beginning, touched everyone who attended, and the word of mouth that ensued was proof that this was much more than another festival in a field. Wherever I met a fellow Camp Barefoot fan, I met a reflection of my own heart. As we stood in the country convenience store near Seneca Rocks, buying pepperoni rolls, the shaggy couple with colorful clothes next to us gave us a friendly nod as they spotted our wristbands. “There’s something about Camp Barefoot,” they said as we struck a conversation. “It’s one of those special ones.”
I first heard about Camp Barefoot after my third year at All Good in 2010. The group of friends that we would always attend with suddenly caught festival fever, and our annual trip to All Good became merely a catalyst for learning more about this wonderful world of music and fun. As we settled back into full time jobs, our friends told us about other festivals they went to, and Camp Barefoot was one that they insisted we check out. “You would really like Barefoot,” they said, and described the then unheard-of small festival atmosphere, that provided easy walks to the stage, beautiful mountain landscapes, and a family community among the attendees.
By the time I finally attended Camp Barefoot, we were at least a little wet behind the ears when it came to small festivals, but the experience that would ensue was unlike any other. It was only Thursday night and I was already dizzy with friends, lights, and fun. It seemed like all of our friends we usually see at shows from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and beyond, had gathered here and immediately let loose. The best part was that we were in a smaller, intimate venue where friends were around every corner, instead of being spread out. I ran down the curving vendor row, the lights rising like colored steam in the chilly West Virginia air, towards the sparkling lit pathway, as I chased after Greg Ormont from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, who was wearing a fuzzy Santa Hat over his then not-quite-as-afro’d head. “I believe in Santa! I believe in Santa!” I exclaimed, and he wrapped me in a big hug. The weekend to follow was one to remember. With our new magazine, Appalachian Jamwich, making the rounds, and almost all of our favorite people in one place, Camp Barefoot was a place where I knew I belonged.
Over the years we have gotten more involved with Camp Barefoot, in support of the festival we love so dearly. In its tenth year, it was more important than ever for us to be there. I rallied my friends and we came in early to set up a booth, eager to explore the new venue. My friend Nicole, who was familiar with Pegasus Farm, in Elkins, WV, because of weddings she had attended there, served as our tour guide as she led us over the abandoned, overgrown railroad tracks, through fields of sunflowers, a tiny pond and swinging bench, as well as breathtaking views of the West Virginia mountains and vast blue skies.
On Thursday, after making the rounds of friends on vendor row, plugging away at my laptop getting some work done, and changing into our costumes for the evening (Medieval/Renaissance), my Barefoot mood was in full swing. Taco and I hugged friends as we whipped around every corner, stopping to say a few words before we watched them walk away, wondering if we would run into them again. I love the way a festival bounces you like a pinball machine, encountering moments that slingshot you into the arms of another friend, then to another adventure, another set, and then a bee-line back to your home base.
My favorite bands of Thursday were Definition of One, Tropidelic, The Fat Catz, and Dopapod. As we set up the Appalachian Jamwich booth in the afternoon sun, we enjoyed the tight jamtronica tunes of Definition of One, who played at 4PM after Delirious George. Cleveland, OH, band Tropidelic, got going just as we got settled, and their funky reggae music set my perfect mood to beach-inspired chill mode. Or was my beach party demeanor more inspired than the trumpet player’s “banana hammock” style bathing suit that was slung over his shoulder, Borat style? I was impressed by the band, who at times, reminded me of Passafire (a band I love), and watched it even get taken up a notch when Jeremy Anderson from Treehouse joined them for a funky sit-in. The Fat Catz, from Blacksburg, VA, are one of our new favorites since seeing them at Rootwire. Their fun-loving space rock full of synths is atmospheric and dance-able at the same time. The Fritz, Consider the Source (playing a Radiohead set), and BIG Something (who played a great cover of “Pony” by Ginuwine), kept the mood going, as my Medieval Mamas and I rocked out at the booth. Dopapod was the end to a great night, playing “Braindead” from Redevider, and “Onionhead” from my favorite album of theirs, Drawn Onward. The set was sentimental, taking me back to when I cemented my love for them at the Cary St Cafe Stage at Camp Barefoot years ago.
