Our Summer Camp’s Unforgettable Annual Music Festival Hollowpallooza

As a summer camp community we have many beloved traditions and rituals. Few are more adored than our annual music festival called Hollowpallooza. For the last 5 weeks campers and counselors have been forming bands and practicing every free minute for this special event. Tonight all of their hard work paid off in a 4-hour rock concert that none of us will ever forget.

Before the show, as many of us were on the stage setting up the equipment, our friend Adam from Planet Rhythm was here to run African Hand Drumming classes with all of our campers. Since not every camper plays an instrument we want to make sure that everyone has some time on this day to participate in a group musical event. 

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As you can see, the work that Adam does with our kids is incredibly fun, and they get very into it. He and his team have been a part of Hollowpallooza for many summers now, and the kids really look forward to their time with them! 

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This whole day is about finding different ways to celebrate the many talents of our campers. Hollowpallooza was, in fact, the idea of our Athletic Director Bob Mitchell. Many years ago, while we were sitting in a meeting, Bob looked at the rest of us and said “you know, we have so many kids who play instruments here and no event to showcase their talents. If you’re on a soccer team your big moment each summer could be a soccer tournament…but what about if your thing is music?” And from that thought one of our favorite traditions was born!

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Over the years this event has grown to really be about all sorts of forms of artistic expression. An example would be the backstage passes that every performer gets as a souvenir. Each summer one of our camper graphic artists comes up with a design, and during the festival about 200 of his or her friends end up wearing it around their necks. This year the pass was designed by our friend Tristan in the Kenwood Senior Unit. Didn’t he do a great job? 

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We also had more campers dancing on stage this year than I’ve ever seen before. As their friends rocked out you could see how happy they were to be a part of this amazing event, and to have the opportunity to let loose and move to the music.

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While not technically a form of self-expression, we also had lots of younger campers who volunteered to be on the Security detail, and they really worked hard. Their job included keeping fans out of the backstage area, helping the musicians get their instruments on and off the stage safely, and wading through the crowd when we needed to quickly find and get a performer on stage. We could not have done it without our Security Crew!

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Once the stage and equipment was set up Scott, the music counselors, and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon helping bands get in one final practice on stage. As you can see we were having loads of fun. 

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At 5pm, after weeks and weeks of rehearsals, Hollowpallooza began. The entire Camp community was there to hear some great music and cheer for their friends…like this guy who got up and played a beautiful rendition of “Misty” on his saxophone.

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Or these young women who rocked as a 4-piece combo. Their lead singer belted out her tune with excellent pitch, while the guitarist executed a terrifically lyrical solo that the crowd went wild for. 

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During and after every act groups of our campers and staff were at the front of the stage, so proud of their friends for taking a risk and getting up to perform. They pumped their fists in the air, sang along with the choruses, and cheered as loudly as they could. As each band stepped off of the stage you could see on their faces that something profound had just happened for them.

Being a musician is fun and rewarding, but getting to be an actual rock star with actual screaming fans is a the sort of thing that stays with you forever.

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Over the course of the event we heard everything including Rock, Jazz, Hip Hop, Show Tunes, Country, Ska, Blues, Synth Pop and more. One of our counselors got up with his band and performed John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in 5 different styles, including Reggae, Metal and Opera. How can you not love a day like this?!

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As the sun went down some of our more polished acts took to the stage. This group of friends did a hysterical version of the Backstreet Boys’ “That Way”, complete with choreographed dance moves. At one point I really thought we were about to see some stage diving. By the end of their song about 50 campers and counselors were at the foot of the stage with their hands out, hoping to share in the moment by shaking their hands to congratulate them. 

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Since the first day of the summer these 9 guys had been working on a version of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. They may have spent more than 15 hours in the music room in total, and tonight it really showed. Their music was tight, from the horn section to the multiple percussionists to the lead guitar player who did a fantastic rendition of Jeff Lynne’s classic solo. You should have heard the crowd screaming for them afterwards. 

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The penultimate song of the evening was one of the more eclectic acts of the night. We had counselors on drums and two sets of keyboards, campers and I were on guitar and bass, and more than a dozen members of our staff from Spain and Latin America were on vocals singing “Despacito”, one of the songs of the summer. Most of the singers work in our kitchen and housekeeping, and as they took the stage the entire audience went wild with excitement at the idea that they were also going to perform. They sang their hearts out and had the entire community leaping up and down and singing along with them.

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As is our tradition, the final act of the night was a band put together by Scott playing a classic rock tune. Tonight it was Eric Clapton’s “Running On Faith”, and I think we had over a dozen musicians on stage, including 2 Kenwood Freshmen who were outstanding on background vocals and harmonies. By the end of the song all 500 people in attendance were singing the refrain over and over again “Love comes over you…” while Music Tom and I traded screaming lead guitar licks. 

And then it was over. As we do with every special event like this we held our friends’ hands and sang Taps together. Then we grabbed our things and all made the walk back to the bunks to prepare for bed. I know that I’m not the only one walked away with tired, blistered fingers and a massive smile on my face. 

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Next up: Tomorrow is our annual Carnival. Check back tomorrow night to read all about it!

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