If you haven’t heard of Welcome Campers before, talking for a few minutes with Eric Weiner, founder and CEO of The Wild Honey Pie, will definitely make you want to go. The Wild Honey Pie has captured some of our favorite established artists very early in their careers, including Lucius and Margaret Glaspy. Welcome Campers is a music festival combined with all the best aspects of summer camp: activities, camping, water, campfires, and friends. It’s an intimate festival too: with 400 spots available, you will experience each set from the bands in a small and connected setting. We got to chat with Eric about Welcome Campers, as well as about how to play a role in promoting and celebrating artists and the unique community that music can bring together.
RLR: For our readers who might be new to the idea of the Welcome Campers festival, can you give some of the background – how it started and how it’s evolved?
EW: The Wild Honey Pie is a media and events collective, based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and our whole mission is really about supporting musicians by breaking down barriers between artists and fans, and doing that in creative ways. So we host dinner parties, printmaking workshops, paint your own pottery classes, all with performances. We throw mini-festivals called The Beehive during South by Southwest and Northside Festival, here in Brooklyn. So, on the event side of things we’re constantly looking for ways to bring artists and fans together to build meaningful relationships and community.
On the video side of things, we produce content through our YouTube channel. If you go to our website today, it’s a music blog, but we’re relaunching toward the end of the summer, and repositioning ourselves as a music discovery platform. So it’s a grassroots way to discover great music from all over the world, music which tends to be within the indie genre: pop, folk, alternative, etc.
Now, Welcome Campers. About five years ago, we were doing all these sessions, and we had my parents’ property in upstate New York and we thought why not film sessions and invite people, and make it summer camp themed. It was a single day, and we brought in a food truck and we did a cooking show. It was really lovely, but it was small, only about 50 people. But we walked away from that day, knowing we were on to something. We followed that up with year two, still very much a video series, but it was at a real summer camp and we had 150 people.
Fastforward to today. We still produce video content around Welcome Campers, but it’s more of a music festival. And what we’ve done is looked at music festivals in general, taken what we love, thrown out what we don’t and are coming up with what we think is the most comfortable music festival experience. You sleep in a bed, you eat good food, and you’re surrounded by not too many people, and they’re great people. And with 10 bands there, it’s a fan-to-artist ratio unlike any other festival out there. So you’re walking around, you’re playing kickball with the bands, you’re at the dance with them, you’re at the waterfront swimming in the lake with them. It’s an amazing way to meet the artists outside the music venue and in a setting where you’ll form relationships where you’ll follow them as they grow.
EW: There’s a lot of things that goes into that. You have to think about social media presence. One of the things that distinguishes us is that we announce the artists playing our shows, and promoting them for weeks before the event. They’re getting top notch video content and a feature on The Wild Honey Pie, as opposed to showing up and playing for a crowd of 40 people. For us, it’s really about putting our stamp of approval on an artist, championing them as much as possible, and getting word out through all our outlets. We have a major presence on soundcloud, youtube, facebook, and twitter, and it’s very grassroots, it’s comes from the heart, and it’s very organic. We’re not paying for our users–these are people who love what we do and tune in to be a part of this movement.
There is a balance to strike, and we’re striking it by promoting heavily. We’re striking it by having larger events like the Beehive, which does accommodate more along the lines of 1,000-2,000 people; so we have a balance of events, like the Beehive, and Welcome Campers, which is more along the lines of 400 people with intimate, smaller events, like the dinner party or printmaking workshops. We’re also talking about doing a laser tag event, and mini golf event, and those are targeted to 50-100 people so artists and fans can interact in a way that means something. Because we’re overall a music discovery platform that people can look to as a guide, it’s about finding these artists through all these methods.
RLR: How do you think about success for The Wild Honey Pie? There are metrics like YouTube subscribers and things like that, but what drives you?
