HOME-TOWN PRIDE: “It isn’t a hassle,” says John Boilard. “People say, ‘You drive all the way back to there just to do shows?’ But it’s what I love to do.”
With a handful of friends and some small-town pride, Western Massachusetts native John Boilard spent his high-school years transforming a tiny backyard woodshed in bucolic Palmer — 20 miles southeast of Northampton — into one of the Northeast's best-kept secrets. Boston bands like Neptune and Fat Day made Mass Pike pilgrimages; bands from across the country, from Old Time Relijun to Tyondai Braxton, rerouted tours to end up there on weekends. The Shed was big enough to hold a couple of riding lawnmowers, and kids from the neighborhood and nearby colleges crammed into it as if it were a clown car. The firewood stacked high against the outside wall muffled the noise. There was no place like it. The last show took place November 2005.
This weekend, instead of hiding behind basement doors, obscure house-show invites, and dank rock-club corridors, New England's finest indie-undergrounders will migrate west to Palmer's great outdoors once again, for a larger-scale operation. Rounded up by DIY promoter extraordinaire Dan Shea and high-school friend Dave Conway, a horde of bands from Boston and beyond will be converging on a campground outside Boilard's home town for the first-ever Campout Fest. The all-night affair — somewhere between a rock show and Nickelodeon's Salute Your Shorts — will cram together gobs of psych and dance bands with cookout games and starry skies for one righteous cap to the summer of 2010. The woods will echo with the sounds of newly Sub Popped Vermonters Happy Birthday, zoned-out New Hampshirians MMOSS, the Hydra-headed Ethio-groove group Debo Band, and the Boston one-man psych-drone dance jam Many Mansions.
Shea — long a booking force behind Boston's kitchen-sink underground at venues like Mass Art, the Milky Way, and Brighton's fabled House of Suffering Succotash during its 2004 reign — has had his eye on an outdoor extravaganza for a long time. "In many places, it seems like summertime goes hand in hand with outdoor music festivals." But in Boston indie rock circles, not so much. "When I looked at festivals in New England, it seemed to be of the more usual jam-band variety or whatever. Myself, I've certainly read about other festivals happening in different parts of this country and other countries, but this isn't based on any of that directly. We're just trying to bring a summer-camp experience together with a music festival."
Shea couldn't have found a better partner than Boilard, who started organizing shows in Palmer when he was 14 with friend Mike Swiatlowski. Boilard moved to Boston three years ago to attend Mass Art. He began booking in Boston last year with a Big Digits/Nat Baldwin show at the school, then moved on to collaborate with Shea on shows with Dan Deacon and Oneida. He kept his eye on his home town, however, booking monthly shows with Swiatlowski at the Diamond Junction Lanes candlepin alley.
"I like doing shows in Palmer, and I like working with Mike," he says over the phone from Palmer, where he's busy numbering the hand-printed posters for the fest. "It isn't a hassle. People say, 'You drive all the way back to there just to do shows?' But it's what I love to do."