I hit the road to CT for three days of gigs with Thursday’s annual Camp Happiness show as the anchor. This is a camp for special needs kids, some autistic, some behavioral. I’ve done this camp for over ten years and it remains one of my favorite visits.
First of all, the kids know my music from my CD’s and past visits so they already are pumped when I get there. They want the Cat Came Back, Bear Hunt, Peanut Butter and especially Baby Shark.
Secondly, the counsellors are simply the best. They are not afraid to get into the spirit and participate in dancing and singing while still tending to their kids. Some camp counsellors in other camps don’t get the ‘folk’ in what I’m doing and separate themselves from the music. Not here. I could interact with them just like I do with kids and we have a great time.
One autistic girl really got into the ‘super stars’ and jumped up after every song to do show off her poses, to the delight of the whole audience. In fact, that’s what set this show apart today: I used some performance elements to spot light various individuals (kids and counsellors) as well as the various teams of campers. It also gave me the opportunity to try out some of these devises on the fly and experiment.
We did the Cat Came Back, a tune they were comfortable with and knew the chorus. I decided to get each group up to sing the chorus. The middle age kids sang it normally and did fine. The second group was two teams of little kids, so I got those two teams up to sing and face the audience. I prefaced that chorus by saying that when they were done, everyone should rise and give them a standing ovation. They did and it was powerful to shower these wee ones in the glory. Community in action.
The older kids did their chorus like opera, something I’ve tried before at Calypso School. I then asked the counsellors to do their chorus as rap. It was so funny, I just told everyone to get up and rap the chorus. The movements were great on all parts. A magic moment and it was a leap of faith on my part that the crowd would do it. They did.
I did Rosalie, Where are You Going, with various kids coming up and singing the one line “upstairs to take my bath”. Each child had their moment in the spotlight and, with this very supportive community, knocked it out of the park, from cute, shy, to quite confident. I also got a couple of counsellors to come up as well, and they jumped right in. Again, no difference in attitude between the kids and staff. This was a stretch for me to add this unfamiliar song to the set but it turned out well because of the celebration of the individuals in front of their community.
I finished with All Around the Kitchen with kids, and, eventually, counsellors coming up and showcasing their own dance moves. All kind of twirls, break dancing and some current cultural moves. One older counsellor came up with the ‘Shopping Cart’, an incredibly inane move which I singled out as pathetic, much to the glee of the other counsellors.
It felt good, driving away from this gig, as it always does. It’s nice every year. (They also paid me in cash!)