Category Archives: The Pine Needle

Campfire: Pine Island’s Musical Tradition Highlighted on Hit Album

The following article is featured in the current edition of The Pine Needle. Please visit our website to download your copy of CAMPFIRE: The Album. Your purchase supports the Lovett Scholarship Fund. Thanks!

As long as campers and counselors have been sitting around the campfire down in the cove they have been singing songs. It would be fascinating to be able to hear a recording of the songs they were singing around 1910 and to trace the evolution of campfire songs at Pine Island over the years. No doubt some of the songs sung years ago would sound dated, some in pretty uncomfortable ways, but the mere fact that boys, men, and women have been singing songs together virtually every night of every one of Pine Island’s 118 summers is remarkable. 

During the past 30 years or so, in addition to the traditional campfire songs such as “The Titanic,” “Mountain Dew,” and “Charlie and the MTA,” a new tradition has taken root in which campers and staff rewrite the lyrics to popular songs to make them specific to Pine Island. This hybrid form of songwriting fits well into the PIC schedule, in which creative energy tends to suddenly erupt without a great deal of time to produce or practice. Since the late 1980s, in addition to singing traditional and currently popular songs, Pine Islanders have written Pine Island-related lyrics to well over 30 songs. Ten of them, plus two traditional songs, make up an album now for sale with all proceeds going to the Sidney Lovett Memorial Scholarship Fund. 

Making CAMPFIRE: The Album happened as the result of a number of stars aligning plus a lot of hard work. Toby Bregar, from Bainbridge Island near Seattle, was a new camper during the summer of 2017. His tent counselor, Noah Brodsky, discovered that Toby played guitar and eventually convinced him to perform at campfire. Toby was great! For the rest of the summer Toby frequently borrowed director Ben Swan’s old Gibson acoustic and played a number of times, including at the Final Campfire on the last day of camp. Turns out this was the first time Toby’s parents had ever seen him perform. They were delighted and moved, and this led to a conversation in which Ben learned that Johnny Bregar is a record producer and professional musician who runs Brick- yard Studio on Bainbridge Island. Not long after Toby and his family returned home from Pine Island, they recorded “My Sweet Pine Island,” a Matt Clarke/ Ben Swan rewrite of the Ryan Adams song “Sweet Carolina” that has been featured as the last song of the summer for about 15 years. 

The Henchmen recording backing vocals at PIC parent Johnny Bregar’s studio on Bainbridge Island, WA

Hearing this professionally recorded and mixed version of a song Ben had only heard in various forms on the sandy stage in Pine Island’s campfire circle prompted him to ask Johnny if it might be possible to record more campfire songs and make an album. Johnny’s response was quick and simple: “Come on out. We’ll do it. It will be fun.” Ben began what turned out to be a two-year effort to pull some PIC musicians together for a weekend all the way out in Washington state. At a couple of points it seemed too ambitious to attempt, but with Johnny’s encouragement and some financial help for air fare for some of the younger musicians, it all came together on a weekend in October when five Pine Islanders flew to Seattle and took the short ferry ride to Bainbridge Island where they were welcomed and fed by the Bregar/Ahearne family. Ben arrived Thursday afternoon to help arrange the weekend, Pope Ward arrived Friday afternoon along with Mark Pierce, Robert Brent arrived Friday night, and poor Sam Chester ran into a few delays on his journey all the way from Middlebury College and finally caught the last ferry in the wee hours of Saturday morning. 

Sam Chester, banjo player extraordinaire, in the studio

Both Ben and Pope recorded songs Friday, but it was after the “varsity” musicians Mark and Sam arrived that production both sped up and became more complex. Over the course of the weekend, thanks to Johnny’s incredible experience, technical ability, and musical talent, the group recorded a dozen songs, ate a lot of good food, and had a ton of fun. Pine Islanders Nicky Isles, Ted and Will Siebert, and Charlie Krause visited the studio, and Nicky laid down a verse of “Mountain Dew” and was a member of the Henchmen, who performed the backing vocals on several songs. Two songs were recorded elsewhere. Edwin McCain, former counselor, current camp parent, and successful singer- songwriter, generously agreed to record “I’m a Camper at PIC” at his studio in Greenville, SC, and Corinne Alsop, Natalie Burr and Mark Pierce recorded “We’re Women at PIC” at Columbia University in New York. 

Thanks to Johnny’s generous donation of hundreds of hours of work, Tom Yoder’s assistance with air fare, and John Alsop’s gift of the cover art, all proceeds from the sale of the album will go directly to the Lovett Fund. Our hope is that CAMPFIRE: The Album will both raise significant funds for scholarships and inspire the next generation of writers and rewriters to keep the musical tradition at Pine Island strong and growing. You can order an album download or a CD at the PIC website: www.pineisland.org, where you’ll also find all the lyrics and detailed background about the production and songs. 

Mark Pierce’s smiling face – On the Cover of the Pine Needle.

Meet our Volunteers

John Alsop, Legal Lecturer for Staff Week, Mower in Chief at York’s Crossing, and Builder Extraordinaire

We’re in full swing getting the island ready for opening day and we couldn’t do it without the help of many volunteers, including former camper and counselor John Alsop. John is headed out to the island next week to help Ben finish up some crucial building projects, and he’ll be back the following week during staff orientation. John, a recently retired assistant attorney general for the State of Maine, generously joins us on the island after lunch one day each year to give an extremely helpful and enlightening short lecture to the counselors about to embark on six weeks of caring for 90 boys.  He covers Maine law in general and as it relates to caregivers in particular.

