Camp Tomato!

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on May 1, 2005). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

So yesterday was Jason Webley‘s Camp Tomato. Prairie and I weren’t entirely sure just what the day would have in store, but we figured it would be fun, so after waking her up from a nap — she, unfortunately, has been battling off the last stages of the same nasty bug I was fighting last week — we hopped in the car and headed over to Woodland Park.

(This one’s long, folks — around 3200 words, 17 images, and one video — the rest is after the cut….)

Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAWe found the right area easily enough, headed over, and started looking around. People were wandering around the grounds, and we soon found our way up to the registration table where, after giving our names and e-mail addresses, we were presented with our official Tomato Scout membership cards (I’m #087-005) and our Tomato Scout Handbook. While registering, I finally officially met Josh — while our paths had crossed a few times in the past via Jason Webley, mutual friends, and trading links back and forth, this was the first time we’d actually introduced ourselves.

Echo, Rose, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAWe figured we’d start by dropping off the munchies we’d brought along for the potluck picnic, and headed over towards the food tables. On our way, suddenly I heard, “Hey! It’s the photographer guy!” I turned and saw Echo and Rose, who were part of the parade I happened across a few weeks ago. We chatted for a few moments, and I was thrilled to find out that Rose is the girl in my ‘Punk Love‘ shot from last year’s Folklife festival. This world can be so wonderfully small sometimes!

After dropping off our food, Prairie and I started to explore what all there was to do. Our Membership Cards had four spaces for Merit Stamps along the bottom, and there were four tables set up with flags by them — one each for Balloon, Feather, Boat, and Tomato, the four ‘tribes’ that first appeared at Jason’s last deathday show. At each station, there were certain tasks that had to be done to earn your stamp. We started with the table we were closest too — and the tribe we were part of (we’d each held onto the headbands we’d received at the concert; Prairie had hers tied as a bow around her ponytail, and mine was worn as a more traditional headband) — Balloon.

The Balloon stamp rewards sharpness or softness of mind. You will be given five questions and must either:

  1. answer one question correctly, or
  2. incorrectly answer all five.

Balloon Station, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAEach of us aimed to get one question correct (and the rest incorrect) and, amusingly, we both ended up having to take the test a second time. The first time we took it, we each guessed at one answer, and managed to guess right! The second time, though, we were able to successfully guess wrong on four of the five, and we proudly received our Balloon Merit Stamps.

Since Prairie was still feeling a bit under the weather, we found a nice sunny spot for her to spread out a blanket on, and she camped out there while I wandered around and got the rest of my merit stamps. The next stamp I aimed for was Tomato.

The Tomato stamp shows loyalty to the Great Tomato, and good style. To earn this stamp:

  1. Wear a fashionable ‘Camp Tomato 2005’ button
  2. Dye your thumb green.
  3. Dye the rest of your hand red.
  4. Recite the Tomato Scout Oath while doing the Tomato Hand Scout Signal.

Taking the oath, Tomato Station, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WATwo cans were set up on the table, one filled with green food coloring, and one filled with red. Holding my camera with my right hand, I dipped my left hand into the the red dye, and suddenly heard the girl at the table say, “Wait — your right hand!” I laughed, standing there with my left hand immersed up to the thumb in red dye. “You didn’t tell me that part!” “No, I guess not…we’ll just see if anyone notices.” Ah, well. My (left) thumb went into the green dye, and I waited for a few moments as a few more people dyed their (right) hands. Once there were a small group of us ready, we put our thumbs between our middle and ring fingers and formed a fist to make the Tomato Hand Scout Signal, raised them above our heads, and read the Tomato Scout Oath:

I solemnly, solemnly, solemnly swear to be a good tomato.
I will endeavor to do what is ripe.
I promise to be firm, yet soft and juicy.
I will honor the Great Tomato and do her will, even if it means fighting against the Government.
Doop doop doop.
Sing tomato, sing tomato, sing tomato, sing!

From there, I was off to the Feather station:

A Feather is given to reward true tomato spirit. To get your feather stamp:

  1. Write an original one paragraph essay entitled “Why I am a Tomato.”
  2. Read it out loud.

I’d love to see if all the various essays get collected somewhere, as I heard a few while I was working on mine that were great — including one in a language that I couldn’t identify. Mine, while maybe not the most creative of the bunch, did at least get a few laughs and eye-rolls…

I am a tomato because…well, actually, I’ve never really known why. I was born this way — something which was quite a shock to the poor doctor, from what I’ve been told. Luckily, the were able to prevent him from administering the traditional slap upon birth, otherwise I may have spent the rest of my young life hearing my friends constantly telling me to “ketchup!”

Yeah, okay, it’s bad, but it was enough to earn me my Feather stamp before heading over to my last station: Boat.

