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Summer Camp Sounds


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Mar 29, 2007, 9:56 AM

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I always felt camp had a distinctive sound to it. A warm, round earthy hum that exists for its own sake. Camp’s sound adds color and substance to each moment. For those of us lucky enough to grow up with camp, the sound of camp is the soundtrack to our memories.

The soundtrack of camp reflects the rural, communal atmosphere, where everything moves to a slower tempo. Acoustic instruments flourish, and smiles and laughter are the point of everything.

Try humming angst ridden “Emo” songs, while paddling across a mist filled lake in the still evening, it just doesn‘t fit.

Subtle story filled songs from artists like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens and more recently Jack Johnson make up the living breathing canon of campfire songs. Their songs are simple, timeless and sound better alongside crackling embers.

I believe that each song is an event, but in the fast paced technological world outside of camp, songs have become undervalued.

People carry thousands of songs for their personal listening pleasure in their back pocket. The latest trend of dance music is a practice called “mashups.” A DJ “mashes” snippets of dozens of songs together in a rapid sequence and creates a free flowing suite of partial songs.

Is this because the listener has grown impatient?

Passing around a guitar at a campfire with friends is where music remains pure. Words are forgotten, notes are missed, but everyone present is part of a long musical tradition that dates far beyond recorded time. When I look back on my years at camp, my most cherished memories were born around a campfire!

The spirit of the camp drives the music I write and perform! My tastes were shaped in late night listening sessions with my cabin as we drifted into slumber and around the campfire where a guitar was shared like a precious secret among friends. The music that was passed down from older campers and staff has stayed with me my entire life.

In camp my chosen role became that of a canoe tripper. On trip, lounging around the fire with a guitar was the reward for a hard day’s work. I tried many things growing up, but nothing else seemed as intimate and musical.

I am a musician. I play all around Ontario, and I’m learning as I go.

The music industry is a tough place to navigate. Musicians are people who “play” for a living. Unfortunately “playing” is not so simple. As in any profession, skill and hard work are the only way to succeed.

Camp, like music is a controlled dream. The hard work and perseverance occurs behind the scenes so the campers can benefit from their dream. This summer it seems natural for me to actively place my music in a camp setting. I plan on travelling from camp to camp, spreading my songs, and sharing the classics on the “Campfire Tour.”

I hope to see you en route, because just like a canoe trip or a summer at camp, the journey is far more important then the destination.

And now for the purpose of sparking Debate, I’d like to put forth my list of the 10 greatest campfire songs of all time. This list is in no particular order, and attempts to include song from different eras, and a variety of audiences.

1. The Weight - by The Band

Although no random group of people has ever sung the chorus correctly, on key or in time, this is an undeniable choice. The song is about resting during a journey and is played by a bunch of Canadians pretending to be cowboys!

2. Tangled Up and Blue - by Bob Dylan

As a group, you may only be able to get 70% of the verses correct, but everyone is on cue when each verse ends with “tangled up and blue.” Dylan’s epic drama of love may be long, but around the campfire, no one is in a hurry!

3. Fire and Rain - James Taylor

This song is a campfire cliché for a reason! It fits perfectly into a natural setting, and the chorus is easy for everyone to sing along with! James Taylor was in a bad spot when he wrote this classic, and everyone can relate to its stark honesty.

4. American Pie - Don McLean

American Pie is remarkable. It sums up the rock and roll era (1955-1970) of popular music and brings the listener along for the ride. Each line and character in the song refers to some real life event or person. Trying to figure out what is what is half the fun. The chorus is the other half.

5. Wheat Kings - Tragically Hip

Easy to play, easy to sing, beautiful melody. This Canadian classic is slow and soulful. Don’t be surprised if you put your arm around the person next to you and sway while singing along!

6. Down by the Bay - who knows

People of all ages enjoy coming up with silly rhymes for this tune, I bet you have your favorite ready in advance.

7. The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Solomon Linda

This charming African song was written in 1939, and has been covered thousands of times in thousands of variations. The rhythmic repeating “ah wimbowe” is perfect for a large group to sing while a brave soul toughs out the chorus in falsetto.

8. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

Ever since the song was re-popularized in the movie “Wayne’s World” a generation has belted it together in unison. More then just a campfire song, it fits just about anywhere; in the dining hall, while paddling on a canoe trip, or on a long road trip! Be prepared to rock out at the end!

9. The General – Dispatch

Although the band Dispatch never really hit the big time, this song will be played around the fire for years. It’s the story of a General having second thoughts about sending his troops out to die. As long as there are wars, “The General” will strike a nerve because it humanizes the inner struggle of each soldier. The words are a mouthful, but its memorable chorus is perfect for a sing song!

I’m leaving the ten spot open because around a campfire, sometimes the greatest tunes are made up on the spot. Most will never be repeated, but all will be remembered! Campfires are about laughter and interaction, and a group of people, sitting around coming up with silly verses to random sets of chords is campfire music at its best! A number of the songs I now play were conceived in this manner!

So there you have it, my top ten choices, I know you have many more that you would include, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to send your contributions to my e-mail address!

Dave Borins wants to spread his music to as many camps as possible in the summer of 2007. If you would like "the Campfire Tour" to visit your camp this summer, or have any questions about the programs Dave offers, please contact him directly:

E-mail:[email protected]

Dave Borins is a Canadian indie musician.

Find out more about Dave on


(This post was edited by stephenwinbaum on Apr 2, 2007, 9:02 AM)


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