In addition, John has volunteered for the past several years to execute a crucial step in preparing both the campsite and the game site for the War Game.  John readily confesses that he is something of a heavy-equipment junkie.  He owns and operates his own skidder and more recently has become owner of a commercial-grade riding mower, the perfect machine for mowing the War Game campsite, access roads, center of town, squadron paths, and the roads running out from each gate.  A couple of weeks before the game and a week or so before the site is used for the Maine Woodsman/Junior Maine Woodsman testing trip, John comes out after work and mows acres of grass that has been growing since play was off the summer before. The result is something approaching an English park, and each year the grass gets more lush and beautiful.  John and director Ben Swan have been discussing possible further improvements to the site.   

Finally, John was part of the “A Team” who came out the Whitehead Light Station last fall to build the new workshop. Ben was awed by the speed and craftsmanship of the crew, and now that John has retired, Ben can’t wait wait to snag him for more building projects.

John is seen here in the middle – part of a crew that constructed the North Perch in 1999.

Ned Bishop, Volunteer-in-Chief

Over the past twenty years a remarkable number of opportunities to volunteer one’s time to benefit Pine Island Camp have become available, and the many who have participated all agree that being a volunteer is the best way to return to Pine Island.  We’ll highlight a few of our amazing volunteers in the coming weeks, starting with Ned Bishop, PIC’s Volunteer-in-Chief.

Ned Bishop, camper, counselor, and long-time assistant director at Pine Island, began volunteering shortly after he retired as assistant director.  Ned’s innumerable contributions focus on setting up camp and the logistically challenging days between the annual Declaration of War and a couple of days after the campers leave.  As was recognized in his receiving the “Golden Clipboard” award several years ago, Ned is virtually indispensable when it comes to seeing to the details of opening and closing Pine Island.  He is the author (and faithful updater) of Opening and Closing: The Manual, the handbook that contains all the lists and jobs that need to be done before Opening Day and before the whole place is closed for the winter.  It is hard to describe fully how much director and assistant director stress is reduced when Ned is on the job, directing pre-camp work by the counselors, helping with War Game logistics (while also taking on a full umpiring load), and setting up everything we need to welcome 200+ people to the island for the Farewell Feed.  Ned also made it up for the Sloan Critchfield Memorial Boat Maintenance Weekend this year and spent many hours sanding and painting.  Ned is a fountain of knowledge and great stories about the recent and distant Pine Island past, and don’t make the mistake of being fooled by his friendly demeanor when you sit down after dinner for a game of cards!

Ned Bishop and Ben Swan.

What’s in A Name? Lots! Acronyms Blossom at PIC

Pine Island’s sense of humor has always been near the surface and usually operating at a very high level.  Campfire skits, trip announcements, passwords, Saturday Night Shows, and even trip reports are often hilarious.  No doubt what was funny in 1910 differs significantly from what cracked people up last summer, but the subtle art of acronyms, now very active at PIC, has been a feature of Pine Island summers for a long time. A flurry of acronyms surfaced in the 1960s and these days every activity produces an acronym to put at the top of their ranks chart.  Below are some memorable acronyms in approximately chronological order. Thanks to Harry Swan, who collected as many Pine Island acronyms as we could find.

KILL – team responsible for eradicating insect scourges.

The Kababa Insect Liquidation League


OAR – formed after the arrival of the Dynamite Payson-built dories.

The Organization for the Advancement of Rowing


DORY – booster organization for O.A.R.

Don’t Overlook Rowing, Y’all


DIVE – in which a swimming class is devoted to combing the bottom of the lake around the island, using fins, goggles, and snorkels, in search of interesting objects.

Dive Investigate Verify and Extract


PILE – the pre-camp work of removing all lumber, brush, and other refuse from the island.

Pine Island Lumber Extraction


ROTGUT – the pre-camp work of mowing, raking, trimming, and pruning on the mainland.

Removal OThe Grass, Ultra Team


WHAMWOW – the pre-camp work of washing windows and removing cobwebs and spider eggs from the exterior of buildings.

White-Hot Anti-spider Magic World OWindow Washing


FETID – an effort to locate and remove any dead fish, mice, birds, or squirrels causing foul odors on the island.

Find Everything That IDead


FAD – in which a fly-fishing instructor takes a few campers on a day trip to another body of water.

Fish All Day


FADED – an interest in fishing that threatens to override engagement in all other aspects of camp life.

Fish All Day Every Day


CLIK – a 4-day, 3-night kayaking trip that paddles the same waterways as the Chip Lakes canoe trip.

Chip Lakes IKayaks


ONG-BAK – A 4-day, 3-night rowing trip on the Kennebec River, beginning in Waterville and ending in Bath.

OAR Navigators Going Backwards Along the Kennebec


CAVALRY – the general effort to contain the spread of a stomach virus (commonly knowns as a “barf bug”) within camp.

Clean All Vomit And Locate Remaining Yackers


FEATHERBRAINS – any effort to free birds that have become trapped in camp buildings.

Forcibly Extracting Avian Tenants of Honk and Elsewhere, Result of Bad Radar and Inadequate Navigational Skills


BEARS – in which a camper’s stuff is in such irreparable disarray that it is necessary to remove his bed from the tent in order to better facilitate tent cleanup and reorganization.

Bed Extraction And Reclamation Service