The Junky Swinger and Nicholas James Thomasma & The Bandwagon got the festival started on Friday amid sunny skies and upbeat vibes. The recap and photos at Local Spins.
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The arrival of Memorial Day weekend on Friday also kick-started an annual celebration of Volkswagen buses, live music and a true family reunion for those gathered at Camp Blodgett in West Olive.
“It’s been a great start so far. I think the weather is beautiful today,” said festivalgoer Apollo Ramos.
“My favorite things are the crowd and the atmosphere: It feels like a family. Every year, you come together, you see people and it’s just a great feeling when everyone remembers your name. It feels like the most accepting group. Everyone here is so open minded.”
Hosted by Buses by the Beach, this year’s Bus Benefit came alive on Friday as the early morning mist lifted, revealing a vibrant display of colorful Volkswagen buses, affectionately known as “hippie vans.”
The air buzzed with anticipation as festivalgoers began trickling in, their eyes gleaming with excitement as they surveyed the stunning array of meticulously restored and customized vintage buses, each a testament to the love and dedication of their owners.
The heart of the annual Bus Benefit — which raises funds for the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors — beats with live music by regional artists. From folk and blues to rock and psychedelia, the festival’s three-day lineup caters to all tastes, ensuring a harmonious blend of rhythms throughout the weekend.
Friday’s first band on the main stage, The Junky Swinger, embraced a charismatic, rockabilly style accompanied by psychedelic breakdowns throughout the energetic set that boasted a retro sound with plenty of modern vivid twists.
“I’m super excited because I have attended this event in 2019 and 2022, and it’s awesome to have the opportunity to kick off the festival this year,” said Connor Meston, violinist for The Junky Swinger. .
“One of my favorite things about the festival is the late-night jam sessions that happen here, so really the VW buses bring together a lot of people who are also very interested in playing music I think, too. There’s also a late-night cookout that happens here. We have a couple of CDs and stickers in the auction for the benefit for the Phoenix Society. There’s a raffle, as well as a bunch of silent auction items that people will bid on.”
The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors is a non-profit organization that helps survivors of serious burn injuries.
Band drummer Blake Daugherty said it was this first time at the festival and he was “just loving the vibes here. Looking forward to jammin’ out, connecting with people over music, fresh air, good food, and camping out.”
Each bus parked at the event told its own story through vibrant murals, tapestries and creative installations, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the creativity and individuality that defined the era these vehicles represented.
“The weather is absolutely beautiful and a few years ago, they started allowing early entry for Thursday night for Volkswagen buses only, so this morning when I woke up here it was already packed with Volkswagen buses, more than I had ever seen before. So hopefully we’re going to have a record number of buses this year,” said Nicholas James Thomasma, frontman for The Bandwagon which closed out Friday night’s performances.
“I love the music, first and foremost of course, but one of the things I also love is that the music does not start until later, and that allows for a lot of time for just general hanging out and camping and making friends and that’s what the best thing about the festival is the community of people who come here. The Volkswagen community is just a wonderful group of people to be a part of. I look forward to this every year, there’s no place I’d rather be.”
Thomasma debuted a handful of new songs during a set rife with Americana, folk, rock and roots-inspired sounds. The mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation created a soulful, intimate and engaging atmosphere. Overall, the authentic folk sound combined with the energy and dynamics of rock blended on the stage to evoke a musical journey for both the musicians and audience members alike.
Buses by the Beach also fosters a spirit of community, with attendees gathered around communal campfires, sharing stories and forging new friendships with impromptu jam sessions, where musicians and festivalgoers join together for spontaneous musical experiences.
In a world often marred by discord, Bus Benefit provides a haven of sorts where music and vintage vehicles intertwined help create moments of blissful harmony sparked by the power of shared experiences.
Bus Benefit continues through the weekend with raffles and silent auctions. Performances today (Saturday) will feature Low Phase, CrossBow, Fat Animals and Full Cord. Day passes are $65 and more information can be found online here.
PHOTO GALLERY: Bus Benefit 2023 at Camp Blodgett, Opening Day
Photos by Holly Holtzclaw and Destiny Patrolia