Friday hosted a lot of amazing sit-ins from bands that I was so glad to see collaborate, such as Nick MacDaniels, the guitarist of BIG Something, joining Savi Fernandez Band, Mario D’Ambrosio, the saxaphonist of Yellow Dubmarine, sitting in with Definition of One, and Mikey Spice, drummer of The Fritz, sitting in with BIG Something later that evening. The whole venue was buzzing on the energy of collaboration and community, and I feel like I made friends with so many faces friendly, funny, and full of smiles. We dressed as the “Cutie Clown Brigade” with painted hearts on our cheeks, pained with smiles too big and love beating warm as it pumped into the night air. We spent most of the evening shaking our groove thangs to bands like Fletcher’s Grove, BIG Something, Nth Power, The New Deal, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong between The Broadberry and Camel stage in the main stage area, but a third Cary Street Cafe stage hosted tons of bands day and night as well. Bands like Treehouse, The Broadcast, Big Daddy Love, The Fritz, and ELM held it down, and I made sure to wander over often with my friend Ahlee beside me as we weaved around fences, stage platforms, and lit cigarettes. ELM is one of my favorite late night bands and I was glad to kick it with them before their energetic set, watching Jon Brady bend notes from the keyboard that dissolved into a live-tronic night sky.
The Cutie Clown Brigade was drowsy the next morning, our clowning antics lasted a little too long the night before. There was not to waste a moment of Camp Barefoot, though, so we rose and cooked a delicious lunch before wandering back into the foray. The day was stacked with too many amazing bands that we love, including National Headliner, City of the Sun, Manor & Friends, Primate Fiasco, and more. By the time we settled back to our booth spot, Keller Williams had taken the stage. It’s disorienting sometimes to hear him without seeing him, since his looping makes it sound like more than one person is playing. His distinctive, gentle singing voice is without a doubt recognizable, though, and it sounded amazing singing Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” as well as ending with a unique rendition of “Fire on the Mountain” sung completely with lyrics by Ani DiFranco. Keller’s creativity always impresses me. His Keller Loves Canon set was amazing as well, the collaboration with 80’s music extraordinaires Love Canon played one of my favorite songs from the decade : “Kiss” by Prince.
I find myself in the same place during most TAUK sets — in the photo pit with friends, my face engulfed with smoky lights that are thick with mood. The light travels in between the fingers of guitarist Matt Jalbert, crashes and dissolves on the drums of Isaac Teel, scatters over the bass lines of Charles Dolan, and with a final breath like the one caught at your throat, turns into a rib-rattling chord over A.C. Carter’s keyboards. Their music is no joking matter, even when they take a crowd-pleasing choice like they did at Camp Barefoot by playing The Pokemon Theme as their opening song. The night had suddenly gotten serious, and we were equipped with barracks of glitter and glow for the Ghostland Observatory set. Their disco-punk electronica swag got the heaviest of hearts on their feet with their hands in the air, as we tickled the sky, nearly reaching a latticed roof of laser beams that danced above us. We made sure to wander over at Cary St. Cafe Stage while BIG Something was playing a set of originals and Pink Floyd covers, including “Wish You Were Here” and “Brick in the Wall,” then came back in time to catch most of The Motet as they closed out the festival. The Motet played a fiery last set of the evening, which I only felt appropriate. As the staff gathered on the opposite stage to say goodnight, the band walked off energetically, thrilled by the enthusiastic crowd. They approached us with smiling faces and we urged them to play an encore to the rabid audience, and they played “Be Thankful,” a song so appropriate it brought tears to my eyes. Afterwards staff, family, and friends gathered for a family photo and thanked all of the Camp Barefoot family for their attendance and dedication. Not only do we as friends come together year after year for this family reunion, the fantastic staff consists of people with some of the biggest hearts I’ve ever encountered. Year after year they came together with love and adoration for this event that brought us all together.
