Nelson goes to Kamp

Founder Byron Whitlaw thrilled with third year of summer camp for adults

Byron Whitlaw watched as dozens of purple and green-costumed adults staged a massive dance off in the main field of Kamp Festival. The rowdy, chaotic scene was the culmination of a decade of work for the Nelson entrepreneur.

“This was a dream of mine from many years ago, back in my college days. I majored in event management at the College of the Rockies, and for my final project I came up with the idea of a summer camp for adults,” Whitlaw told the Star on Sunday afternoon as the third annual extravaganza drew to a close.

“It took me eight years until it finally happened.”

Now it’s taking on a life of its own. Attracting approximately 500 people to the remote Whatshan Lake Retreat three hours outside of Nelson, the weekend-long festival saw participants staging fashion shows, holding potlucks and playing epic games of dodge ball — all while being entertained by a list of Kootenay performers that included artists such as Moontricks, Naasko, Dubconscious, and Frase.

But it’s a little different than your average festival — and Whitlaw should know, having worked for Shambhala for years now. According to him, this is a niche that’s been waiting to be filled.

“I do think this formula is something people are seeking right now. People, at least in my generation, don’t want to just be partying at a festival for three days. I’m building a model with more things going on, I want to be engaged mentally, physically, socially. I want to learn something and take something away,” he said.

“Having the recreation and getting people active first of all fits the Kootenay region, but also the main drive was my boredom at other festivals in the day time. There wasn’t anything to do but go out and party.”

He loves seeing full grown adults act like little kids.

“I feel there’s a lot of resemblance between summer camps and festivals. You’re away from parents, expressing yourself, laughing with friends — you’re off, free — but once you become 14, you can’t go to them anymore. So it’s always been in the back of my mind to figure out how to bring that back.”

During the weekend, Kampers were given the opportunity to participate in workshops with themes like decolonization, crocheting, stencil making, life drawing and puppeteering, the last one being led by Nelson artist Rhandi Sandford.

Local live painters Joe Nillo, Alicia Fritz and Nicole Hobbs created vibrant images alongside hip-hop artist Chali 2na, who spent much of Sunday spray-painting a velociraptor.

“A lot of the team that throws this is the same team from Shambhala, my best friends in the world mostly from the Kootenay region, and we’re slowly creating jobs here and opportunities, work for people. Everyone contributes what they can.”

That includes the festival-goers, many of whom are artist themselves. Without their enthusiastic engagement, the event wouldn’t be the same; he’s routinely surprised by the impromptu activities his charges come up with.

For instance, this time around a man with a flaming knight’s helm and a fiery sword made multiple appearances on the dance floor.

“It’s definitely taken off into its own culture. The colour thing we basically started because there was four campgrounds and we needed to separate people into teams for the sports.

“The first year people didn’t really understand, but the second year it was immediate, people got so into it. The team spirit just keeps growing. I hear about it all year long.”

Kamp has now reached its full capacity — there’s no plans to grow in order to keep the experience intimate — but Whitlaw is already thinking about ways to reach more people hungering for a summer camp experience.

“Thoughts of franchising have come into my mind, maybe doing another Kamp on Vancouver Island. I definitely see a bright future.”


Chali 2na

Nicole Hobbs

Maizey and Rebecca Danielson

Byron Whitlaw is the founder of Kamp Festival. Photo: Will Johnson