If could have been a gong show, and in a way it was. In a good way. If ever there were a bunch of Weekend Warriors happily and rabidly attacking treacherous, rugged, mountainous forested scary wilderness with rampant, philanthropic vociferous volunteerism, they were certainly all out at Camp Alexo last weekend.
But what is an “Alexo,” you may ask, and for that matter what the heck is “munificence?”
Well, Alexo used to be the site of a coal mining town way out near Saunders, which also used to be a coal mining town, which is not far from Nordegg, which, as you may have guessed, used to be a coal mining town.
And for those newbies still confused, Nordegg is about 70 klicks past Rotten Monkey Hutch, Alta., which probably had some coal.
John Johnson, the Youth and Volunteer Centre veteran, told me in the middle of the mayhem out there last weekend that 30 years ago he and a couple of other Boys and Girls Club co-ordinator-types drove out and took a look at the ridiculously rough and tumble landscape of the remains of Alexo and said: “Wow, this looks a lot like the rough and tumble forest moon of Endor where the Ewoks from Star Wars lived!”
No, really they actually said: “This would make a great place to create an outdoor camp experience for the kids from the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers and Sisters!” It was deep in the mountains and the forest and a two-hour drive from town and they were clearly insane.
But it’s a good thing they ignored how insane their ridiculous notions really were, and for three decades now literally hundreds and hundreds of kids have tromped around Camp Alexo chasing Sasquatch and roasting marshmallows on fires the size of your average apartment building and singing Kumbaya, Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore and House of the Rising Sun to a badly tuned acoustic guitar played by one of the eternally joyful camp counsellors.
And sometime over the years, some large cabins were built and some bathrooms and a teepee or two and programs like arts and crafts and hiking and canoeing and horseback riding and Sasquatch chasing were introduced into the deep, dark forest out there at the base of the mountains. And the sounds of happy kidlets and enthusiastic teenagers and hiding Sasquatch filled the crisp pine-scented coal dust air every summer.
But the camp was getting worn out and out-grown. Which brings us to the Weekend Warriors. Somehow philanthropic homebuilder Terry Loewen and generous restaurateur Bill Olafson twisted the collective arms of about 300 volunteers and coaxed and cajoled donations of materials and food and many other etceteras amounting to about a million bucks worth of stuff and sweat.
Oh and they also figured that some party-type entertainment for the tired masses at the end of some long (very long) days would be just the thing, so our merry band of occasional well-worn musicians also had our arms duly twisted.
It was not, by any stretch of a normal imagination, like any other gig — unless that gig took place in the middle of the moon of Endor. Everyone had to be shuttled in — down many kilometres of dirt road that make you immediately wish you had a helicopter.
And when you finally get to the main camp suddenly the place is crawling with Ewoks. Actually the place was crawling with volunteers building stuff, cooking stuff, doing stuff.
There was a huge food tent with gourmet camp food for hungry volunteers and Ewoks, and everywhere there were machines, large and small, and a noisy, happy atmosphere of organized chaos.
Oh and also, we weren’t there yet. It was another treacherous trek through the woods and over little bridges and through construction zones just to get to the entertainment tent.
And it was mostly only reachable on foot.
This meant of course, that all the band equipment (estimated at 745 tons) had to be somehow trailered in by our fearless Camp Alexo Gong Show Gig leader, Kevin. Oh and also, by golf cart, quad, wagon and Star Wars forest speeder bikes, all carrying various amplifiers, guitars, drums and band wives.
Our group — The Falcons, The Gibsons, The Cause, or The Gaetz Ave.
Dance Band Rhythm Section, depending on what song we are playing — ended up playing two nights along with entertainers Danny Hooper, Tara Lee and the duo Mother Superior, and it turned out that a lively loud and proud fun time was had in the middle of the deep dark forest in the mountainous mayhem of munificence.
The Camp Alexo Weekend Warrior project was just that: a display of charity, kindness, generosity, benevolence and magnanimousness (thank you thesaurus) by so many volunteers, young and old (the band).
Because when we loaded equipment out of the pitch black woods at 2 a.m. armed only with a couple of flashlights, we could see a forest-load of new camp buildings and facilities that weren’t there two days before. David Murphy, executive director of the Youth and Volunteer Centre, said he could barely believe his eyes. (I think they may have been misting up a little. …)
And our longtime bandmate buddy Dave P. couldn’t believe his eyes either when, rattling along on a golf cart full of band gear in the middle of the night with only the light of a cellphone to guide them, they hit a rut (or perhaps an Ewok) and everything went flying and they ran over his keyboard!
But really, what’s a bent key or two when you are surrounded by all that munificence? And besides, when we were playing … I’m pretty sure I spotted a Sasquatch dancing in the deep dark woods.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.