How Dirtybird Perfected Its West Coast Festival

In Modesto, the collective aced its first solo festival production with flying colors.

Justin Martin at the Dirtybird 2018 West Coast Campout | PHOTO BY MAX BENEDICT

In the last hours of the morning on Monday at the Modesto Reservoir, I watched a small army of Dirtybird personnel muster up the elbow grease to start breaking down the fourth edition of Dirtybird Campout. The industrious production crew hustled through the grounds with walkie-talkies in one hand and steaming cups of joe in the other. The looks on their faces spoke of a triumph fueled by caffeine, Kubota tractors, and the unmistakably seductive cadence of sweet sweet house music. 

Among other legends on the Birdhouse Stage, Roman Flügel delivered techno for the purists, while growing global house staples like Mikey Lion and Sacha Robotti erupted in a sensational back-to-back set before abiding a few mythic renegade parties in the campgrounds. Stars like Wyatt Marshall shared tracks that contributed to his recent meteoric rise, like a remix of Claude VonStroke’s “Who’s afraid of Detroit?” and “Relax,” which is hot off the Your Mind, Your Body EP. Even the festival opener, VNSSA, turned out to be a fun-infused fan favorite. Her tastemaking Friday afternoon set was a recurring topic of conversation — and her 1/2-k floatie race was one of the most attended activities through the weekend.

Naturally, the Dirtybird players didn’t disappoint, either.

Photo by Max Benedict

Evolving as Event Producers

Fresh songs like Justin Martin’s new track ‘Set it off’ kept the tempo up all weekend, and with more Dirtybird fans at the festival than ever, the sold-out event was a fitting tribute to dearly departed grillmaster Grillson and a tremendous stride forward for the evolving production crew. Grillson, who died in June, was honored by the tireless efforts of Arturo Cruz and Alex ‘Burger’ Hamburger behind the grill — and by a Dirtybird patch with his name on it, to recognize the food-service pros who show up to create some extraordinary culinary experiences. Meandering plates were the eyebrow-raising envy of the crowds, but (as in prior years) it was label boss and “head counselor” Barclay Crenshaw’s vision of camp-inspired activities that stole the show.

By registering at the Games HQ to participate in the color games campers had the rare chance to revel in one celebrity-infused hallmark moment after the next, where games pitted campers against each other in teams of purple, green, red, and orange. DJs and staff participate too, so campers can discuss the careful balance of pizza-eating and exercise in the heat of a footrace race alongside the original Dirtybird, Justin Martin, or talk “sober October” while learning how to tie-dye with Mikey Lion from Desert Hearts. Even Claude VonStroke got in on the action, popping up behind the decks to cheer on the homies while simultaneously participating in the three-legged race, the water-balloon toss, and the tug-of-war.

Photo by Kristina Bakrevski

If the evolution brought about each year has been the result of overcoming challenges, this edition of campout likely will be remembered as the launchpad that catapulted the Dirtybird Campout Festival into the upper stratosphere of globally infamous, one-of-a-kind house music festivals. 2018 was particularly pivotal, as a result of two firsts.  

It was the first year Dirtybird took on production of the festival alone.

The Do LaB had been a co-producer of the festival in all editions of Dirtybird Campout on the West and East Coast. After several BBQ events on the road, the crew was no stranger to throwing a legendary party, but stretch that over a few days and a few other skills become useful. To take on the challenges of festival production, leaders at Dirtybird enlisted the help of lumineers from Insomniac and Desert Hearts, as well as a few behind-the-scenes hands at The Do LaB in what turned out to be an all-star ensemble of craft experience curators. As the scope of their projects enlarge the Dirtybird family is ready to grow.

Photo by Max Benedict

It was the first year at a new venue.

For even the most experienced party throwers, a fresh venue can present any number of challenges. This was a new county (Stanislaus) with new rules, but in hindsight, the event went well. Locals and fans saw the return to Northern California as a homecoming.

From the flow of traffic to fire lanes, everything is a factor in the planning when a location changes. Some spaces lend themselves well to getting big trucks — like those required to clean porta-potties — in and out, while others have natural barriers like hills and trees that can insulate one stage from the soundbleed of another. At Modesto reservoir, the gaps between activities and stages resulted in a lot of walking — but like a great set of new shoes, the ideal spot for Campout is certainly going to include room to grow. As vast as it was, the venue’s size didn’t prevent any overexertion on the dancefloor. I tracked more than 42,000 steps on my pedometer on Day One and still danced all night.

With one central path in and out of the campgrounds, it became easier to make friends each step of the way. Since no participants had prior experience at the venue, a lot of wandering naturally occurred. To steer and guide curious campers, additional signage at key intersections or a few well-placed maps or you-are-here markers would have been an indispensable key to course correction, but that’s an easy fix in 2019. Next year, lighting, signage, and other visual elements are almost sure to show up in bigger and more authentic ways, to extend the Campout vibe throughout the venue.

PHOTO BY MAX BENEDICT

The Secret Sauce is Family

One characteristic that exemplified the spirit of the Dirtybird brand is the sheer will and fraternal spirit of the production team. In addition to being an actual family — in several cases, siblings even dress alike — the black-shirted crew worked to the brink of collapse all weekend long like a real family would. When one of those black shirts actually took a spill from fatigue while standing beside me backstage at the Birdhouse, six of his closest friends caught him before his beverage had finished spilling onto the ground. That moment I saw first-hand the lengths these people will go for their family.  It was proof positive the collective is putting in the work to push ahead and, for those who know them, the outpouring of dedication and support speaks volumes on the topic of what it means to be a ‘Dirtybird’.

 

Click Here to check out the Top 45 Totems of 2018 Dirtybird Campout

 

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