5 Unwritten Rules for Campfire Singalongs

A still from the video for Rainbow Camp, the original theme song I wrote for a new camp for LGBTQIA+ kids. Photo credit Merik Williams Photography.

Summer is here! As folks are craving to meet up outside and enjoy the weather, I’m sure that campfires and singalong circles will become the hottest party in town.

I’m lucky to have grown up in a musical family with regular campfires and year-round hootenannies. But for the uninitiated, here are some standard rules of etiquette to follow so that everyone has a good time.

  1. It’s ok to be a wallflower. It’s important to know that there is really no pressure. You don’t have to sing, you don’t have to play an instrument, and you really don’t have to prepare anything. You can just sit back, drink your beer, roast your marshmallows, and enjoy the tunes. On the flip side, don’t pressure anyone else to sing/play/perform if they don’t want to. And as a general rule, avoid making a lot of random song requests. Folks have to play music they know, so if you’re not prepared to lead a song, don’t expect anyone else to do it for you.
  2. If you do want to play, come prepared. Have a loose plan of what you’re going to play. It’s always good to have a “fake book” on hand–a binder or book of chord/lyric sheets or lead sheets–full of songs that you already know, and can play or sing along to. Also, feel free to look up every song imaginable on ultimateguitar.com if you bring your cell phone or tablet. Avoid making people wait around in mosquito-ville while you look for songs or noodle endlessly.
  3. Share the spotlight. Remember that this is a singalong, not a private concert. Yes, it’s ok to perform a couple of solo songs if the crowd is into it. (N.B. Read the crowd!) But generally speaking you should pick songs that are simple enough that most people could sing and/or play along with you. Be sure to start by showing other players what the chords of the song are before you begin. Let other players take the lead, and enjoy your breaks with sweet coolers!
  4. Be as musical as possible. Obviously you will see all experience levels at a campfire, and that’s fine. But there is a point when music is played so badly that no one else can even follow along. Take the time to tune your guitar, and make sure all the instruments being played are in tune with each other. If you struggle with playing on beat or singing in tune, let a more experienced player take the lead and try to follow along. I learned AN INVALUABLE AMOUNT from trying to keep up at campfires as a kid when I could barely play guitar at all. Consider it the best free music lesson you could ever have.
  5. The best campfire song of all time is… Asshole by Dennis Leary. You’re welcome.

What are your tips and tricks for great campfires? What are your favourite campfire songs to play? Let me know in the comments!

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