Dirtybird Campout takes house music fans back to summer camp

Remember those fun, carefree days of summer as a kid? Many entrepreneurs have tried to capitalize on the nostalgia of tug-of-war, scavenger hunts and awkward end-of-camp dances by creating summer camps for adults. One beloved musician has taken that initiative one step further, combining the innocent fun of summer camp with a wild and welcoming music festival scene to put on Dirtybird Campout in Bradley, California from October 6-8.

Barclay Crenshaw, 46, a house music producer who’s performed under the moniker Claude VonStroke since 2003, founded Dirtybird Records in 2005. Since then, his funky house hits, affable “Papa Bear” demeanor and keen eye for emerging talent have helped grow Dirtybird into one of the most adored brands in dance music. (This year, Mixmag honored Dirtybird as its “Label of the Decade” after polling its audience.)

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As events like Coachella have continued to expand and dilute, alienating some hardcore music fans, a hefty demand for specialized festivals with tight-knit communities has arisen. Campout delivers on that desire by giving its devoted followers a chance to get up close and personal with their favorite artists. Upon arrival, attendees and performers alike are separated into four teams, which then compete in activities such as kickball, tug-of-war and a potato sack race throughout the weekend.

Meet and greets with artists are regularly conducted in a small booth right beside the merchandise shack. VonStroke, who assumes the role of “head counselor,” says he’s participated in every activity over the three years the festival has existed, from the three-legged race to late-night bingo at 2:30 am.

“It’s not a big EDM festival where they’re buying tickets and getting forgotten about,“ VonStroke said, donning a giant “Best Bike” badge he’d won earlier in Campout’s inaugural Tour de Dance. “I’ve tried to do every event so far. … I just do activities and high five everyone, and that somehow works and makes everyone happy.”

Many of the artists who perform at Campout are signed to Dirtybird Records, and the event provides a platform for lesser-known artists to make an impression on audiences -- and VonStroke himself.

House music duo Walker & Royce were booked to play an early afternoon set at the inaugural Campout two years ago. Back then, they were unsigned and just about ready to give up on their dream of making a living through music. Then, they noticed VonStroke -- dressed up in his signature coonskin cap and camp counselor vest -- getting down on the dancefloor during their performance.

Soon after, VonStroke personally emailed them to indicate his interest in releasing their music via Dirtybird. Now, they’re set to release their first full-length album Self Help via Dirtybird on October 20, and VonStroke says it’s the company’s most anticipated album of 2017 after the lead single “Take Me to Your Leader” blew up this summer.

VonStroke has evidently found a formula for success with Campout on various levels -- this week, Dirtybird announced that it’d be holding its first East Coast campout this February. If it can maintain its intimate feel far away from VonStroke’s home base in California, his fans soon might be angling to return to “summer” camp twice a year.

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