Summer festival season brings a lot of choices to music fans on the East coast. Events of all sizes take place from Maine to Florida. Lineups are various, offering a little bit of everything for everyone. I have been going to festivals for a long time and rode the wave while the festival population rose, attending the first few Bonnaroo festivals and growing with the All Good festival during its formative years.
After seeing the biggest, I believe there is something to be said for a party in the West Virginia hills that boasts some big name acts while still being supported by a heavy contingent of regional bands with strong local fanbases.
Camp Barefoot is a prime example of this kind of party.
In its fourth installment, Camp Barefoot (August 19-21) has become a highlight of the summer festival season. After being held at The Cove campground in Gore, VA for the first three years, Raleigh-based HeyBro productions decided to move the festival to an even more rural location this year, choosing Camp Hidden Meadows in Bartow, West Virginia. Hidden Meadows hosts summer camp for kids, with rock climbing, horseback riding, swimming, and a 1,000-foot zipline. This would be its first time hosting a music festival, and I’d say we fit right in.
Camp Barefoot has two side-by-side stages in the main concert field, which is a smart way to have very little musical downtime. Most of the bigger acts play on the Stanlee Stage, while the Home Grown Music Network sponsored the slightly smaller HGMN Stage. A short walk up the road and into the woods led to the SKU Stage, sponsored by SKU Designs, home of the instant mustache, which would prove to be a source of almost constant humor throughout the weekend. Many regional bands were featured on the SKU Stage, introducing new music to folks from all over.
Music kicked off on the main stage with Asheville’s electronica-laced Cindercat while Blacksburg’s Curious Strange got the SKU Stage going with a funky groove. This would be a common theme throughout the weekend as Camp Barefoot has become a showcase for lesser-known talent from around the Eastern seaboard. There are a lot of young, energetic bands playing skillful electronic music that go unnoticed due to the high expenses of touring. With the advent of social media such as Facebook and MySpace, these bands have much easier exposure to fans outside their area, and Camp Barefoot has supported many of those acts with CB4 Showcase Shows throughout the region prior to the festival.
Richmond-based Former Champions took the SKU Stage over later, taking the audience on an eclectic voyage with their multi-stylistic approach to dance music. Headlining slots on the two main stages were filled by Camp Barefoot favorites and frequent collaborators RAQ and The Breakfast. Their sets melted into one another, highlighted by shredding guitar solos and funky basslines. Asheville world beat virtuosos Toubab Krewe got the crowd limbered up for a long night of dancing with Colorado’s Big Gigantic (featuring Dominic Lalli of the Motet and drummer Jeremy Salken). The music came to a close far into the night, or perhaps early in the morning, depending on your perspective.
After a tasty campsite breakfast Friday morning, we wandered the grounds to see some of the sights. One of the new upgrades this year for Camp Barefoot was an improved recycling and greening program. A motivated crew of Radford University students, led by Amity Dewey and Michael Mercker, collected and separated bottles and cans from paper and trash. Recycling bags were handed out at the gate and throughout the campground, and with the help of experienced greening coordinators Anne and Derek Bedarf, Camp Barefoot Greening was born. In the most creative collection technique I have seen, an aluminum can Skee-ball game was set up where kids could win prizes for points scored. The team is hopeful for composting to become part of the program in the future.
Friday’s main stage music started off with Soul Taxi, featuring former members of Florida natives the Burnin’ Smyrnans, who played at Camp Barefoot 2 a few years ago. Soul Taxi smoothed everyone out for the afternoon with reggae grooves and big smiles all around. Pants for Bears, hailing from Harrisonburg, VA, got things funky up at the SKU Stage, while Fletcher’s Grove, the Mantras, and The Funk Ark kept the party going on the big field.
Richmond’s Silo Effect took an early headlining spot on the HGMN Stage after blowing the roof off at Camp Barefoot 3. Another Richmond group and Camp Barefoot alumni, The DJ Williams Projekt, got loose on the big stage. DJ reigned in saxophonist Gordon Jones as he gave West Virginia a salute with a jar of white lightning. With skills reminiscent of Tower of Power, the Projekt set the tone for a night of funk.
