ever since the first rumours that julia lowe of keston cobblers club and lee denny of leefest were planning a festival, part album launch, part childhood adventure, i have been ready, my yellow backpack packed with pens, bubbles and a glow-in-the-dark frisbee, waiting for the train to come in.
half a year later, 19th – 22nd june 2015, camp wildfire turned a secret bit of forest in kent into a 1950s-style scout camp with felt bunting, fairy lights, an on-site radio station hut broadcasting banter, announcements and vinyl treats, an upright piano next to a campfire, a fabric-roofed stage with a painted landscape backdrop, a bar with a library of chess sets and cards, scrumptious food and an alphabet of meeting points for an insane range of activities from treasure hunts to swashbuckling workshops to swing dancing (including rock-paper-scissors moves) to mask-making and ukuleleing. the evenings belonged to secret bands, djs fond of “go your own way” and, of course, keston cobblers club who celebrated the launch of their album wildfire.
“wildfire is the colour of sound as it darts through forests, setting shadows ablaze.”
this line from the wildfire booklet is an excellent description of both a) the radiant new songs about sea leg refuges, days riddled with holes, matchstick hearts, madness, loss and loyalty with their infectious oo-oh-oh-oohs, but ohs, wolves howling and wildfire-crackling and b) the excitingly friendly, inclusive, encouraging and cheerful atmosphere at camp wildfire.
upon arrival, i chose the squirrels out of the four forest animal patrols (stealthy squirrel, bantham badgers, fearless foxes and howling hawks), was given a wildfire necklace (and squirrels had a yellow stripe on their necklaces, hooray!) which also served to collect tokens for outstanding deeds as well as the adventurer’s handbook (including semaphore and morse code, a butterfly spotter’s guide, the camp code and, yes, the camp anthem, no less!). i went by myself but was constantly making friends – in the cab from the train station to the forest, in the queue to enrol for activities, requesting songs by a campfire, dancing ceilidh, swing and helter-skelter, trying to start a fire in a survival workshop, challenging foxes and badgers to games of chess, asking people to play and share their glitter, striking up conversations about anything from children’s literature to portable loo ghosts, unicorn names and childhood traumas. and even on the train back to london victoria.
being an analogue festival, digital technology was thankfully discouraged. that’s where the pens came in handy.
jumping about to mariachi el pinche grin go
euphoria beans led to more dancing, this time with the ceilidh liberation front
swaying with gaps
heartening “everyone can sing”-wild choir with tinuke
tea in a squirrel-yellow wildfire mug, re-learning how to skip (it was more difficult than i remembered but failing was less embarrassing than i remembered), talking a fox patrol leader into giving me a peg and then talking a fellow peg-stealing squirrel into returning said peg to me
trusting strangers not to steal my things and not to laugh at my chaotic dance moves during the riot jazz brass band whose encores included a fierce “take on me” and “living on a prayer”
ukuleleling with matthew and tom of the cobblers. discovering “riptide“, sharing rainbow facepaint and not being able to put down the ukulele (thus, half-learning “i want to be like you” with matthew while they were packing up).
and so on and on and on. camp wildfire was serious fun. from the very beginning it felt like a community – i kept bumping into newly familiar faces, stories spread like wildfire (for example the one about how two german girls drove all the way from cologne just to go to the festival), there was a group picture taken, followed by a huge group hug, and, instead of audience-artist divides, you could skip about with the cobblers as fellow adventurers.
and i daresay i aced camp code #1 (challenge yourself), #2 (adventure like a child), #3 (say yes), #7 (love like your heart’s exploding), #9 (say hello to new people) and #10 (have immeasurable amounts of fun). i learned new things all the time, re-discovered old skills, explored new music, refused to be embarrassed about dancing helter-skelter and wearing a hawk mask, said hello to everyone even if they were in the middle of a game of chess (which they kindly let me join), was given one token for committed singing and one for being nice and scored glitter and hula hoop lessons from perfect strangers. curiosity rules, awoo!
thanks a million, julia lowe, for making what lee denny called your “fantasy weekend” happen!
postscript 27 august 2015
more proof of the wildfire loveliness (both the song and the festival) up now: