The morning of Campfire Festival, we woke up at the break of dawn to drive to Lakewood, PA. Splitting through the green westerly timbers of New Jersey and then into Pennsylvania, we watched as civilization began to disappear. Driving windows down, hints of Americana softly tingled in my ears from my speakers, and I felt more connected to what Campfire was to embody.
When we arrived at Camp Lavi (yes, the festival was at a Modern Jewish Orthodox camp), the organization wasn’t the tightest I had ever seen. I drove up and down from campsite to campsite on these giant brick-sized rocks until someone was finally able to direct me to the correct area. I will definitely give Campfire Festival the benefit of the doubt being as this was their first time putting together this festival, and that the staff was extremely pleasant and actually seemed overly enthralled about volunteering.
We set up tent on the top of a hill and immediately got into conversation with our neighbors. Them as well as others admitted to not knowing many of the bands performing, but were more attracted to what the festival had to offer for a reasonable ticket price and camping accommodations. As we discussed our expectations of the festival, one by one we listed the advertised activities and hearsay we’d been picking up from passer-byers about what was being offered:
· skateboard ramps
· outdoor games and activities
· an inflatable obstacle course in the lake (blob)
· beach parties (a stage right on the beach)
· laser tag
· A petting zoo
· Indoor and outdoor pools with slides and a hot tub
Almost simultaneously, we all stated, “This is like a camp for…adults?“
Since it was still well before the festival actually began, we decided to take a tour around Camp Lavi. On our stroll, we saw that we had full access to basically every type of facility that Camp Lavi offered. And they had all the things a camper would dream of. I wish I spent my summers here when I was younger…
While walking towards the “Media Compound,” we ran into the owner of Camp Lavi, Joe, who decided to stay the weekend. His humbleness was completely inviting. The “Media Compound” just so happened to be on the deck of his cabin, which he explained was the “best place too be because of the view.” It overlooked the pool area, the lake, and the beach. Joe explained to us that he had actually gone to Camp Lavi when he was younger back in the 70’s. He decided when he got older that he would eventually purchase and own it one day. And with buying the camp, he would put in all new additions for the campers to enjoy. I think he did a decent job.
Joe was excited to share his story with us and tell us about every single detail that he had to offer. Like the petting zoo; he had rescued all the animals and raised all of them back to health with his kids. The calf, the goats, the chickens, and the sheep were all hand-picked. He was completely sincere when he spoke to us about how much he wholeheartedly adored the camp. To talk to Joe prior to the beginning of the festival instilled an initial attachment and appreciation for the festival. And he was out and about the entire weekend, walking around, talking to everyone and inquiring about their lives, asking if anyone needed any food or water from his cabin. The man was totally hospitable when it came to Camp Lavi because after all, this camp was basically his home in a sense.
As for housing, there were a bunch of camping areas. There was the VIP camping area, the general admission camping grounds, and a bunch of sections that were set up with cabins (included personal bathrooms/showers). Many of the cabins were decorated outside as part of a contest for the festival. There were also these hose stations (looked kinda like a cluster of coiled utters with nozzles on the end), that you could fill your water bottles, wash off with, or drink directly from. These came in clutch. There were also outdoor public bathrooms with fully functional toilets, sinks, and hand dryers. Although there was only a row of four with an addition of a ten minute walk, they were well worth it after a couple of days of the easy accessible porter potties that had been roasting in the sun.
Saturday morning we woke up early to take a walk around the campgrounds. We passed by yoga sessions in the studio and people taking up the sun by the beach. I also remember seeing Joe followed by a group of other men walking out of one of the cabins with Kippahs. As we peered inside, we saw there were all kinds of Judaic books inside meant for studying the Torah..it was sort of like an on-site Chapel. Joe had held a Saturday morning prayer for his friends who stayed the weekend (some were a bit older). It was truly spectacular that this was going on at the same time as the festival.
Throughout the rest of the festival, I noticed there were people of all ages in attendance. Families brought their children, teenagers that stayed to volunteer at the camp from the summertime (most were friendly with the Joe), and adults that ranged anywhere from the ages of 20 to 60. After Langhorne Slim and the Law played, a father came up to me and asked if I could snap a picture of him and his 5-year-old son with the band. The boy began to tell me how he knew all the words to all their songs and that they were his favorite. As I went to take the picture, I noticed there were women in their 30’s-40’s looking to have parts of their body signed…
An array of activities were provided at Campfire Festival so that you always had something to do. One of the highlights of the activities that were offered were the mixology tutorials. Everyone sat around while a demonstration was giving about how to make the perfect Old Fashioned. There were also costume kickball games that were super fun to watch and participate in. Pirates, superheroes, and famous characters swamped the field. During the nighttime, there was a gigantic bon fire that included long benches along the perimeter. People brought and generously shared marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate for s’mores.
