A chance to be your best self, and be a total rock star at summer campAugust 2, 2015
I’ve written more than once this summer that at its core our overnight camp in NH is about helping our campers be their best selves. That was evident in just about every moment of today. This was our 5th Saturday of the summer, which is when we host our annual music festival called Hollowpallooza. It’s one of our camp’s most popular special events. For many reasons this is one night that I will remember for years to come.
It began with a new twist that we added for this year. While a large percentage of our campers play instruments, many others do not. In recent years we’ve been trying to figure out how to involve everyone in making music on this day. To that end, we invited a group called Path To Rhythm to join us for the weekend. They are an acclaimed drumming troupe that teaches traditional African music and dancing to groups.
Throughout the day they worked with groups from 30-60 campers, teaching them the fundamentals of hand drumming. And at every period our campers were enthralled by this activity. Many elected to join Path To Rhythm for a second, more advanced lesson later in the day. Their sessions were on the porch directly below my office, and all morning and afternoon I heard campers playing and cheering as they learned this new skill. Thankfully, they will have another opportunity to learn and play again tomorrow!
The main event began just after dinner. Our incredible team of chefs decided to host a different sort of BBQ for camp this evening. Rather than serving hamburgers and hot dogs again, this time they made a Mexican feast. Tonight we dined on warm corn tortillas, marinated grilled steak and chicken, a mouth-watering black bean and corn dish, and all sorts of wonderful salads. As we always do here, there was a whole section of the buffet for our campers who eat gluten free, dairy free, and egg free. And, of course, Head Baker Kristie made a ridiculously tasty selection of cookies (including chocolate chip, red velvet, and brownie). It really was an amazing meal!
Because it was a BBQ everyone sat outside with their friends. The weather was gorgeous, and campers and counselors soaked up the beautiful weather on our lush green fields. All around there were Frisbees flying and soccer balls being passed. After 5 weeks into the summer our kids have really mastered the art of “hanging out”.
I’m not making light of this. So many of our campers live incredibly scheduled lives at a home, and until they arrive the ways and norms of unstructured time like at tonight’s BBQ elude them. Walking around this evening I saw 330 campers who have learned how to successfully socialize without the help of an agenda or a supervising adult. This is just one example of the 21st century skills growth that I saw on display this evening.
That’s really what I loved so much about this entire Hollowpallooza day. Yes, it was wonderful seeing our campers get up on stage and play music. But while enjoying the beautiful sounds that they made you could also miss the significance of what they were actually doing.
Like the guys in this photo below. It’s hard to see all of the faces, but there are actually 10 people playing in this band, and all but two are under the age of 10. This song, with it’s four percussionists, guitar, bass, piano and horn player, sounded amazing. They played with real precision and used all sorts of non-verbal communication skills throughout. This all happened because 5 weeks ago they decided to put this band together…and for 5 weeks they made sure to practice. No parent was ever present to remind them that it was time to rehearse. They found their own inner motivation, and made sure that everyone was present when it was time to work on the song. During their first run through it sounded incredibly rough, and yet no one yelled or pointed fingers. Instead, they talked it through, exchanged ideas…and kept practicing. Over and over again.
These guys figured out how to be resilient, how to be persistent, and how to make their ideas a reality. And tonight they performed as a 10-piece combo and all felt like total rock stars. THAT’S what we mean when we say that our camp helps teach kids important 21st century skills.
We witnessed it all night long. The young woman in the center of the picture below did something incredible tonight. She took to the stage and not only performed — she performed by herself. She’s a really talented pianist and singer, and instead of working with a band she sang and played by herself. That level of confidence at any age is really admirable.
As she stepped onto the stage you could feel how nervous she was, and yet these seven friends were there at the front to support her. They lovingly screamed out her name as she sat down at the piano, and then hung on her every note and word. They swayed their arms back and forth during the chorus of her song, and then rushed to smother her in hugs once she triumphantly stepped off of the stage. You could see how proud they were of her, and how much their support meant to her. I stood there watching all of this and thought to myself “we all just got to see her be her best self…and it happened, in part, because she knew that her friends would be there for her”. That’s what our community is all about.
Like these girls. Take a look at their hands. They have intentionally grabbed each other in such a way that they formed one large human knot. Why did they decide to do this? Because they have developed such strong friendships with each other in 5 short weeks that they wanted to show me that they now have “an unbreakable bond”. That’s the language that they used when they summoned me to take their picture. When you have friends who love you like this you feel like you can accomplish just about anything.
Later on some of them got up on stage. With their counselors as backup singers they belted out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, and every member of our Camp community was there to join them for the choruses.
This young woman, in only her second summer at Camp, worked both the mic and the crowd like a pro. They hung on her every word. You could see that she had rehearsed every inflection and every move that she used while up on stage. The planning that put into this must have taken weeks, and it totally paid off. While learning to work on something she was passionate about she got to experience what it feels like to be a rock star. We use that term a lot here, and we apply it not just to our performers but to anyone who works on a skill long enough to master it.
As the sun went down the lights came on and the music got a little louder and a whole lot more complex. There were horn charts and guitar solos and lead singers who really acted like the frontmen you see in stadium concerts. Many of our acts even came wearing uniforms or outfits that they had picked out just for tonight.
This 12-year old boy below exuded all of the confidence of an Adam Levine or Freddy Mercury. Do you remember being 12 and how hard it was to take any public risks? Tonight, they stood on the Hollowpallooza stage and owned it. They played and sang at peak form. Their reward for taking these healthy risks: a crowd of 500 rushing to the front of the stage after their performance, all trying to shake their hands and congratulate them on such a job well done.
This is not to say that every band or act that took to the stage tonight is ready to head out on a world tour. Based on the reaction of the crowd you might think otherwise. And that is, in large part, why a special event like Hollowpallooza is so successful each year. Our campers and counselors recognize how much courage it takes to walk on to this stage, so they shower each performance with unconditional love and support. This level of empathy and emotional connection gives our campers the chance to be their best selves day after day here.
Scott and I ended the night by putting together a band to play Phillip Phillip’s song “Home”. Every camper and counselor stood together with their arms around each other to sing every word.
So many of the photos below are my attempt at capturing what truly made tonight such a special, memorable, powerful event. If you would like to see images of all of the performances please click on this link to our instagram and twitter feeds. There are a whole bunch of short video clips worth checking out to really get a feel for tonight’s performances.
I also want to make sure to mention the huge number of campers who worked on making sure this special event even happened. For weeks now a group of dedicated campers have worked on running just about every aspect of this music festival. At art periods or even during their free time they took on responsibilities like designing the backstage passes, painting the backdrop, making the lineup for tonight’s program, setting up the stage and lights, and even running security back stage.
This young man, who also fronted his own rock band, also served as stage manager for the entire event. For the past three years he has assisted me on this evening, but this year I gave him the reins. And he did a spectacular job organizing all of the performers, working with the sound engineer, and really running the entire show. This evening he really embodied so many of the 21st century skills that we work on each day here during our 7-weeks. Thanks so much, Ethan!
There is one last aspect of tonight that I want to mention. This event was also special because of some of our visitors. We had over 30 former campers and counselors at this evening’s concert. Throughout the show they stood in the audience and cheered…even if they didn’t actually know the performers. The pull to be back at Camp is strong, and the connection to events like Hollowpallooza does not diminish, even for those who are no longer full-time members of our 7-week brother-sister camp anymore. It was wonderful to have so many alumni back today, and we miss you all very much.