CAMP JAM IN THE PINES MUSIC FESTIVAL
Featuring: Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds, The Main Squeeze, Pimps of Joytime, & more!
MAY 14TH – 16TH 2015 – Buena Vista Campground Buena, NJ
By: Barry Brandow
Although Camp Jam has been around for several years and only 45 minutes from my home I hadn’t attended my first one until fall of 2014. Here’s is why I will be sure to not miss any in the future. Camp Jam is an intimate 3-day music festival that takes place at Buena Vista Campground tucked in the middle of the Pine Barrens of South Jersey. The festival brings together a wealth of talent mostly local but also acts from around the country who are looking for a fun platform for exposure and have made Camp Jam a cozy stop along the road. The atmosphere is very relaxed and casual. It’s also family and pet friendly with campers both young and old. There’s plenty of kids with lots to keep them busy. Everyone is smiling and as you walk by someone in the other direction it’s likely you’ll get a warm greeting following by a ‘Happy Camp Jam!’ This particular weekend was beautiful weather-wise and you can often see folks swimming in the lake, riding bikes around the grounds or chillin in a hammock between two trees. There are even free workshops going out throughout including; yoga, guitar; tie-dye and even an Australian Didgeridoo presentation by ‘Harper and Midwest Kind’ front man Peter D. Harper. The much younger campers have a blast Saturday afternoon at the picnic tent with face painting, crafts, sing-alongs and snacks. As the afternoon comes around, people start getting settled in around the stage area with chairs, blankets, and umbrellas for shade waiting for the music to begin.
Although the music here began on Thursday night, I had not caught any of the bands in the line-up since I was in Columbia, MD getting my ‘Dead On’ at Merriweather Post Pavilion to see the Dear Jerry tribute show. We arrived at the campground around 3:30 on Friday, just in time to hear the band, Native Maze. I was immediately impressed by their tight musicianship and improvisational style in the form of rock/reggae and progressive dance. What was equally impressive was the instrumental maturity they possess for a band with an average age in their early 20’s – especially great was the guitar work. Remember their name – I think you’ll be hearing it again for sure. Equally impressive was the next band up Underwater Sounds with their eclectic style of reggae, funk, and jazz they create a musical experience that teeters between mystical improv and classic rhythm and blues. The inspirational and captivating vocals of ‘Sunni Shine’ make them ever more unique. Anyone who appreciates originality with great musicianship will enjoy these guys. Speaking of originality and uniqueness, that’s how I would describe Harper and Midwest Kind. Fronted by Australian native Paul D. Harper, Harper and Midwest Kind offer any fan of hardcore blues an alternative to the conventional style by mixing the traditional sound of the harmonica with the rarely heard instrument in mainstream music, the Didgeridoo. Their unique version of Led Zeppelins, ‘When the Levee Breaks’, was one of my highlights of the day.
I always try to come away from every multi-band event with a new band to add to my ‘must see again’ list. Like The Main Squeeze from last fall’s Camp Jam, this years’ band is a home town Philly funk force called Swift Technique. Not only were they impressive musically, but what a FUN band to watch. The 8 piece ensemble featured the traditional drums, bass, vocals, guitar and keyboard but also percussions and a 3 piece horn section who were in constant motion throughout the set. I can understand why…as a member of the audience I couldn’t stop moving if I tried. When the band wasn’t playing and grooving ON the stage they would hop OFF and parade through the crowd interacting with the audience. The upbeat, high energy set included several original songs such as; ‘Chicken in a Bag’, ‘Brooklydelphia’, ‘Jay’s the Name’, ‘Maintaining Balance’ and ‘Lone Wolf’ that kept the crowd enthusiastically bouncing to every beat. When they busted into The Red Hot Chili Peppers song; ‘Apache Rose Peacock’ and played it as good as the original that confirmed to me that these guys are the real deal. If that wasn’t enough, the cover of Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’ validated their excellence. They played it with such perfection you would think it was written by them. Swift Technique is a band that deserves a lot of attention and I predict they will soon headline this event and others like it. I highly recommend these guys for a great night of music and fun. Check their website http://www.SwiftTechnique.com for tour dates and info.
