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Campfire Festival Impresses in Debut Weekend

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

We spent a day on site and came away satisfied and wanting more from the inaugural event.

Campfire Festival Impresses in Debut Weekend

Delta Spirit at Campfire Festival

The summer of 2014 isn't technically over, but when the calendar turns over to September, it's harder to convince myself that the seasons aren't changing. But during the last weekend of August, something happened that will help keep the summer fresh in my memory long after the leaves have fallen and snowstorms arrive. The inaugural Campfire Outdoor Adventure & Music Festival took place from August 29-31, and even though I was only there for one day, the event was a truly memorable one.

Lots of festivals offer camping, and I have even been to some of those festivals, but something felt different about Campfire. Even though I never went to summer camp as a kid, this felt like the closest thing to that experience. There was of course an incredible lineup of musicians big and small playing on a variety of stages across the secluded campground in Lakewood, Pennsylvania. But the experience was about so much more than just the music. It literally felt like a retreat that also happened to have awesome music.

There were countless activities involved that kept everyone occupied. When I was there, I watched a crowd of people walk into a cabin dedicated to yoga (and those same instructors were giving some free yoga lessons later that night in the crowd near the main stage). There was an arts-and-crafts area where people were also getting body paint applied. On the many basketball courts, campers played two-on-two or just shot around. A kickball game captivated a small crowd of men, women and children. A giant, floating jungle gym in the middle of the lake turned everyone into a kid as people slipped and jumped and splashed around. Elsewhere in the lake, there were kayakers and others just floating around and taking in the music. Signs pointed to a 5K that was taking place, as well as laser tag. Little shops lined the main stage area where vendors sold clothing, jewelry made from dried fruit and much more. In the lodging areas, people hung out on the decks of the cabins and played music, cornhole and tether ball. Skateboarders took to a homemade Red Bull skate ramp right by the beach.

All of these things happened while music played for the entire campground to hear. Watching everyone across the grounds, it was clear how enjoyable the experience was for everyone. Obviously, the music is the most attractive offering, but there was so much to do and see that you could take a break from one of the stages to take a dip or practice some yoga. That kind of variety really helped make it an adventure for everyone that came, and it created an incredibly relaxed and fun atmosphere all around. Everyone was in a great mood, and there seemed to be smiles no matter where you looked.

For a first-year festival with an impressive group of headliners (Charles Bradley, Delta Spirit and Lake Street Dive), the turnout was pretty exceptional. People flocked to the headliners towards the end of the evening and kept things more diverse with different activities throughout the rest of the day. That made the festival feel open and intimate, as you never really had much trouble getting close to any of the stages. 

As far as the music itself, it couldn't have been more fitting for a getaway to the Pennsylvania woods. On Saturday, I was able to catch sets from a variety of terrific artists like Delta Spirit, Bronze Radio Return, You Me & Apollo, Toy Soldiers, Pat & the Hats and Adam Ezra Group. I saw acts tear it up (literally when Delta Spirit sang their song titled "Tear It Up") on the main stage. Pat & the Hats kept things light and fun when they headlined the Beach Stage. And after a main stage set, Bronze Radio Return got everyone cozy with a set on the acoustic stage while a giant community bonfire blazed. All of the different settings offered up a different and engaging viewing experience, whether you were chilling on the beach or right up near the barrier at the main stage. And since you could hear the music from almost every part of the site, you never actually missed anything no matter what you were doing. It really felt like a giant day of summer camp with a pretty fantastic music festival going on in the background.  

The only real negative I could take away from Campfire Festival was that I couldn't spend more time there. Camping out with all of the unique and interesting people that traveled to the festival made the journey and can only add more to the experience, but I will leave that to next year. Based on just the one day I spent in Lakewood at Campfire Festival, this event will be successful because it offers a unique and wholly enjoyable experience for its attendees. It's an oasis for lovers of music and outdoors/adventure alike, and it's something that I'm going to be looking forward to every year.

Here are my musical highlights from Campfire Festival:

• The most intimate set of the evening was turned in by Bronze Radio Return. After their performance on the main stage, they went acoustic for a singalong by the big communal campfire. The band really enjoyed the stripped down style, and that made things all the more enjoyable for the audience. It was subdued and sublime for sure.

• Delta Spirit put on an absolutely blistering headlining performance on the main stage. Frontman Matthew Vasquez was a force as he sang songs from the band's new album Into the Wide (as well as some old favorites like "California", "Yamaha" and "People C'mon" ). No one wanted them to leave the stage when the last encore had been sung, and it was a perfect way to end the evening.

• Pat & the Hats, a group from Vermont, was positively delightful, and when we bumped into guitarist Scott Solsky in the main stage crowd, he was just as delightful when we chatted with him. He was easily enjoying himself as much as we were, and had even helped organize a mini jam session that was going to take place after all the performances near the performer cabins. The communal feeling was everywhere.

• I was completely blown away by You Me & Apollo's lead singer Brent Cowles. I never expected such a booming voice from a man of his size, but I could have listened to his soulful singing all night. The group really dazzled with some sharp original material and some terrific covers of Amy Winehouse and the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water".

• Philadelphia's Toy Soldiers were a whole heap of fun. The Philadelphia band had a very tight sound that seemed absolutely perfect for road trips and, fittingly, camping. There's a strong singalong quality to all their material, especially the song they did about cocaine and New Jersey highway bathrooms.

• The first act we saw of the day was Boston's Adam Ezra Group, and they put on a very endearing performance. The highlight was absolutely their spin on the Charlie Daniels tune "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", which was updated to "The Devil Came Up To Boston". With embellished New England accents, they sang a super fun tune riddled with F-bombs and references to the Dropkick Murphys. It was so fitting that the protagonist's name was Sully, too.

Check out some of our terrific photos from our day at Campfire Festival below:

Delta Spirit

Bronze Radio Return

You Me & Apollo

Toy Soldiers

Adam Ezra Group

Pat & The Hats

Campfire Festival

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