The Archives : Camp Black Dog "Rock and Roll Summer Camp '98"

In the mid-to-late 90s, two of the best bands in the world were Philadelphia's Marah and Oxford, Mississippi's Blue Mountain. Toss in a member of Wilco and born was Camp Black Dog. At the time, I'd argue that Marah were the best band in the world, having just released one of the finest debut records ever with Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight. I can count on less than one finger the number of bands 2000-present who are as good as Marah were in the late 90s. Seeing them live was like seeing the Rolling Stones during their heyday or Springsteen at Main Point.

I believe the idea for Rock and Roll Summer Camp '98 was brought to life by Blue Mountain's Cary Hudson and his brother Chris. A bunch of bands would head down to Oxford, Mississippi for a few days, bring a ton of booze and instruments and just play whatever the hell came to mind. It was a mess. But a damn good mess. There were about 40 people, possibly as many dogs and certainly about 8x as many cases of beer. And these bands were at the height of their talents and passions.

In short order, the record was done and out. The record aptly opens with Marah's Dave Bielanko uttering, "It's important not to think when we're doing this. I just choked...thinking about bluebirds and shit" and in comes in a roar of guitars, banjos, drums, screams, maybe a flute? Brother Serge joins, "And I was a cocaine addict. Livin' on the road. Never going home" as the country and Irish influences blast throughout. I spent many a drunken night with the boys from Marah in the 90s, and well, this kinda spirit sounds pretty fitting. Wilco's John Stirratt takes the lead on the beautiful "Not So Far Away," but the highlight is the full band bombast of "The River" with Dave once again on lead.

I remember talking to Dave or Serge following Camp Black Dog and asking if a second summer camp may ever take place. They both assured me that it would and that I would be on the list of invites. The mere thought of being on hand for such an event had me grinning for months. Well, just like the days of Americana glory that took up the latter part of the 90s, it was short lived. Wilco got big. Marah released one more fantastic record before losing its way for a while and Blue Mountain suffered through a divorce and a long hiatus. Thus is the world of music, and life, I suppose. But Camp Black Dog reminds me of my favorite years of music. Bands such as 6 String Drag, The Backsliders, Whiskeytown, Son Volt, The V-Roys, 16 Horsepower and countless, countless others shaped everything about me. And Camp Black Dog brought many of them together.