Rainy Camp: A First-Timer’s Impressions

By Jennifer White

It went on, I later discovered, for an hour and a half. It began after the Saturday night participants’ concert, spontaneously, in a corner of the lodge-a handful of people and a guitar or two, singing one song that somehow became another. When I walked over to join in, it had become “Freight Train,” then a spiritual, then “This Land is Your Land,” and the game soon became clear: keep it going with no breaks, same chords, different songs. Before I left to check out the Celtic jam in the Longhouse, the group in the corner had swelled to at least twenty people, another guitar or two, a fiddle, and some richly resonant harmonies.

I came to the west coast trolling for new experiences, and Rainy Camp was certainly a new experience. The weekend (February 9-11) was the grand finale to a six-week internship at the Seattle Folklore Society. As I’m from New York, I didn’t expect to know anyone at a three-day folk song camp in Carnation, Washington-and I didn’t. In the end, it didn’t matter. I learned the songs as I went along, tried to sit with someone different at every meal, and went to every workshop I could (seven in all). The range of material was impressive (sea songs, storytelling, music from several different cultures and time periods…the list goes on), and the participants were a rich resource in themselves. On the ride back, I asked Bruce Baker how many songs he estimated the group knew in all, between all the participants. He shrugged. “Thousands.”

How can I describe Rainy Camp? I attempted it in my journal. Simultaneously restful and exciting. Entertaining. Beautiful. Heartening-because there really is no other word for seventy or eighty people in one wide, wood-walled room, harmonizing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (my choice at the giant Friday night song circle). I can’t recommend it highly enough. Considering the impressive knowledge, talent and skill of many of the Rainy Camp attendees, it should have been a least a little intimidating-but it wasn’t. It was a complete immersion in music, and for someone who is new to music of the traditional kind, it was remarkably free of new-kid anxiety. I toted my viola along, and when I finally got up the courage to take it out and really use it-at that Celtic jam mentioned earlier-I was doing more playing than worrying. As for the rain, I don’t think it came; but if it did, I don’t remember.

I was inside, singing.