At Pine Island Camp we are always learning new ways to live happily without using electricity. One thing we miss sometimes is listening to recorded music. Up until a few years ago campers were able to listen to 78 rpm jazz records played on a Victrola record player. However, inevitably rough use over the years disabled the ancient machine, and we were ready to accept its demise. Then Emily Swan took to the internet and discovered Victrola Repair Services (!) is located a short drive from Sumner Ford’s home in Richmond, VT. Sumner transported the machine to St. Johnsbury and on a recent trip to Vermont Ben Swan picked up the fully repaired and restored Victrola.
Chatting with the proprietor of VRS in his house filled with Victrolas in various states of repair and restoration, Ben learned that Pine Island’s particular machine was built in 1913 when PIC was just 11 years old. The Victrola is now in the Swans’ living room in Brunswick, ME, awaiting transport to the island. Several years ago a friend of the camp left his extensive and pristine collection of 78 rpm records to us. It is such a fine collection that we didn’t want to leave all the records in Honk Hall. Alumnus and jazz aficionado John Bunker agreed to keep the collection safe at his house in Palermo, ME. We kept a few classics for the boys to listen to, and should they, just by chance, get broken, John will replenish the stock. Also, of course, it is not hard to find 78s on line.
2020 Pine Islanders will be able to enjoy some great music any time up in Honk Hall. Just crank it up! Hint: if you want to turn up the volume, open the doors at the front of the Victrola.
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.
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.
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.
Great Pond is one of Maine’s premier smallmouth bass fishing lakes, a perfect place for boys to learn to fish both with spinning gear and with fly rods. Many boys have caught big bass on flies they have tied themselves. Last year, under the leadership of Will Stack and Dawson Loewen, the program celebrated an impressive milestone: 13 consecutive catch days! Both Will and Dawson have signed on to return, so we expect more success in 2020.
Will and Dawson, both Wilderness First Responders, also take campers out on overnight trips to apply the skills they’ve learned in some more remote locations. A typical summer includes two fishing trips: I.P.F.D., a 3-day trip on Indian Pond and the east outlet of the Kennebec River, which is a great spot for salmon, brook trout, lake trout, and bass; and Big Eddy, a 4-day trip on the Penobscot River. Pine Islanders have caught many brook trout and salmon on Big Eddy, including a 20+” salmon that had onlookers ogling.
Our annual Campfire in New York event was a tremendous success! A special thanks to the many performers who entertained us with music, trip reports, skits – and Mongolian throat singing! We’re grateful for all of them for sharing their many talents.
If you missed this release party for Campfire: The Album, you can still purchase your own copy and listen to it anytime. Visit our website for details. You’ll also find complete lyrics and the backstory to the songs and the album. (All proceeds go to our Lovett Scholarship Fund.)
Save the Date for our next Campfire in NYC: Saturday, January 30, 2021