It’s not often that a band can stay together and play music for more than four decades, or that their fans will stick with them just as long.
But that’s exactly what jam band Max Creek has achieved with its loyal family of fans at the Camp Creek music festival, which kicked off Friday afternoon at Indian Lookout Country Club. Between 800 and 1,000 people have been gathering annually to camp at the Mariaville site for the genuine love of Max Creek music, and of each other, for 17 years.
Cars, RVs and old-fashioned aluminum campers rolled in to the festival site Friday. Their drivers began prepping for a long weekend of music despite the threat of rain and thunderstorms throughout the weekend. Campers popped up tents and E-Z ups and huddled happily together in lawn chairs, cracking beers.
The first act, Miss E & The Resonators, began at 3 p.m. to a small crowd of about 40 people while trucks and vans continued to roll in. Though it began to drizzle, the crowd swayed back and forth and bobbed their heads to Miss E’s soulful voice and the band’s cover of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water.”
“Our fans love this place because we’ve been here so long,” said festival producer Derek Kipp, 44, as he took a break from hustling between stages to make sure the festival was fully prepared for the main event: Max Creek’s first three-hour-long groovy set today.
“It’s a thrill to me when they hit the stage on Saturday, which is the whole point of this thing,” Kipp said. “It’s great. Those are my boys.”
Kipp said he’s been a huge supporter and fan of Max Creek since he was a kid. He attended the festival as a camper for four years until 2003, when a shortage of cash gave him the idea to work at the festival to pay off the cost of a ticket. Kipp has risen in the ranks ever since, becoming the event’s manager three years ago.
“To think about the fact that the first music festival I ever went to was Camp Creek … it’s a full-circle thing to me,” Kipp said. “It’s a trip.”
Kipp isn’t the only person who has been attending Camp Creek for years. The festival producer estimated 90 percent of the attendees have been to the show for many years and counting.
Kipp’s estimate is evident when taking a walk through the campsites. It’s impossible to walk more than 10 feet without bumping into people hugging, shouting each other’s names and striding across the field to meet friends they haven’t seen in months.
Peter Wroblewski, 53, of Doylestown, Pa., said he’s been listening to the Grateful Dead-influenced band since its inception 44 years ago, and has met some of his best friends at Max Creek shows and meetups.
“These guys do have this gem, this little knowledgeable music-appreciative crowd,” Wroblewski said.
“I would just love for people to find out about Max Creek. It’s just this wonderful band that’s been growing for years,” he said.
Wroblewski’s friend, Matt Heydman, agreed, explaining that the welcoming and neighborly atmosphere was one of the main reasons they return each year.
“Just the scene, the chill nature of the whole thing and just being able to kinda bask in the wonderfulness,” Matt Heydman said. “I dunno, it sounds trite but, human love and brotherhood, good vibes.”
While most of the Camp Creek crowd are longstanding fans in their 40s and 50s, the band still manages to pull in new listeners. Several families played in the field next to the stage with their young children who bopped along to the music while they played catch.
Nate Frank and Hope Gobron, both 19, traveled from Northampton, Mass., to spend the weekend at Camp Creek. Frank, who started listening to Max Creek at the end of high school, said this year is just his second time at the event, but he feels extremely welcomed by the older crowd.
“They’ll just tell you about cool stories in their past, bonding about music. You get a vibe of no age,” Frank said.
This year’s festival is the first for Gobron, who said she’s looking forward to the small atmosphere and “being up close and watching [the band] rock out.”
Though the band has thrown around the idea of ending the Camp Creek festival, the good vibes and family atmosphere provided by the fans and longtime friends will keep them coming back year after year for the forseeable future.
“By the time Sunday rolls around we’re all like, how could we let this stop?” said festival producer Derek Kipp. “We got this special thing, you know? Carry on.”