Interview: A Q&A with The Wild Honey Pie and Welcome Campers Founder Eric Weiner
Eric Weiner was a University of Colorado student, studying in London when he created The Wild Honey Pie (which of course, derives its name from a Beatles’ tune) in 2009 as a way to turn his personal music blog into an accessible destination to find the best emerging music. By the next year, Weiner had relocated to New York where the previously solo project expanded into a collection of music loving creatives, who had a shared passion for and mission of discovering emerging acts and sharing those discoveries with larger audiences. Initially employing humble, DIY methods of covering artists – Flip video cameras and Zoom audio recorders – the Wild Honey Pie team began shooting live music performances with any artists they liked, who would be willing to give them the time. Starting with Freelance Whales, they eventually began filming local and touring artists. And by the end of their first year in New York, the site hosted their first event.
Within the first few years of their founding, Weiner and company began to see that the blogosphere was rapidly shifting: the widespread appeal of heading to your favorite blogs to download free MP3s was quickly supplanted by streaming platforms. To adapt, The Wild Honey Pie began producing more video content, made audio recordings available and refined their events strategy to focus on events that built genuine relationships between artists and fans. Over the past couple of years, The Wild Honey Pie has hosted a curated, monthly Dinner Party series in a handful of cities including New York, Los Angeles and Austin. The Dinner Party series has been specifically designed to change the rock and pop concert experience by offering attendees an opportunity to have a curated three course meal, specialty cocktails and Brooklyn Brewery beers — while enjoying an intimate performance from a buzzworthy artist. Since they started the series, they’ve hosted the likes of Computer Magic, Henry Jamison, Plastic Picnic, Mipso, Zuli, Torres, JOVM mainstays Caveman and a growing list of others.
Additionally, over the past few years, The Wild Honey Pie has hosted their own music festival Welcome Campers. Typically taking place during Memorial Day Weekend at Camp Lenox in the bucolic Berkshires, Welcome Campers is an adult summer camp meets music festival that brings together 400 people for three days and two nights of summertime nostalgia with food, drinks, communal accommodations and live music.
Late last month, I had interviewed the Wild Honey Pie and Welcome Campers founder Eric Weiner about this year’s festival with the intention of posting the interview after I had finished my coverage of this year’s New Colossus Festival. When the World Health Organization declared COVID 19 a pandemic, the world was turned on its head: New York State, California, Illinois, the UK and The European Union have forced bars, clubs, restaurants, theaters to closed to help prevent COVID-19’s spread. Naturally, this has had a devastating impact on the music industry: festivals have been canceled or postponed, and the same goes for tour dates for artists of all stripes. The first part of interview Weiner talks about the inspiration behind Welcome Campers, how it differs from the prototypical festival experience, the other activities they offer – it’s an adult summer camp after all! – and more.
The other day, I followed up with Weiner. Because he runs a company with a significant focus on live events, I asked him how COVID-19 will impact his business, his thoughts on how the virus will impact live music and events and the immediate future of Welcome Campers.
Let’s not pretend that things are rainbows and flowers. Admittedly, things are dire – and they will be for some time. But we will get through this. In the meantime, we can all dream of our childhoods when things seemed so much simpler, so much more certain. Hopefully, we can get some of the back.
Check out the interview below.
WRH: What inspired the creation of Welcome Campers?
Eric Weiner: I’m a camp kid! I went to summer camp growing up and then went back as a counselor and even through the homesickness found myself absolutely in the love with the community I was surrounded by. I played baseball, I was Snoopy in a musical, I competed in color war, I went all out as a camper. The carefree love of that energy is what we always hope to harness with Welcome Campers.
WRH: How did The Wild Honey Pie find Camp Lenox?
EW: One of our team members at the time went there as a kid and the rest is history. We hosted Welcome Campers there in 2014 then went to Camp Champions near Austin, Texas in 2015 and have been at Camp Lenox again ever since. They are like family at this point.
WRH: The Wild Honey Pie can trace its origins back to being a humble blog. Over the years, it still retains elements of the blog, through curated playlists and live sessions, and curated events – like your ongoing dinner party series and the aforementioned Welcome Campers. From hosting and sponsoring your own events, this will may be an obvious question: How does Welcome Campers differ from the countless other festivals on the packed calendar year?
EW: A humble blog! We love the fact that we were not founded as a business but as a passion project that has grown to mean so much to so many people. Welcome Campers is an adult summer camp music festival and the order of those words means a lot. We offer a combo of activities that no other festival does. We bring together an incredibly unique community of music lovers for a weekend that incubates love and positive energy. You can party if you want at camp, but that’s not what the weekend is about. We have the curation of the music to thank for that—artists who embody the sort of vibe we want to spread throughout the weekend.
