2019 American Music Awards

We Lost the Dirtybird Campout Spelling Bee and Other Festival Field Activity Reports

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Juliana Bernstein/Get Tiny Photography
Dirtybird Campout West Coast 2019

But we still beat Claude VonStroke, who failed to properly spell "burgundy."

There are music festivals, and then there is the Dirtybird Campout. While both possess the quintessential accoutrements of an underground dance music festival, Dirtybird is special because of its lineup of artist-hosted activities. Reminiscent of the summer camps of yore, attendees split their days between the dance floor, the lake and the games.

After settling into their campsites this past weekend, patrons visited a stand within the festival where they received their team color in the form of a bandana. Chosen seemingly at random, recipients were divided into colored teams of either green, orange, red or purple. The arbitrary color assignment was meant to connect festival-goers with new friends, encouraging them to venture beyond their clique. With each game, teams were divided into their colors and alliances were formed, bonds were forged, memories were collected and, sometimes, merit badges were earned.

For those who fancy an athletic challenge, one could partake in a double dutch competition with J.Phlip, a 0.5k floaty race with VNSSA, or a wheelbarrow race with Eprom and Barclay Crenshaw, aka Claude VonStroke, Dirtybird founder and king of the campers. Despite the copious amounts of alcohol that was being consumed, participants were shockingly spry, arriving on time and eager to participate while donning their team colors with pride.

For those with unique talents or who prefered less physically active pursuits, events like the Beatbox Competition or Camper Standup served as entertaining alternatives. Regardless of physical prowess (or lack thereof), intelligence, or skill set, there was an activity for everyone. The winning color of each game was tallied and added to a total running score with the orange team eventually dominating the weekend.

Somehow Claude VonStroke participated in almost every activity, festively dressed in classic camp counselor garb complete with Davy Crokett hat and a shirt festooned in merit badges. His owl totem always in hand and a childlike grin perpetually plastered across his face, he was a vision of unabashed joy mixed with only a slight hint of exhaustion. This one-of-a-kind festival allows adults to relive -- or for some, experience for the first time -- the competitive games, new friendships and carefree bliss of a summer camp.

Billboard Dance participated in a few of these games. Unfortunately we won none of them, but Dirtybird isn’t about winning anyway -- it’s about showing up to play.

Great Bingo Revival

Especially popular in the geriatric circuit, bingo is not a game commonly correlated with disco music and women dancing in sequin jumpsuits. The Great Bingo Revival is a new breed of bingo, led by of a master of ceremonies named Rusty, who arrives in a vintage stretch limousine donning a three-piece suit. On Friday night, his entourage of gilded disco dancers in afro wigs kept the party lively as players lined up their bingo cards, hoping for that adrenaline rush and ultimate honor of bellowing: “Bingo!”

With each round, a new prize was presented. Ranging from an old pair of Air Jordans (in one size) to a bedraggled, undrivable Winnebago, the prizes offered more comic relief than legitimate motivation. If in the event there were multiple winners, which often happens, a tie-breaker was required. At this particular bingo, the tie-breaker was a twerk-off between three players who each gave their most valiant efforts. Unfortunately, we did not make it to the twerk-off, but the experience of a friend winning said twerk-off was just as, if not more so, exciting as winning.

BYOF (Bring Your Own Floaty) 0.5k Floaty Race

Narwhals, unicorns, sprinkled donuts, alligators and avocados stormed the shores of the Modesto Reservoir. Dragged by spirited participants ready to show off their paddling prowess, the objective of this short race was to paddle either on top of or while holding a floaty around a buoy and back. Easy enough -- or so we thought.

Teams were divided into their respective colors where new teammates quickly began connecting and discussing tactics. Hydrodynamics played no part in this ridiculous race, as the floaties ranged from a pizza slice to a gigantic pink ‘90s-inspired cellphone -- provided by the race’s master of ceremonies, Vanessa Barnes, the producer gracing the lineup as VNSSA.

As each heat sunk their feet into the squishy silt, eyes full of competitive fury and floaties at the ready, VNSSA counted down from 10. At once the participants sprung into the water. Some glided across with ease while others flipped, flopped and clumsily dragged their gigantic floaties in tow. The smaller, more modest, floaties gave a competitive edge though the silly and colorful floaties provided a great deal of entertainment for the beer-swillers on shore. Unfortunately, despite the uniqueness of the bulbous, rectangular cellphone floaty, I took last place in this unexpectedly difficult and energy zapping race.

Dirtybird’s Inaugural Spelling Bee

The Dirtybird activities are meant to be experienced with a sense of humor and good sportsmanship. However, for the attendees who chose to participate in a spelling bee at 2pm on Sunday, the last day of a three-day festival -- a feat that requires a sizable amount of mental acuity -- this was serious business. I was on the green team, a companionable trio of logophiles comprised of a seasoned spelling bee competitor, a lawyer and (obviously) a writer.

Hosted by MCs who cared more about banter than showcasing the camper’s spelling capabilities, the strange organization left many of the participants and spectators confused. Using a buzzer system à la Jeopardy, there were only two buzzers for well over 10 players. Green team took an early lead, successfully spelling words like "lugubrious" and "rainforest" backwards. Claude VonStroke was dismissed early in the competition after misspelling "burgundy" -- the spellers all joking that it was a deliberate misspell so he could make his appearances at the litany of other activities scheduled that day. 

As the MCs ate up time with their wisecracks, the final round was rushed. The red team’s final word was "weird" while the green team’s final word was "elanguescence." Unfortunately, green team lost, and we were decidedly more angry about the loss than we should have been.

But in retrospect, a slipshod competition where there was more talking than spelling -- and many participants drinking tall-cans on stage -- is exactly what one should expect from an inaugural spelling bee at Dirtybird Campout.


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