Tonight’s headliner, The Main Squeeze, is a band I quickly became fond of when I saw them perform at Camp Jam last fall. Their popularity has grown steadily since, and they have been WOWing crowds everywhere they play. The incredibly talented quintet is fronted by the golden voiced singer, Corey Frye and supported by 4 amazingly skilled musicians; Max Newman on guitar, Ben ‘Smiley’ Silverstein on keyboards, Jeremiah Hunt on bass and drummer/birthday boy Reuben Gingrich. Anyone who is a fan of genuine Funk, R&B, and Soul will share the same affection for these guys as me. Most of the crowd at Camp Jam are repeat-attenders and remember their set from last fall. I noticed the space around me close to the stage filling in really quickly with great anticipation for the show to begin. First, singer Corey Frye asked everyone to wish drummer Reuben a happy birthday and fulfill his birthday wish to crowd surf. That sounded like a good idea at the time, but I might advise him to survey the crowd first and leap into an area occupied by bigger, stronger people than the area he chose. Honestly…I would have tried to surf where all the pretty girls were too. They kicked into gear with the song, ‘Ebeneezer’ and took no time hitting overdrive while the massive cluster of dancing Campjammers hit their groove. A strong and ambitious bass jam led into the tune ‘Space Age’ and kept everyone boogying into ‘2 Step’, which followed. The melodic lyrics of ‘One Way’ shared the spotlight with one of many of Max’s shredding guitar solos. Just like some of the bands performing , The Main Squeeze paid respect and homage to the recently deceased blues legend BB King with a classic blues intro into the energetic tune ‘Mixed Up’. Before anyone had time to catch their breath, the bouncy song ‘In a Funk’ highlighted one of many ‘Smiley’ moments as the proficiently skilled keyboard player embraced the spotlight. I might not have taken good detailed notes like I would have liked to during a show, but it should be taken into account that I was having too much fun and dancing like a lunatic. Needless to say – I was in the majority. One of my favorite songs they performed is the heavy anthem-like tune called ‘I’ll Take Another’ it features strong enchanting vocals and many spotlight moments for every member of the band. Most notably was the face melting solo duel between guitarist Max Newman and keyboardist Ben ‘Smiley’ Silverstein who jumped away from the keyboards he’d been playing all night and donned the smaller portable version. If they had stopped there, I would have been completely satisfied but to add rocket fuel to the fire The Main Squeeze treated the already fired up crowd to a spectacular medley of songs by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Corey Frye’s vocal style fit like a finely tailored Armani suit with perfect tone and range. The multi-hit filled medley included the songs; ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, ‘Beat It’, ‘Black or White’, ‘Billy Jean’, ‘Thriller’, and ‘Smooth Criminal’. The enthusiasm of the crowd built steadily as they transitioned seamlessly from song to song. The ovation was astounding. MJ would have been proud. The Main Squeeze delighted Camp Jammers with one of their signature tunes ‘Dr. Funk’ that tested the energy levels of those still standing to close the set. As the crowd chanted ‘ONE MORE SONG!!’, I formed my own chant, ‘FOUR MORE SONGS!!!’. I actually heard some of the people around me joining in my plea. Well, we didn’t get MY wish but the band returned and satisfied the elated crowd with a fan favorite and radio played ‘Message to the Lonely’. Having a loyal Philly area following, the many who are familiar with the song sang along with Mr. Frye. I knew the words but chose not to torture those around me with my nausea-inducing vocal skills. Then…the cliMAX of the evening came when Maximillian shredded a jaw-dropping guitar solo that made MY fingers bleed. The random WOOOO’s eventually morphed into one loud collective WOOOO as the show came to an end. The Main Squeeze have an aggressive touring schedule and can be seen all over. If they are coming near you…GO! If there are in the line-up at a festival you are at…CHECK THEM OUT! You might discover another favorite band like I did. Check their website: www.MainSqueezeMusic.com for tour dates and info.