EW: What’s driving me is the connections and building of true community. It’s about the reaction that I get of people coming up to me and saying the Beehive was the most spectacular event they went to all year; that Welcome Campers was the experience of a lifetime. What’s exciting is the the metrics are growing and that we’re seeing more and more respect, not just within the music industry, but within advertising as well, because much of our model is based on being a creative agency for brands that want to use music as a way to reach their target consumers. It just so happens that we have a very coveted consumer base. You know, it’s 25-34, very heavily female skewing, and people who are the cutting edge of music. And if you’re that type of person, you’re also the type of person who is finding products early, and getting behind brands. So we are very attractive to a lot of brands who want to make music a larger part of their strategy and use it as a tool to connect with their consumer base.
RLR: Sometimes people might have the perspective that working with brands will constrain you in some ways, artistically, but it seems like you think that’s a misconception.
EW: I sure do. There are brands that are doing it wrong. There are creative agencies underpaying and not offering enough to artists. And I think that’s what it comes down to: If you care about the artists, if you care about supporting them early on so they can have a long and successful career, then you’re going to want to find as creative ways as possible to make the money you get from brands work as effectively as possible for these bands, and for yourself. We curate brands, in the same way we curate the music we feature. So we’re working with great brands: Squarespace, Sonos, Newcastle Brown Ale, Jansport, Burt’s Bees, we’ve done work with over 50 brands within consumer products, lifestyle, a lot of organic-focused companies. We know where we’re effective; we’re not going to be effective marketing McDonald’s to people who want Sweetgreens. We like to work with brands that we’re going to be an effective for.
Now, If McDonald’s came to the table with a whole lot of money, let’s just put this out there, and they wanted something that was going to help them reach a target consumer in a way that only we can, which, in essence is something that’s organic and from the heart, we could be very effective for them. And that would give us the budget to focus on the right things: spending on increasing production, making sure we have a larger reach, or being able to bring in the top talent. But it would never mean abandoning what makes us special, which is our curation of the best in emerging musicians. So we’re not worried about getting enough money to book Beyoncé; we want enough money to book our favorite emerging musicians, which honestly do see an impact in getting a check from a brand. It’s something we’re passionate about, and we see our role as being a curator not only of the music, but also the brands, and we’re picky who we work with. Last year at Welcome Campers, our beer partner was Prairie Artisan Ales, based out of Tulsa, probably somebody you’ve never heard of. But 85% of the people who came to Welcome Campers said they were more likely to drink Prairie Artisan Ales, and that’s the type of statistic that makes us attractive to work with.
EW: I never thought it would be easy. It’s a tough industry. Working within music is tough, and advertising, but when you overlap them, it’s a beast. I saw early success and that was nice, but going back, but you can’t do it alone. And that’s one of the largest lessons I’ve learned–to rely on people, to delegate, to find the right people with the right passion to be involved.
And, what’s always been true is that hard work does pay off. We work very hard to prepare ourselves for each and every event that we put on. We’re rarely hit with curveballs, because we’ve done this long enough. So we’re not surprised if it rains, or an artist backs out last minute. And it’s a combination of being prepared and lucky, and we’ve been very fortunate.
RLR: You said you’re re-launching The Wild Honey Pie at the end of the summer. What can people expect?
EW: People can expect the same organic branding that they’ve come to expect from The Wild Honey Pie. It’s a shift away from album reviews–no more album or concert reviews. We’re making our bets on how music is digested. We have a plethora of Spotify playlists, a trove of video content, and it will be easier to navigate, easier to see what’s on tap. We’ve already been seen as one of the top music blogs in the world, we’ve been featured on Mic.com and the New York Times, and we’re looking to be a complement to Spotify and Apple Music and YouTube and it’s an exciting time to feel like we’re building something that is more than a music blog itself. It’s not 2009 anymore and there’s a lot we can do as curators and content creators and event producers to support artists.
RLR: Do you have other things you’d like to share about Welcome Campers?
EW: Welcome Campers is something special. If you have gone to major music festivals, this is nothing like it, because the attention to detail in the experience itself makes it something unforgettable. At a major musical festival, you’re paying $20 for drinks, you’re surrounded by 40,000 people, and by the time you’re 25, being uncomfortable is not something you want. It all comes down to taking care of the artists and that the people who come are appreciated and are a part of building this community.
Tickets for Welcome Campers are available here, and it is September 8-10 at Camp Lenox in Lenox, MA. Get out there, campers.