We made our way up to the SKU Stage to check out Raleigh’s Funkuponya, featuring bassist Leo Kishore, former member of Barefoot Manner. A traditional four-piece, Funkuponya lays down thick grooves accentuated by tight organ lines.
Barefoot was about to look like Colorado for an hour or so, with String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth. Kyle’s masterful organ playing was backed the perhaps the best rhythm section around – drummer Dave Watts and bass virtuoso Garrett Sayers of the Motet. Supporting his recent album Then There’s Now, Kyle gave West Virginia a taste of the West Coast.
Next up on the big stage was my most anticipated set of the weekend, Kung Fu. Featuring members of the Breakfast, RAQ, Jazz is Dead, and Dickey Betts’ band, Kung Fu is capable of making things happen on stage that will leave you standing in awe. Lightning-fast chops on every players’ part keeps the listeners’ ears bouncing back and forth.
Late in Kung Fu’s set, Chris Michetti of RAQ came out to perform some stunning behind-the-back guitar acrobatics with Palmieri. I know I was not the only one utterly amazed at the musical prowess of this band.
My musical teapot was whistling for the night. I heard a little bit of Particle, who also had Palmieri sitting in with them for their whole set. With no new material in the past number of years, I skipped Particle and caught a little bit of some highly skilled up-and-coming Ohio freaks, Papadosio, before retiring for the evening.
A few years ago, my girlfriend and I started attending High Sierra Music Festival in northern California. For a long time, High Sierra has kept a great secret – sunrise kickball. We have had so much fun and laughed so much out there that we decided to bring the concept back east. Last year at Camp Barefoot, Hillary and I rallied the campgrounds late night and by the time dawn rolled around, we had a hilarious game of up-all-night kickball going.
The movement caught on, and we were told months before the festival by one of the organizers that many inquiries about Camp Barefoot 4 concerned the existence of kickball. We came up with the idea of a fans vs. bands game where we could raise money for charity. So after we warmed up our kicking legs with a Saturday morning game (I missed the Friday dawn installment), we spent the afternoon preparing for our official match against members of Kung Fu, RAQ, the Breakfast, and others.
As it turned out, “preparing” consisted mainly of drinking beer and telling jokes and, of course, shooting stuffed animals out of a potato cannon. “Eat flower, hippies!” was the mantra for the day as a friend launched plush toys hundreds of feet. No flowers or hippies were injured in the process.
While Funkuponya thumped along on the main stage, we took the soccer field over and showed our athletic skills…or lack thereof. The fans took the lead early, but the bands had a powerful 3rd inning, chalking up a bunch of points. In the end, we lost 12-6, everyone had a blast, and we raised more than $300 for the Pocahontas County SPCA.
We frolicked backstage while The Hackensaw Boys did their rowdy thing, then RAQ took over for their second set of the weekend. RAQ’s Chris Michetti didn’t go far after their set, as he sat in with Conspirator, a Disco Biscuits side project featuring bassist Marc Brownstein and keyboardist Aron Magner. The rain finally came, and the crowd got soaked during The Breakfast’s late night set.
Michael Travis and Jason Hann of the String Cheese Incident finished up Saturday’s late night with their heavy electronic project, EOTO. Blending live drumming with keys, samples and other insane effects, EOTO kept the wet people dancing while a huge glowing dragon pulsated through the crowd.
Sunday morning opened its eyes to a wet morning at Hidden Meadows. Some folks had packed up and hit the road during the downpour Saturday night, but many–myself included–were in no hurry to say goodbye. Camp Barefoot 4 proved itself to be a big highlight of my summer once again. The lineup was stellar, the setting was beautiful, and the music fans did a good job representing their tastes and personalities. HeyBro Productions is on to something good here, and I look forward to future years at Camp Barefoot with a smile on my face and a gleam in my eye.