The Camp finds its end, at least temporarily

Friday, December 16, 2005
Bob Camp posed for a photo inside The Camp on Thursday. (Don Frazier)

After nearly five years, a musical legacy is about to come to an end in Cape Girardeau.

By the time the new year rolls around, The Camp will be no more.

Those who know of The Camp's legacy are the young and alternative, the musicians who have trouble breaking into the local music scene and the loyal clusters of friends and fans who love them.

For its blink of time in Cape Girardeau the Camp has been the one local venue for the new acts with dreams of playing out, the dispossessed, regional acts and national indie touring bands all at the same time. At the helm is Bob Camp, a self-described pauper who lives to promote music, and nothing else.

"I always wanted to provide a place for bands to get a start and to bring in acts you might not have seen in Cape Girardeau before," said Camp.

His story interweaves with the current Cape Girardeau music scene. Camp is the man who introduced many local acts to the world of live music, helped plant the seed for the City of Roses Music Festival and created charitable events like the annual Christmas Hoot.

A native of the area, Camp left Southeast Missouri in the early 1980s to pursue a career in music. His travels took him to Nashville, Atlanta and other places before settling in Memphis, Tenn., where he played music and worked in production. During those travels, Camp acquired the knowledge of live music and promotion that would help him in Cape Girardeau.

He returned to the area in 1992 and saw a music scene that was virtually nonexistent in Cape Girardeau.

"About the only place around that was having bands at all was Broussard's, and they were just having blues bands on the weekends," said Camp. "There wasn't much going on, so I decided to try and create it."

Setting up The Camp

Camp played and promoted local events and musicians. He finally got the chance to host shows at his own venue, The Camp, thanks to a beneficial business arrangement with Rick Werner.

The two struck up a deal -- Camp would get the venue a few nights a week to host music and Werner would have the venue the rest of the time to hold parties and other events. After nearly five years, the deal soured.

Camp said Werner would hold parties for fraternities that would get out of control, and that the place wouldn't be cleaned afterward. Werner said that on the nights when Camp was supposed to book bands, he would have no acts booked, thereby making no money.

"Do I want a zero night or a $1,000-plus night?" said Werner. "A business has to make money."

Camp is notorious for his lack of concern on the money end of things, a fact he freely admits. He jokes that he's taken a vow of poverty.

"My interest is the music," Camp said. "The bar goes along with the music business, but it was always about the music."

That approach to the local music scene has earned Camp the admiration of many young musicians who didn't get a chance at other places.

"Without Bob telling us we could do it, we would have never done it," said Jesse Hammock of the band Shady Deal. When Shady Deal started out in 2000, the band had trouble getting gigs, except for at The Camp.

Camp later introduced them to producer Jim Dickinson in Memphis. Now the band tours the country, lives in Mississippi and has opened for the North Mississippi All Stars. They have an independent record deal, and while they haven't hit the big time yet, that step might not be far away.

"What he does for local kids, he will actually lose money and pay those kids to come play just so people come out and hear the music," said Hammock. "And Bob's passion for music, you don't see that anymore. Before Bob, people wouldn't give us a chance and when they did they didn't pay us."

Camp doesn't get along with all local musicians, but he has stayed true to his commitment to give bands a chance, regardless of their style or age.

The jam-blues-rock band Fusion Blue, playing one of the last Camp shows on Dec. 23, got its start playing open mic nights at the Camp.

"Bob is like the epitome of Cape music," said lead guitarist Branston Keefer. "He's the one where most people get their start. They start playing his place and they decide to go somewhere else or get big."

In his time on the Cape Girardeau music scene, Camp said he's proud to see the downtown Cape Girardeau starting to turn into a thriving "entertainment district" much different than the place it was in 1992.

Never one to be shy, Camp now has plans to possibly run for mayor on three platforms: bringing hotels to downtown, bringing in a large sports field/amphitheater and, if elected, resigning from office on the first day.

Meanwhile Werner said the music will go on at what will be the former Camp -- probably with the same kinds of bands that have been playing there. And the venue will be renovated, Werner said.

But Werner and his new business partner will likely have a competitor. Camp plans on starting up a new Camp, hopefully a coffee-and-sandwich shop with acoustic music that hosts national, regional and local rock acts on the weekends. When it will happen is uncertain, and until then Camp will play some gigs locally.

Hammock is confident Camp will soldier on. Fittingly, Shady Deal will get the honor of playing the last show at The Camp on Dec. 30.

"He'll be back, he'll be there somewhere," said Hammock. "Whether it's a smaller or bigger place, Bob's going to be there somewhere. If he sets up a shack and calls it The Camp we'll play there."

In the meantime, Camp will count his few pennies and wait for the city to get wise and create a new title for him to fill -- entertainment czar.

335-6611, extension 182

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