In addition to these activities, there was LASER TAG. Did you get that? Laser tag. Come on, who hasn’t missed playing a good ol’ game of this? The course during the day was ridiculous (see pictures). Typically set up for paintball, it’s this whole elaborate scene constructed in the woods, complete with an abandoned school bus and boat, and all these strange objects hanging from trees to distract you. The nighttime course was equally creative and amazing.In a roller hockey rink, they constructed an entire blow-up obstacle course for the laser tag. It was quite intense at night.
There were a bunch of food vendors that pitched tent, too. Each place that served food offered a delightful selection of ingredients. The food was fresh and made on the spot to order especially at Hippie Dips and Pies for the People. You were never getting something pre-made and frozen (and it was all affordable). A Vita Coco tent was set up all weekend handing out free samples of different flavors, which came in clutch when you really just needed that hydration-hangover or not. The food venders were all also totally sweet and excited to be there just as the rest of the staff.
Aside from food, there were many other vendors selling their own DIY products like Earth and Iron who made everything out of recycled wood and iron. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but the stuff they make is beyond what you would believe. There were banjos made out of recycled skateboards, bowls/plant holders, these really neat frames, and some beautiful typography with little phrases on wooden boards. Or, there were some vendors that had you make your own DIY product as part of a donation such as the organization The Portable Playhouse. They are a non-profit that raises money for women and children that have cancer. In addition to selling accessories, you can donate $10 and make your own bracelet from an eccentric selection of beads.
Oh, and on top of everything, there was live music! Did I leave that out? Most of the bands fit loosely within the Americana genre, and they all brought together the true essence of Campfire Festival. Langhorne Slim and the Law were absolutely amazing. Langhorne Slim’s, lead singer, was baring it ALL to the audience. Like he sang from his soul. Deep within there. He was on the ground, twisting and turning, reaching out for the audience, actually climbing on the shoulders of someone in the audience…I felt like I was in Church. Everyone crowded around with their hands in the air as he preached about rough times, winning and losing.
Speaking of being in Church, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires was a dose of holy water to the face. This 60+ year-old man was letting it all hang out and getting down with his bad-self. Or something like that. Like, he may have been James Brown’s cousin. This man was big. Just everything was so big. During his almost two-hour performance, he had about four costume changes all of which consisted of sequin attire. Mr. Bradley had the entire crowd put on a pair of dancing shoes and pull out their best dance moves…some may have let their dance shoes get the best of them, but all in all they were having a great time. For this performance, I believe a good majority of the festival showed up.
Delta Spirit was one of the main acts and they definitely didn’t disappoint. Matthew Vasquez, lead singer, was up there with his tattered jean jacket and hat and sang it. It was a symphony of sounds coming from the stage the entire time. I was mesmerized by them and the fire-tossing/dancing that was happening right to the side of the stage. You, Me, and Apollo also performed and they had me locked in a stare. They were totally amazing. The way that the lights were going with their music at night in the middle of nowhere, PA just gave me this warm feeling throughout my body. YMAA has that perfect sound, not to mention a quirky adorable lead singer that has a full mustache looking like he’s about 15-years-old. But the voice that came out of him was huge and right from the grit.
I’m not sure if it was planned, but Saturday night a makeshift stage was made on the concrete over by the cabins. They moved all musical equipment and set up lights to create this very intimate atmosphere. People were sitting right in front of the band while they played, some were dancing with hula hoops in the back, and some were just straight rocking out. One of the bands that played was the Adam Ezra Group and they did an acoustic/electric set with a calhoon and all. They were perfect.
I must admit that I was super surprised with the cleanliness of the festival. Everyone respected the campgrounds and gathered their trash at their campsites. I did not see one person throw their garbage on the ground. When I left on Sunday, it was almost as it was when I got there on Friday. And I almost wish it was so I could do it all over again. Hopefully Campfire Festival decides to do this festival annually because this was definitely a hit and a truly unforgettable experience