You watch from just feet away from the performer instead of hundreds of yards. It’s not about the spectacle, it’s about the community and people you meet, artists included. It’s about feeling comfortable and safe and not being surrounded by tens of thousands of people. We cannot say it enough, we look to break down the barrier between artist and fan—and that impossible at cookie cutter music festivals as we know them. We have created an inclusive weekend where the nostalgia of summer camp collides with emerging artists who we love.
WRH: How does this year’s Welcome Campers differ from last year’s and its predecessors?
EW: We are pretty damn happy with the model we’ve worked on for the last 8 years but have a few tweaks we’re making. We are expecting more people this year than any other year, so we do need to prepare for that to avoid any lines at the bar or for food. Lines suck! We are making sure the check-in process is more seamless than ever, that everyone has camp maps anytime they need them. We’re coming up with some wild and creative food upgrades with our grilled cheese food truck partner, vegan options included of course. Speaking of which we will have more plant-based options than ever before.
We have a special focus this year on mindfulness and will have a sound bath, mediations, yoga and tarot card readings. Welcome Campers is meant to be a vacation, not a festival you need a vacation after. The same cannot be said for most large-scale music experiences.
WRH: I went to one of the Wild Honey Pie Dinner Parties and I know that you’re quite the foodie. I happen to enjoy food as much as I enjoy music. So, two related questions: How did you come up with this year’s music lineup? What’s the food situation like? What would attendees expect in terms of food and drink?
EW: We go with artists who truly inspire us. Artists like Vagabon and SASAMI as well as Ayoni and Sir Woman. We try to work with artists we’ve collaborated with before and have a bunch of artists on the bill that have been involved with us multiple times in the past.
Food and drink are complimentary all weekend long with the exception of the food truck. It is camp food so expect fries and a massive salad bar, burgers, pasta dishes and more. Our campers are always satisfied but we are striving to make some major upgrades here this year. We are excited to announce that it will be a fully vegetarian festival as well. We have White Claw as a partner so there is that to be excited about. Beer and other spirits will be on the house as well.
WRH: Besides live music, there are other campground activities like kayaking, swimming, basketball, ping pong, dodgeball, volleyball, a nature hike, trivia and yoga among others. There’s also meditation this year, which seems to be a first. How did yoga and meditation wind up being included with the more nostalgic and playful activities?
EW: I started doing TM this year after years of my dad trying to get me into it. Meditation and mindfulness in general are so key to the future of what we plan to do and we think Welcome Campers is a great place to see if our community is into it. We did a sound bath at our office the other day and it was incredible. People are gonna freak out. These activities are also found at more and more summer camps for kids too. Meditation is for everyone!
WRH: When the festival ends, what will be next for you and The Wild Honey Pie?
EW: We have some big plans for the summer and will continue to expand our dinner party series to more cities. We are also working on a music podcast about food. Honestly once Welcome Campers is over, we will start working on Campers 2021 and talking to companies who believe in our mission and vision and want to support us into the future. We have a ton of video products in the works as well coming off the heels of our collaboration with Eric Clapton last December. Stay tuned.
WRH: I was covering The New Colossus Festival last weekend when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Understandably, that announcement had a major impact on attendance. Festivals have rescheduled or cancelled. Shortly after that, several states — including New York – have forced bars, clubs and restaurants to close. How has this impacted you and the events end of Wild Honey Pie’s business?
EW: Like everyone in the world, we have been affected. Luckily our team can work remotely, as they largely already do, but we’ve had to cancel all our upcoming dinner party concerts. We are putting more of an emphasis than ever on our Buzzsession videos, which artists across the world are self-producing, and we have a podcast in the works. We will also be relaunching our website next month. We’re being very precautious about Welcome Campers.
WRH: Do you anticipate COVID-19 changing how people enjoy and consume live music?
EW: We’re seeing a huge explosion in live streams which is amazing. So many concerts you can see from your couch! I’m expecting artists will be releasing more video content than ever and doing more interviews. Merch sales will hopefully go up as artists are in dire need to support themselves and a huge chunk of their revenue has been wiped out with the cancellation of tours.
WRH: In light of everything, what are your plans with Welcome Campers? When things get back to normal, what would the festival do to alleviate people’s fears of contracting virus like COVID-19?
EW: We’re absolutely still planning on hosting Welcome Campers this summer but are considering all our options. It’s about as intimate of a festival as they come with only 300 attendees and from my perspective seems like a safer bet than a 100,000 person festival. That’s up to attendees to decide. We will take every precaution to make sure camp is as safe as possible with endless sanitation stations, cleaning crews constantly wiping down surfaces, not allowing self-serving of food, less campers per bunk and more. If we can’t make it safe, we won’t do it. The safety of our campers, team and the artists is our top priority. Right now, it’s just too early to say with everything going on and, to be frank, hard to think about with the severity of everything going on. We’re deeply concerned about the state of the world and what this means for musicians and the arts more specifically. If you have the means, please consider donating to an artists’ fund or your local food bank.