Once the music stops on the main stage the party moves to Sector 7, the picnic pavilion on the other side of the lake. That’s where the band Suburban Sensi kept the festivities rockin. The young and talented group commanded the jam while numerous party goers danced into the night. I hung in there are late as I could but fizzled out sometime around 1 a.m. I was disappointed to find out that members of Swift Technique and The Main Squeeze hung around and joined the jam after I bailed.
As day 3 began I thought back to day 2 and reflected on the great music I got to hear and what I would write about. One thing I knew for certain the bands playing on day 3 would need to step up their game to equal those on day 2. They must have got the memo because all those playing on Saturday came out strong and performed with tenacious intent. The late night band from Thursday night, Northeast Corners started the day with what Camp Jam calls – morning coffee jam. The early main stage bands Wood Sounds and Norm Taylor and Blue Soul were the perfect combination to start the day with shorter melodic bluesy sets to ease everyone who was still foggy from Friday night’s party. Next the band Hogmaw captivated the early crowd with a consuming blend of bluegrass, folk and Zydeco. Making things come full circle, the one-time young camp jammer, Ginger Coyle along with her band returned to camp jam. This time as a passionate performer. The young local artist showed great maturity evident in her playing, singing and songwriting. I wouldn’t be surprised if her name becomes very familiar in a more mainstream platform. One of the many good things about Camp Jam is you can mosey to the stage area and watch the bands or you can kick back at your campsite and still hear the music quite clearly. As the next band Primate Fiasco took the stage around 6:15 it was obvious that most of the campers had ‘risen from the dead’ and started filling in the main stage area. On a recommendation from a fellow camper I made sure I was front and center for their set. As a novice accordion player myself, I wanted to see how they incorporated the instrument into the music. The stimulating harmonies of sax and accordion, funky pockets of an enthusiastic sousaphone player and a guy who plays a banjo with face melting fender strat techniques make them both intriguing and unique.
I was hoping the next band Pimps of Joytime lived up to the buzz I heard from fellow music lovers. The Brooklyn based quintet EXCEEDED my expectations by a mile. With front man Brian J on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Mayteana Morales and Cole Williams on vocals and percussion, David Bailis on bass, keys and sampler and John Staten on drums the Pimps of Joytime made a believer of me. Combining soul, funk, Latin and afro-beat grooves with a splash of techno, they commanded the stage with non-stop energy. There versatile funk machine got everyone to their feet and transformed the casual chill aura into a full fledge, no holds barred dance party. With songs from their powerful arsenal like; ‘My Gold’, ‘Heart is Wild’, ‘Funky BK’ and ‘Jump Off’ the Pimps of Joytime meant business. I can’t imagine there was anybody within ear range not dancing their asses off. I did my best to keep up with the masses. With rhythms and beats reminiscent of bands like; Galactic, Average White Band and George Clinton, Pimps of Joytime kicked things into higher gear with ‘Move it to the Left’ and choreographed a funky dance floor filled line dance. With Brian J centering the 2 beautiful and talented percussionist Pimps absolutely crushed their most familiar song ‘Janxta Funk’ again my attention to detail was blurred by the fact that I was busy getting my groove on and having too much fun. Like Swift Technique the night before, Pimps of Joytime impressed me and many others and have become another band I can’t wait to see again. They closed their set with more heart thumping funk and soul and when the final song ‘Zydeco’ ended, I boogied over to the merch tent and grabbed their CD and a t-shirt. I’m often asked who the bands are on the shirts I buy and when I’m asked about this one I’m sure I’ll buzz about them very enthusiastically. Their spring and summer tour schedule is really ambitious as they will be playing several festivals – all over. I highly recommend grabbing your best dancing shoes and catch them live. You’ll see what Joytime is all about. For info and tour dates check out www.pimpsofjoytime.com .
