Summer camp holds an important place in many of our childhood memories. It was an irreplaceable part of my childhood. I met my first girlfriend at a summer camp in Kentucky. I was 14, she was 13. I lived in Michigan, she lived in Kentucky. We had three magical weeks together, fell in love, and wrote each other letters every week. Two months later, she broke up with me over AOL Instant Messenger.
Now imagine summer camp, but instead of trading friendship bracelets, you trade shots of tequila for bag slaps of wine. Instead of shitty cafeteria food, you eat home-made vegan “mushroom” pizza. Instead of playing games like tug-of-war and kickball, you play games like tug-of-war and kickball, but horribly drunk. Instead of trying to awkwardly flirt with sexually frustrated kids entering puberty, you awkwardly flirt with sexually frustrated adults. And instead of your camp counselors being weird old couples or unemployed recent college graduates, your counselors are some of the most talented artists and DJs in house music.
Welcome to Dirtybird Campout.
Dirtybird Campout is summer camp for adults, but with a few major differences. First, the campground is not what you would expect at summer camp. There are very few trees, little-to-no grass, and no water. The California desert location offers only dust, prickly bushes, and tarantulas.
Most importantly, this summer camp is also a music festival. Don’t like arts and crafts? That’s fine, go get weird at the bass lodge and dance the night away. Late-night campfire sing-alongs aren’t your thing? Go explore a renegade DJ set going on all over the campground. Basically, if you don’t like camp activities, just go listen to music and get weird. Or do both. The world is your dust-covered oyster at Dirtybird Campout.
I spent the weekend dancing, drinking, and exploring everything offered. I made new friends and fell into a massive crush. I even woke up every morning frantically terrified that a tarantula had somehow made its way into my tent. I made bracelets and screen-printed jean jackets, failed horribly at Simon Says, and successfully killed a bag of wine (with the help from my friends) in under an hour. I woke up to breakfast and music at Unicorn Manor, spent the afternoons exploring, napping, and doing activities. The evenings concluded with dancing the night away. While every moment was beautiful, there were certain things that stood out above the rest.
Desert Hearts was one of the most anticipated sets of the campout, and they did not disappoint. They opened the festivities with a two hour b2b that brought out all the weirdos as the sun set over the first day. We danced in front of the speakers with our newly acquired inflatable alien named Gertrude. We were surrounded by a eclectic group of people in various states of disarray and turned Campout into a mini burner festival before some people had even finished setting up camp.
Probably the worst part of Dirtybird Campout was the dusty death march between camp and the venue. The first day and night of the fest, this journey turned into a divisive decision-making problem. This forced people to choose between staying in the camp our the venue for an extended period of time, or spending a solid 25 minutes walking off all the booze you just consumed.
Luckily, we stumbled upon a shortcut on Saturday that took us through the brush, cut our journey in half, and made for some interesting adventures at night (all tumbleweeds look the same when you’re on one at 4am). Guided by glowsticks, the occasional passing shuttle, and our own blurry memories, we successfully trekked the wilderness every night with no casualties (aside from my dust-covered lungs).
While there may have only been two official stages of music, there was plenty more to be found everywhere you went. From renegade sets in the campground to pop-up sets at The Bunkhouse, there was no escaping the bass.
One of my favorite spots was an officially unofficial stage located up a hill, just outside of the festival grounds. Expertly dubbed “The Hippie Trap” by one of my campmates, this stage set up by Do-Lab had a massive sound system and it’s own lighting rig, but no official lineup. Ragged dancers were lured in on their way back to camp, to indulge in one last bout of dancing. My other favorite unofficial dance party was our own campsite, Unicorn Manor, where we blasted music during the day, and had a champagne-fueled onesie party on Saturday night that went until the sun rose.
No single person was as essential to the Dirtybird Campout experience as the man, the myth, the legend, Barclay Crenshaw, aka Claude Von Stroke, aka Counselor Claude. Dirtybird label head, creator of Dirtybird Campout, and all around child in a grown man’s body, Claude could be seen anywhere you went at Campout. He played kickball, drunkenly fell over during tug-of-war, threw down incredible sets at both stages, and jumped on the decks at plenty of other sets. If you didn’t see Counselor Claude that weekend, were you really there?
One of the most important aspects of any festival is the people that inhabit it. It’s the reason What The Festival was one of my favorite festivals ever, and the reason that I will never again step foot inside Lollapalooza. The campers that took over Dirtybird Campout were some of the best humans (and aliens) that I could have asked for. From the amazing people I shared a campsite with to the random people I met on the dusty dancefloor, good vibes were flowing like the water we didn’t have.
By the last morning, my heart was as full of love as my tent was of dust. Just like summer camp as kids, I left with more friends than I came in with.
Featured photo and photos 1 and 4 via Dirtybird Campout FB
Photos 2, 3 and 5 via Unicorn Manor