There are countless music festivals across the world, and it can be hard for them to differentiate themselves. Many of them feature dance music that continues late into the night. Even more include yoga classes. And pretty much all of them try to foster a sense of community among its attendees.
But perhaps no festival provides such a wide variety of activities to bring people together as Dirtybird Campout in Modesto, Calif. The 21+ event took place from October 4-6 and featured performances from acts such as house DJ Claude VonStroke (the head of Dirtybird Records and the event’s “head counselor”), legendary hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, electronic band Bob Moses and R&B singer Jhené Aiko.
But as most Dirtybird campers will tell you, the event isn’t just about the music. Campout is essentially a summer camp for adults that happens to feature world-class musicians as the counselors who oversee activities such as archery, tug-of-war, speed dating and a lap dance contest. Upon entry to the main section of the festival, everyone is given a bandana to place you on one of four teams (green, orange, purple and red). From there, you can participate in nearly 100 games, competitions and workshops, many of which let you gain points for your team. Whoever is on the winning team is awarded a special badge on Sunday evening.
Team Purple, which carried a banner to its first event stating “It just doesn't matter,” is notoriously nonchalant about the competitions (and predictably finished last). Team Red and Team Orange ended up battling for first place in the final competition of the weekend. Below are my 10 favorite activities I witnessed in chronological order, along with the artists who conducted them, if any:
Kickball with Sage Armstrong & Franklyn Watts on Friday at 2 pm:
My first game of the weekend was a throwback to elementary school recess. After receiving a red bandana, I arrived just in time for the championship match against Team Purple, which was led by the head counselor Claude VonStroke himself. It was a 3-inning nail biter, and VonStroke nearly guided his team to victory with a booming kick off a pitch from yours truly to deep center field. But thankfully, Team Red’s defense held strong for a 1-0 win. One game, one win, one rowdy victory song played by a long-haired, trumpet-wielding bard.
Dodgeball with Black V Neck and Westend on Friday at 4 pm:
Yet another classic gym-class contest led to another thrilling title game, which came down to a best-of-3 matchup between Team Red and Team Orange. Team Red won the first match in dominant fashion, and I must admit I felt like Peter La Fleur out there as I knocked out their last player with a firm ball to the chest. That didn't last long. I sat out a Game 2 loss to catch my breath, then did not much more as Team Orange pulled off a thrilling comeback in the rubber match that excitingly came down to a 1-on-1 showdown at the end. It was honestly like “DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story” out there. The announcers even channeled Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks to provide hilarious commentary that wasn’t afraid to knock down players a peg.
Lap Dance 4 Your Life! Education Exhibition on Friday night at 12:15 am:
Predictably one of the rowdiest events of the weekend, a drag queen coach gave some silly yet sensual instructions to some brave volunteers who went on to participate in a contest. Shouts out to an especially inspired exhibition duet featuring the Team Green captain and the instructor, as well as the contest winner, the redheaded captain of Team Red.
Jogging with Justin Martin on Saturday at 10 am:
I have great deal of admiration for anyone who managed to wake up this early after a late Friday night and jog a few miles with the wildly popular Martin, who co-founded Dirtybird with VonStroke and serves as his second-in-command at Campout. I was not one of those brave souls, but I did have a friend who went along for the ride and said the cool morning air was quite refreshing and energized him for another long day ahead. This is also apparently an activity where you actually get to talk a lot with the DJ/counselor, as Martin is so dang nice and open with everyone.
.5K Floatie Race with VNSSA on Saturday at 3 pm:
One of the few competitions to utilize the beautiful Modesto Reservoir that serves as the setting for Campout, this fan-favorite race was BYOF: Bring Your Own Floatie. Claude VonStroke and Eprom were among the artists to participate, and VonStroke (or VonBreaststroke) proved to be an impressive swimmer for a big guy. Even though he didn’t win, he’d obviously practiced doggy paddling from atop his plastic pizza slice before.
Ardalan’s album release Mardi Gras parade on Saturday at 4 pm:
Ardalan, who performed later on the main stage Saturday night, led a themed Mardi Gras parade complete with masks and beads to celebrate the November 1 release of his debut album “Mr. Good.” The Iranian-born producer stopped by select campsites throughout the 2-hour march, blasting his brand new LP and handing out beads in the process. Ardalan’s new single “I Can’t Wait” was one of the most well-received tracks of the weekend, and this felt like a deserved victory lap for the emerging Dirtybird signee.
Archery from 11 am-4 pm every day:
There’s just something about tapping into your medieval roots and nailing a bullseye — something I would not have been able to do without the friendly, very capable instructor who made sure none of us shot each other’s eyes out. Okay, I still didn’t make a bullseye. But it was fun to try.
The Inaugural Dirtybird Spelling Bee on Sunday at 2 pm:
If you were looking for a stuffy competition that truly aimed to crown the festival’s best speller, this was not for you. The second word offered up was “cow,” and it took about 40 minutes to get through eight words thanks to the nonstop banter from the event's MCs, who at one point bestowed a dunce cap upon a boisterous crowd member. But after “cow” was offered up as a softball to VonStroke, there were some legitimately impressive showings from spellers who were asked to recite some SAT-level words such as "lugubrious" backwards. VonStroke was eliminated on "burgundy," which suspiciously seemed like an excuse for him to assume other duties elsewhere. Team Red eventually won on "weird" despite a far better overall showing from Team Green. I'm hoping this is back on the itinerary next year with some slightly more focused hosts.
Ironbird championship on Sunday at 4:30 pm:
This served as the final competition to decide the winning team, as eight people each from Team Red and Team Orange participated in a relay race that fittingly combined four classic summer camp contests: wheelbarrow race, 3-legged race, egg-and-spoon race and potato sack race. Team Orange took a big lead in the wheelbarrow leg and never looked back to claim their second consecutive Ironbird championship. The highlight for Team Red was a twenty-something man squirting an absurd amount of Sriricha sauce in his mouth before the race to “pump up” the squad. Apparently, this guy gets around. His strategy did not work, however.
The Great Bingo Revival on Sunday at midnight:
Perhaps the best event is saved for last at Dirtybird Campout. After the last note of music stops, the remaining campers flock to an area flush with picnic tables for a 70s-themed bingo soiree. The show started quite a bit later than its scheduled time, but that didn’t matter to most of the attendees who were looking for anything to extend their weekends. The mustachioed host has a way with words and kept the crowd engaged as he called out the numbers and beautiful go-go dancers twirled around him to disco. Last year, a friend of mine was lucky enough to yell "Bingo!" before the hundreds of other participants and took home a snazzy jacket from VonStroke’s personal closet as her prize. No one in my group could match that sort of luck this year, but watching one lucky guy win a psychedelically-painted Winnebago after emerging victorious from a twerk-off tie-breaker was a delightfully weird way to finish out the weekend nonetheless.