Caamp @ Red Butte Garden 07.27 w/ Futurebirds
Caamp hails from Athens, Ohio and originally consisted of childhood summer camp friends Taylor Meier and Evan Westfall, with Meier playing lead vocals and Westfall playing primary guitarist. Later, Matt Vinson joined the group to make them a trio, adding in the bass. This was the lineup when I first saw the band in 2017. They’ve grown even more since then, adding another member, Joseph Kavalec, on the keyboard. Caamp’s website explains, “Meier began penning and playing original songs at coffee shops around Athens in 2013. Westfall moved down a couple of years later, and together in a hazy attic, enjoying light beers, they would find the heartfelt sound that became Caamp.” The descriptions here seem to encompass fairly well the genre Caamp falls into—hazy folk sounds that buzz in the background when you’re together with your friends, sipping on a drink, enjoying the soft company and quiet lulls of conversation as you consider fleeing your day-to-day for a road trip across the states. This was certainly the vibe at Caamp’s Red Butte Garden show on July 27.
When I saw Caamp in 2017, they were opening for Rainbow Kitten Surprise at The Complex. For most concert goers, the opening band serves as background noise until the band you paid to see takes the stage, but Caamp was incredible. With a humble stage setting of a few stools, an acoustic guitar and a banjo, I was in a swoon upon hearing the first few notes of Meier’s vocal rasp. With lyrics like, “Be my hands / And I’ll paint your picture darling the best I can / Be my heart / And I’ve got you in the end, I wish I had you from the start,” from their track “Strawberries,” I knew I’d follow them for a while (I would go on to choose “Strawberries” to play as I walked down the aisle at my wedding).
Futurebirds opened. They’re fairly like-minded to Caamp, though I would say Futurebirds has a bit more grit and country-rock influence. Though the five piece has an easygoing and smooth, head-nodding sound, the show itself felt like watching a group of guys from the lawn stumble onto the stage and start playing. They were warm and modest, the impression you get from pre-2000s country artists, and their laughter, talent and palpable enjoyment filled the gardens.
By this time, the sun had cast an orange hue on the main stage, and the majority of the crowd had unfolded their lawn chairs, assembled their cheese boards and were nursing the first sips from their sweating wine bottles. Futurebirds decorated this setting with eight songs, nine, if you include the time they got the crowd to participate in “Happy Birthday” for their buddy. A few favorites were “College Try” and “Ski Chalet,” which included longer, drawn out, instrumental outros with vibrating guitar solos elevated by the rest of the musicians quickening the tempo and head banging along. Their second-to-last track also invited Caamp on stage—it felt comfortingly intimate to watch these 10 or so guys smoke their cigarettes with huge grins as they played and danced around the small stage.
When Caamp took the stage, the sun was much lower, and most attendees were now standing up. From our position at the side of the stage barricade, a small group had formed and continued to grow through the night. Caamp’s stage setting was what I would expect: delicate string lights that glowed once the sun finally settled and faux, cowhide rugs that laid at the band’s feet. A white banner swung in the wind that spelt “Caamp” in lavender-colored embroidery, representing the release of their latest album, “Lavender Days.” Caamp opened the show with the opening track of the album, “Come With Me Now,” acoustic guitars strumming before drum beats settled in at the chorus.
Caamp’s setlist was built thoughtfully, with each tracking building upon one another, energizing the crowd as the tempo increased and band members artfully switched acoustic guitars for electric ones, occasionally adding in their signature banjo. Meier was cool and charming under the purple light, tapping his pink, suede boots and singing with melodic precision, the crowd especially cheering him on at every higher or lower note than usual. The middle of the set was filled with fan-favorite tracks like “Vagabond” and “Peach Fuzz” and riddled with banjo and guitar solos.
It was bewildering to watch the group perform; for the first few songs they stood statuesque on their cowhide placemats and continued to strum and sing, moving from song to song on their setlist. Where a band may begin an introduction to the audience, they pressed on and remained silent and resilient, perhaps not wanting to interrupt or “break the fourth wall” of the scene they created. The crowd swayed and hummed together, bouncing and screaming when it was opportune, with children on their father’s shoulders and older couples hip bumping in place.
When Caamp did decide to pause, it felt purposeful, either to speak to the new album, introduce band members or, toward the end of the set and beginning of song “Sure Of,” give a nod in solidarity toward the fact that “no one should own an assault rifle, and no man should govern a woman’s body.” They introduced “Sure Of” as a hopeful lullaby during a time of little hope, and the crowd responded with powerful cheers. An older woman elatedly threw her fist the air among the cheering as Meier began to sing and croon to the track—I felt both a heavy sadness yet an empowered sense of community looking at the audience of people so affected by his words.
To end the night, Caamp brought Futurebirds back for a cover of “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” by Neil Young. There were so many people dancing in the tight space of the stage that I hardly noticed most of the members of Caamp had switched instruments, again highlighting their musical talent. They finished with their lively track, “Going to the Country,” and carried on with a few more solos and head banging before leaving us with a goodnight and throwing out a few setlists and drumsticks to the fans.
Caamp is as talented as I remember, though they might’ve gathered a few more tricks for their stage performance. A part of me will alway prefer the intimate settings of smaller venues and shorter setlists anyway. I’m certain they molded lifelong fans from first-time listeners in the audience, and I’ll continue to follow their folk sounds as long as they keep releasing them. –Jamie Christensen