Sounds Under the Stars

Summertime in New England can be distilled down to a few core elements: sun, swimming, friends, camping, music, mosquitoes, putting the heat to meat (or soy-based meat alternative).

Palmer natives John Boilard and Mike Swiatlowski, along with eastern Mass. mover and shaker Dan Shea, are bringing all of these key elements together for Campout Fest, a fun-time weekend of merriment Aug. 28-29 at Palmer’s Camp Stanica.

The event is billed as a celebration of the people and music of the Northeast, and includes a jam-packed lineup featuring games, movies, swimming, and local and regional acts including Jason Anderson, Happy Birthday, Debo Band, Eric Hnatow, and Needy Visions.

Boilard and Swiatlowski got a head start for this inaugural event by putting together a previous show at Camp Stanica several years back.

“We had our foot in the door,” says Boilard.

The duo were subsequently approached several times to collaborate on events at the camp, and even went so far as to begin plans for a festival for 2009, but, alas, a late start and scheduling conflicts interceded.

Fast forward to this past spring and a discussion with Shea—friend, “rad guy,” and founder of Bodies of Water Arts and Crafts, an entity dedicated to promoting shows and releasing independent music, located in Allston.

“Dan already had some bands in mind,” says Boilard. “We’ve just been helping out and brainstorming ideas to make it a really cool experience since.”

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Boilard and Swiatlowski have been collaborating for years. The two childhood chums have put on shows all over Massachusetts, but primarily in their hometown of Palmer, where they established DIY venues The Old Store and The Shed, which was literally a glorified tool shed in Boilard’s mother’s backyard.

They currently curate musical nights at Palmer’s Diamond Junction Bowling Lanes, where they invite an impressive array of bands, both local and national, to rock the local lanes.

All of their endeavors, including the Campout Fest, are imbued with a certain idealism.

“Sincerity trumps everything else,” says Boilard. “And as far as our personal philosophy goes, that hasn’t changed much since we first started doing shows in our teens, about 12 years ago. We wanted to see all of our favorite bands play together, and it didn’t matter what kind of music it was, so long as the common thread was enthusiasm for fun and community.”

This communal spirit results in always-interesting events, filled with odd pairings that somehow always manage to work. Noise bands share the stage with acoustic sing-alongs; metal bands jam with twee popsters; spazzy hardcore bands open for psych-folk rockers.

The venue does not really matter to the team, so long as it “feels right.” The pair takes great pains to always put the bands first. Boilard says they rarely take any money for their hard work, even for the cost of promotion and other incidental expenses. “We put on events because we love when people come together,” says Boilard. “Those basic ideas have been apart of our ethics and aesthetics all along.”

When asked about the current state of music in the region, Boilard is his usual effusive self. “I don’t know. I think it rules,” he says. “There are so many genuine, creative, and inspiring people up here. But I don’t think it’s just limited to the Northeast—it’s everywhere. I can’t say much more except that I feel pretty fortunate to be a part of it.”

Is Palmer the epicenter of the scene?

“I don’t know if I would say that,” says Boilard. “I feel weird even thinking about what happens in Western Mass. as a ‘scene.’ Not even being corny, it just seems like what people do, have always done, and hopefully will continue to do for a very long time. All of that said, I feel Palmer definitely has something to contribute.”

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In addition to music and sleeping under the stars, Campout Fest features late-night acoustic jams and outdoor movies provided by The Video Underground in Jamaica Plain.

Boilard says the reaction to their inaugural fest has been excellent. “So far people have been really enthusiastic about the camp show. I think because it’s more than just a show, people are really excited about it. To us it’s a celebration, and we hope it comes off that way. Campout Fest is also a chance for folks from eastern Mass. to get out of the city for a few days and do some camping.”

There are already rumblings about making the fest an annual event. “We’ve been talking about it already, but we’ll see how things go,” says Boilard. “I would love to make it a yearly happening for sure.”

Capacity for the Fest is 200 people, and tickets are selling quickly. Tickets are $15; campers bring their own food and gear. For a full list of events or to reserve your spot, visit http://campoutfest.info/.

Author: Matthew Dube

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