The memories that I have collected at Camp Barefoot feel as lush and vivid as the moment they occurred. One of the first genuine bonds I’ve had with friend and photographer Roger Gupta, was taking a trek together with Taco and him, climbing over the hill to the Cary St Cafe Stage to see Dopapod, and pausing over the hill to watch the Ghostland Observatory lasers cut through the clouds in the sky. We stood, faces shining pink and blue, at the surreal scene before us like futuristic lightning. I remember when People’s Blues of Richmond brought the crowd to its knees by playing “Nihilist Blues” to its climax slowly, painfully, sensually, until you thought it was over and then they brought it right back again seemingly endlessly, driving the audience to the brink until we were wild-eyed with frenzy. To make the fantasy wilder, Merry Prankster friend Carter had brought incredibly huge balloons (wider than you could wrap your arms around) to bounce over the crowd during the encore. (The next day he comes up to me asking “Did you see which way they [the balloons] went? One of them got away and probably popped in a tree, but those things leave huge carcasses and I don’t want to litter!”) People’s Blues of Richmond seemed full of Camp Barefoot antics including renegade sets, golf cart incidents and other shenanegins. Speaking of renegade sets–I think o f my annoyance during the not-so-silent disco (as we called it) last year raging from early morning hours into regular morning hours. The jokes from the DJ (“What’s your favorite pudding? What rhymes with orange? Winner gets a swig of this cheap whiskey,”) were enough to calm my rage, not to mention the smiling faces decked in bizarre half-costumes from the night before that wandered in. I remember when Amanda Sandwicch came barreling into the crowd with a cake tin full of brownies, insisting we try one as the guys of Kung Fu stuff their faces with chocolate goodness. Our friend already drunk on Henessey at 9 in the morning on Thursday, demanding I find him batteries for his Stay Puft costume, that later got painted by artist Leslie Caneda.
One of the most special Camp Barefoot moments was visiting The Werks’ brand new tour bus at the time, and jabbering away with the late Norman Dimitrouleas along with our newfound friend and ukulele player Camryn Wessner. When the itch for music and adventure took over, we followed Kenny, Norman, and the rest of the guys out to a level place in the crowd near the Cary St. stage and setup a card table. I watched the guys play poker by light from a lamp hanging from Kenny’s walking stick while I danced with the girls, and later that night we watched the sun come up as we drank from a whiskey bottle with Chris Houser outside of the bus.
There are too many memorable moments to recount over the years, but I will enjoy watching them like a reel in my mind. The year we met Nigel Hall, the year someone lit a flare into a tree during BIG Something, the year Pigeon’s van got stuck in the mud, the birthdays with Kirby and gathering at Sybrick Media tent, the emergencies at the Bear Care tent that we rushed to aid with, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The challenges, the secrets, the muds, the lights, the stuffed animals and hoops, and the swinging dance as triumphant as “The Sound of Music” as we glide over a mountainside decorated with glow stick murals. The year I, surrounded by friends in feathers and flair, glowsticks connected and entertwined like body suits on our bodies, hugged by blankets and friends and dimly glowing lanterns, raised my hand in the air and declared “It’s a best friend party!” Indeed.
I found myself in the same place I always found myself on the last night of Camp Barefoot. Under a pearl grey sky, thick still with night time and laughter, the gigglers and the squealers still audible from beyond. I kicked my feet as we looked to the sky, Taco had tired eyes but my heart was an anchor keeping me in the moment. I smoked one last cigarette and talked on the shoulder of my girl friend, anxiously grasping at another moment here together. The hugs and the tears, the screams of excitement and exclamations of awe all shook within me, filling me with a feeling only Camp Barefoot ever could. I let the weekend’s events cast a movie over my eyelids as I laid, cozy and grateful with my husband once again in the bask of the Barefoot glow. For years I have wondered what it was that made this so special, but now I realize it was us. The way we were attracted to each other like magnets and exploded with intensity as we came so close, it was Camp Barefoot that brought us together and our chemistry that made the magic. Thank you Camp Barefoot, you managed to be not an event that we were part of, but an event that is, and always will be, a part of us.