A handful of great Wisconsin bands will comprise the first Dirt Camp Festival

The all-day festival will take place in Sauk City on June 24.
The band Free Dirt performing at Madison's High Noon Saloon.
The band Free Dirt performing at Madison’s High Noon Saloon. Photo by Steven Spoerl.

The all-day festival will take place in Sauk City on June 24.

On June 24, the inaugural Dirt Camp Festival will take place at The Vines in Sauk City, a scenic vineyard that occasionally operates as a music venue. Tone Madison readers with incredibly sharp memories may be able to recall that Karl and Christine Christenson spoke glowingly about The Vines in our December 2022 profile of their band, Cribshitter. Now, the venue will play host to a one-day festival that boasts seven notable Wisconsin acts, enveloping a range of genres that touch on country, pop, ambient, and punk. Some of the bands playing will be relaxed, some more energetic. All of them demand and reward investment from their listeners.

Free Dirt, who organized the festival, will be celebrating the one-year anniversary of their 2022 record Spaghetti & Mothballs at Dirt Camp. Boasting a sound that’s colored by punk, country, folk, power-pop, and more, Free Dirt is nicely positioned as a central connector for the artists playing the event. Spaghetti & Mothballs was a winsome sophomore album that saw the trio dialing in their strengths while expanding the parameters of what they could accomplish as a band. One of the recurrent themes among Dirt Camp’s lineup—nicely embodied by Free Dirt themselves—is a seeming dedication to continuous improvement.

In an email exchange with Tone Madison, Free Dirt drummer Chris Sasman expounded on bringing the festival’s lineup together. “It has been a collective effort. The bands [Free Dirt’s members] selected [to play the festival] are a combination of acts that we love playing with and hanging with, and others that we’ve admired from afar but haven’t been able to see, or play with yet,” he says. He adds that in the run-up they’ve also spearheaded small write-ups for everyone playing on the festival’s Instagram account, with each post “providing additional insight to [Free Dirt’s] feelings [about] the artists.” All of the attention the members of Free Dirt put into curation is evident, and Dirt Camp’s lineup is a murderer’s row of excellent live performers.

Boy Howdy is a retro-tipped alt-country project led by Ryley Crowe, an Appleton-based musician whose fingerprints are all over Wisconsin’s music scene. All of the material on Essential Country, Boy Howdy’s 2021 album, feels like a labor of love, with the emphasis falling on love more than labor; it’s a naturalistic paean to classic country delivered with an abundance of fondness and warmth. Crowe shares a common thread with another Dirt Camp performer, Caley Conway, as both frequently perform with Julia Blair (Crowe is Blair’s bandmate in Dusk and Conway is a member of the live band for Blair’s solo project). Conway’s music tends towards alt-pop but has a subtle country underpinning that grounds a very ethereal sound. On the 2022 EP Only A Dark Cocoon, Conway’s pulsating beats, incredibly thoughtful arrangements, and a penchant for the element of surprise all coalesce into a sound that feels otherworldly.

When it comes to transcendent, ethereal soundscapes, Conway’s closest contemporary at the festival is undoubtedly Def Sonic. Johan Petty’s arresting electro-ambient project has solidified a strong reputation over the past several years, thanks to a string of superlative releases and mesmeric live shows. Petty’s humanist approach allows the grandiose, stargazing tendencies of Def Sonic’s music to feel understated, resulting in music that feels both relatable and transportive. 

Cribshitter offers a different type of hypnotic appeal, now nearly 20 years into a storied career built on a marriage of unhinged shenanigans and virtuosic playing. Goin’ Soft, the band’s 2022 album, is (appropriately) their softest-soundring record by a wide margin, yet still retains their explicit mischievousness. Even with sanded-down edges, no one will be able to stop Cribshitter from carving out room for “Assplay” and similar fare. 

Tone Madison has covered both Graham Hunt and Proud Parents plenty over the years, as each artist has given sound, consistent reason for coverage. I’m of the personal opinion that Hunt has been one of the best Wisconsin-based songwriters since his time fronting Milwaukee power pop act Midnight Reruns. Hunt’s latest string of solo releases has only emboldened that opinion. Hunt’s band will be appearing at Dirt Camp roughly a month removed from a national tour opening for alt-punk powerhouses Narrow Head. Proud Parents’ most recent release, 2021’s At Home With… featured the band operating as a trio. They’ve since looped multi-instrumentalist Liam Casey (also of Soot and the recently formed XXX Piss) into their dedicated lineup as a bassist, and their shows with that lineup have been the best I’ve seen from the band over the past eight years. Each of the last three sets I’ve managed to catch have established a new high watermark for the band, with each performance providing a sense of galvanization as both an attendee and from the perspective of a musician. There aren’t many compliments higher in live music than “your set made me want to go home and write/record,” but that’s been the case with Proud Parents shows for some time.

In all, Dirt Camp Festival will serve as a highlight for some of Wisconsin’s finest musical acts, running a nice gamut of genres. Whether it’s an emergent act like Def Sonic or a long-running institution like Cribshitter or Proud Parents, every artist here is unified by a tangible dedication to their craft. Many of the artists appearing (Free Dirt, Graham Hunt, Boy Howdy, Proud Parents, Cribshitter) feature members that have made an impact on Wisconsin in other projects over the past few decades, lending Dirt Camp an air of familiarity. I have personally seen every artist appearing at Dirt Camp perform live and can attest to their strengths as live performers. Given the scenic backdrop and the potency of the performing artists, it’s hard to imagine this particular day as being anything short of extremely memorable.

Help us publish more weird, questing, brilliant, feisty, “only on Tone Madison” stories


This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top