Way, way back in 2008, a storm hit Goshen College’s campus. It took the unexpected form of three intellectual (nerdy) seniors: Jesse Landis-Eigsti, Greg Yoder and David Kempf.
While this was a time far removed from present-day Goshen, that last name may sound familiar.
Kempf works at Goshen as the audio-visual/IT systems manager, handling specialized computers and network administration. But nine years ago, Kempf was one third of the aforementioned storm, the explosive campus band, Happy Camper & the Bees.
I had the chance to interview Kempf about his past glory days. We met at the campus coffee shop, Java Junction. Kempf’s first move was to express shock that I had even heard of HC&tBs, since their only existing digital platform is a dysfunctional MySpace page, besides a few videos on Facebook.
“I kinda figured that’d finally settled back into the distant recesses of people’s minds,” Kempf said.
While the band might not be a subject of much discussion now, it was once the highlight of Kick-Offs and house shows. Landis-Eigsti, Yoder and Kempf were all music majors and HC&tBs started out of a need for a creative outlet separate from the classical style of the music department.
“We wrote our first song, Spaceman Jones, by writing lines on notecards and passing them back and forth,” said Kempf.
The band was set up with Yoder on guitar or mandolin, Landis-Eigsti typically on keyboard, and Kempf on percussion, working out a system to play the djembe while simultaneously playing a shaker with his right hand and a tambourine with his left foot.
WGCS general manager Jason Samuel recalls seeing the band in performance:
“Happy Camper & the Bees had one of the greatest crowd reactions I’ve ever seen in the history of Kick-Off. Not only did they have nearly full audience participation but they got a rousing round of applause at the conclusion of their performance. And I’ve been to many Kick-Offs, thinking back to my own time as a student at Goshen, all the way through being a professor and several times a judge for the competition.”
Needless to say, they won that first Kick-Off.
After saving up some money, they recorded two albums in one night, and burned CDs to sell at shows and on-demand. They went on to compile approximately five albums worth of material, in various stages of recording. Their discography includes a concept album entitled “One Night Stand: In Which a Nautical Adventure Is Had”, following the adventures of a boy determined to find love and peace on the sea and a later album in which each song is named after a planet.
Kempf reflects that HC&tBs started at a time when live music was much more prominent on campus. CAC held Hour After coffeehouses for spoken word and music several times a semester, and students took initiative to put together bands, performing covers and original material. Bands also played at the Electric Brew when it was still in its original location.
For a college full of musically-inclined students, there is surprisingly little organized live music today that strays from the choir and Performing Art Series performances at Sauder Concert Hall.
“It may have to do with demand for it,” Kempf suggests. “If student programming isn’t asking for it, maybe students aren’t even thinking about what they’re missing. Or maybe people are too busy with other stuff or watching Netflix?”
As we talk, Kempf plays various songs to demonstrate different styles covered by the band. And there’s a lot – from a rap with medieval themes entitled Sir Edwin Darius to a crooning ballad called Dentist of the Heart.
In demonstration of this last song in performance, Kempf sticks out his tongue as if for inspection, crooning, “Ahhh-ahhh-ahhhh, gingivitis of the heart.”
While many of the songs are filled with double meanings and ridiculous word-play, the band also experiments with more serious songwriting, drawing bluegrass influences into some of their later work.
After the three men graduated in 2009, HC&tBs stayed together for a couple more years while they all remained in the area. Eventually, however, Landis-Eigsti moved to Pittsburgh, where he acts in several improv comedy troupes and Yoder moved to the Harrisonburg-area, where he now plays with The Walking Roots Band. Kempf finds a musical outlet through church and other sporadic side projects. The three remain very close friends, all writing songs to sing at each other’s wedding and staying in touch as they have gone their separate ways.
If you’re interested in hearing more of the artistic genius that is Happy Camper & the Bees, you can (as of yesterday) find them on SoundCloud. Who knows, maybe if their listenership increases dramatically, they will one day grace Goshen College campus once more for a reunion show.