To close out the main stage Camp Jam favorites Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds took the stage they had taken many times before. The captivating lead singer Arleigh Kincheloe has one of the most soulful big voices in music and a smile that lit the night sky. Her bandmates, the Dirty Birds, fill the air with a full spectrum of sound. Members; Sasha Brown on guitar, Josh Myers on bass, Dan Boyden on drums, Phil Rodriguez and Brian Graham on horns and a proficient young master howling on harmonica Jackson Kincheloe. The set started strong out of the gate as Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds got everyone (band and crowd) into the game from the start with the songs; ‘Under the Weather’ and ‘Millie Mae’. On the verge of their new release The Weather Below due to come out May 19th, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds played a nice set of songs from the forthcoming album. The songs; ‘Don’t be Jealous’ and ‘We need a Love’ bolstered with sound and gave Ms. Kincheloe’s dynamic voice a chance to radiate. The next 2 songs; ‘Sugar’ and ‘Momma Knows’, also from the new release, have very catchy lyrics and even though the majority of the crowd hadn’t heard these songs before, by mid-song everyone was singing along as best they could. Both songs can be heard on the radio airwaves and I even catch myself singing along in my truck. The bluesy new tune ‘Catch Me if you can’ caught my attention as the mega-talented harmonica playing of Jackson came to the forefront along with Arleigh’s soulful vocals. This was my personal favorite of the new songs and it showed Sister Sparrows versatility to excel in multiple genres of music. The funky grooves of the next songs; ‘Borderline’ and ‘Lasso’ verified that, as each spotlighted many WOW moments, especially on horns. The smoky cabaret-like song ‘Freight Train’ was reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse. The Saturday night funk party continued with the songs; ‘Prison Cells’, ‘Long Way’ and the soulful ‘Who are you?’. Before the crowd had any chance to catch their breath Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds took their turn paying homage to late blues legend BB King and BUSTED into an incredible version of the song ‘How Blue Can You Get?’ As an avid blues lover, it was my favorite piece played the entire weekend. Sasha Brown did an amazing job on guitar while the rest of the band passionately carried more than their weight. Arleigh also showed she can belt the blues as good as anybody singing today. The ovation was resounding as she hit every note with soul and devotion. I’m sure Mr. King was smiling down with pride and joy. To close the dynamic set the 7 piece music machine unweariedly thrilled the crowd with the popular ‘Boogey Man’ and showed why they are so loved and requested by Camp Jam regulars. In turn, they showed why they have so much fun playing the event and return each time. Like many of the other bands Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds also have a demanding tour schedule and are playing everywhere. If you like great musicianship with full sound and range and strong vocals full of heart and soul you need to attend a Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds show. If you can’t make it, be sure to pick up their new album The Weather Below – I have and it’s awesome! Go to their website at www.SisterSparrow.com for tour dates and information.
To conclude Camp Jam with one more late night set the band Out of the Beardspace crushed Sector 7. The School of Rock alumni’s astonished all who still had any energy with amazing, aggressive and progressively adventurous jams that reminded me of the bands Particle and Lotus. As tired as I was I hung in there for their entire set and I could have heard more.
As the Sunday morning sun came up you could hear fellow campers gathering their belongings and packing up their gear. As people started to depart the most common phrase you overheard was ‘See you in the fall’. It’s only 4 months until Camp Jam reloads for another awesome weekend in September. Camp Jam has something for everyone, recreationally and musically. For me and many others it’s a great way to bookend the spring and summer. Whether you like to camp or just check out the music for the day I recommend you make Camp Jam a regular event on your music calendar. Hope to ‘see you in the fall’. Check out their website at www.campjam.org for details.