During August, while my 13 year old daughter was at the same Adirondack sleep away camp I attended in the 1970s, she passed the time in many of the same ways I used to: canoeing, crafts, signing up for classes taught by the cute boy counselors, and nonstop hysterical laughing. But one thing that she experienced was quite different than anything I ever did back in the days of Jordache and Famolares:
The Camplified Concert.
Camplified (www.camplified.com) is a concert tour program that brings up-and-coming music acts – sort of a farm team for Disney and Nickelodeon talent – into summer camps for a day of fun, games and music. For camps that want to keep their programming fresh and need a break from yet another marathon day of Capture the Flag, why wouldn’t you give it a spin?
The problem is, here’s how Camplified describes their roving concert caravan on their web site (I’ve bolded the phrases that made my skin crawl most):
Hear.Here LLC, a Primary Wave Music company delivers quality entertainment to captive markets of tweens and teens, ages 6-17 through a unique, age appropriate captive ROCK CONCERT experience which kicks off the day with campers and bands participating in branded activities provided by our sponsors.
Camplified is a celebrity, music and branded interactivity fantasy experience. It begins in the morning when trucks roll into camp, prep the camp-stage, break out the sound system, lighting and generators, band equipment, set up the branded tents and activities for campers and the enthusiasm of the campers intensifies.
Directly following the concert will be a meet n greet whereby campers will each be handed a commemorative tour poster that they will have signed by the artists appearing at their camp. Campers can also expect to walk away with product giveaways provided by our sponsors.
Ewwwww. Captive tweens, branded activities, product giveaways, sponsors – maybe I’ve been reading too much dystopian literature lately (blame Super Sad True Love Story and A Visit From the Goon Squad) but this whole thing just came across as incredibly cynical and exploitative to me, not at all in the spirit of the Great Outdoors Authentic Camping Experience that I remember from my days in Bunkhouse 5. I was prepared to be grossed out when I arrived for pickup and heard firsthand accounts from my daughter, her friends, and staff.
Only here’s the thing: by all accounts, the Camplified Experience got run through the Camp Ringer. Which is to say that the kids (and camp staff) were indeed entertained and enthusiastic, and refreshingly impervious to the marketing machine that churned around them.
For example: Act Number One of the Tour was a possibly albino, possibly Estonian rapper named Bera who was backed by two hoochie-mama dancers in hot pants. Three separate people (two adults, one child) who did Bera impressions for me afterward sounded like this: “Uh. Uh. Where my ladeez at? Uh. Uh. Here’s a teddy bear. ” Did the ladeez (in this case, girls aged 7-15) start inappropriately shaking their moneymakers? No. They simply put the name “Bera” and a few “Uh, uhs” into every camp song they sang for the rest of the session, including grace, and caused widespread hilarity while codifying a new inside joke.
At the aforementioned meet n greet with the acts, my daughter (whose name is not Patricia) introduced herself as Patricia to Bera, and added, “But my friends call me Peppermint Patty.” She and her bunkmates then laughed for 72 hours straight.
Of the highly touted “tents and activities” set up for the kids by the Camplified staff, like obstacle courses and tug of war, the camp’s very capable director just rolled her eyes at me at said, “They were fine. We could have done something more interesting in about 5 minutes.”
The headliner act was a kid named Jessarae, and I can’t even begin to explain to you why that rhymes with “Desiree” or why a boy would want to call himself that. But give him credit for being able to play guitar. If you care to delve, here’s a video made from his performance at our daughter’s camp. I don’t know what’s up with the plastic swords; it’s a detail to which I’ve not been made privy. Those of you who know our daughter will pick her out of the crowd right away, and those of you who don’t, well, she’s inherited her mother’s prodigious gift for securing a spot within arm’s reach of the band.
I’m not naive; I’m sure the Camplified acts gained some “Brand Traction,” as I’m sure the organization would put it, with their captive audience. Certainly we’ve got a few Jessarae bracelets featuring prominently in the back to school wardrobe.
But I’ve heard as much, if not more, about the overnight kayak trip, the closing campfire, and the Advanced Fishing class (must have been a REALLY cute boy counselor teaching that one) as I have about Camplified. And those Jessarae bracelets are almost obliterated by new colorful friendship bracelets made in Arts and Crafts class.
Today’s video features the one act that, it sounds to me, was spot on with her Camplified audience: Michaela Wallace, a 14 year old performer who brought her mom along. According to the camp director both Michaela and her mom were polite, humble, and friendly. According to my kid, Michaela is “even prettier in real life than in her videos,” high praise from an eighth grade girl. I like that the lyrics to her breakthrough song “Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend” are age-appropriate and relatable (substitute “Andy Gibb” for “Justin Bieber” and I was right there at age 13.) I like that she wears layers, and flat shoes, and sits in the back seat of her mother’s minivan in the video. She’s still kind of a dorky dancer. There’s no fake aspirational sports car driving or stripper gyration going on.
In short, Michaela’s a kid, and seems to understand that her audience is made up of other kids. If camp has to be camplified, this is the way to go. Oh. And sorry for the earworm. You’ll be singing this one for days.