The Boat stamp shows strength of body. There are three ways to earn the boat stamp. You only need to do one:

  1. Give a five minute backrub to someone who has just been given an electric shock.
  2. Receive an electric shock.
  3. Capture a live rabbit.

Getting shocked, Boat Station, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAThere were a few people perched on the table giving backrubs, while standing beside the table was a girl holding what was essentially a low-powered (“really wussy,” in her words) cattle prod. “It works best on bare skin,” she said as a boy and girl walked up. “You won’t really feel anything through your clothes.” After a couple moments of debating whether attempting to chase down and catch a live rabbit might be easier, the couple each in turn tugged the rear of their pants down to expose one cheek. The prod buzzed, moved forward… “Whoa!!!” Everyone around laughed and applauded as the newest inductee got their stamp.

I stepped up. “Bare skin, huh?” “Yup.” “That’s easy enough,” I said, and hiked up part of my kilt — hey, if I’m going to wear it, I’m going to wear it right! I heard the buzz of the prod… “Yow!!!” …and jumped away laughing. While I wouldn’t want this thing held on me, it wasn’t that bad at all — about as painful as a strong pinch might be — but certainly enough to get a good yelp!

With that done, I got my last stamp, and spent the next hour or so wandering around, watching people make their way through the various stations, and taking pictures.

Taking the oath, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAEventually Jason, who’d been wandering around the grounds this entire time (I was actually at the Feather station when he read his “Why I am a Tomato” essay) took a megaphone and declared that the time for earning our stamps was over. We all gathered around him in a circle, raised our hands in the air, and first recited the Tomato Scout Oath, and then sang the Tomato Scout Anthem:

On the land and in the air,
Strong tomatoes everywhere.
Try to catch us if you dare,
Brave tomatoes are not scared.

Ask us questions, ask us who.
More tomatoes? Yes we do!
We are just like me and you,
Brave tomatoes through and through.

Do not worry, do not doubt,
True tomatoes always sprout.
Hear us whisper, hear us shout,
We are brave Tomato SCOUTS!

After that, it was time for the Great Tomato Race. We all went up to the top of the hill and then, taking turns by tribe, everyone who wanted to went racing down to the bottom of the hill. The one rule — no illegal use of legs. “What’s ‘illegal use of legs?'” “Any use of legs!”

Boats, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WA

Thankfully, there were no casualties during the race, though a few wallets and other sundries were dropped during the mad tumble down the hill, and more than a few people discovered that tumbling down a hill is a lot different in your teens and twenties than it is at six or seven! Not that that resulted in any less giggling about it, of course.

Once the races were over and the prizes were dispersed — each race winner got a CD from Jason of various tomato-themed songs — out came two large cardboard alligators, one large cardboard tomato, and one huge cardboard tomato…with teeth! Jason explained that he wanted us to tell a story to the people driving by the park, but as our audience would be traveling by rather quickly, it would have to be a rather short story. He told us what to do, and then we split into two groups.

Alligator eats Tomato, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAGroup one went down to the first bridge over Aurora with one alligator and the large tomato.

As cars drove by underneath, they saw the first part of the story — an alligator chasing a poor, defenseless tomato.

Oh no!

Tomato eats Alligator, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAGroup two, on the second bridge, presented the conclusion of the story — a giant, toothed tomato chasing the alligator away! Run, alligator, run!

After spending a while entertaining the people driving by (and getting quite a few honks from passing cars), we all headed back to the main field and gathered around Jason again. Here began instructions for the grand finale event of the day: Tomato Raid!

The entire picnic area had been divided into four quadrants, one each for Balloon, Feather, Boat and Tomato, with a roped-off ‘tomato circle’ in each. Each tribe noted where their respective territories were, and then Jason continued with the instructions…

Tomato Raid!
Objective: Capture as many tomatoes as possible for your team.

the Tomato Toss, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WA

Tomato Toss: Initial distribution of tomatoes is determined by the tomato toss. All players of all teams stand together and try to catch as many tomatoes as possible for their team. After catching a tomato, put it in your team bucket and hurry back to catch more. After the toss, each team will take their tomatoes and place them in the center of their tomato circle.

the Raid, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WA

Game Play: Each team tries to capture as many tomatoes as they can from the other teams. To capture tomatoes, you must take them from an enemy’s tomato circle and return them to your territory without being tagged. If tagged in enemy territory, you must drop all tomatoes you are carrying and count slowly to twelve while standing like an X before moving again. Whoever tagged you should return the dropped tomatoes to their tomato circle. You can only tag players when you are in your own team’s territory. Players may not go inside their own tomato circle, ecksept to deposit captured tomatoes.

the Raid, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WA

The game lasts 30 minutes. After the whistle is blown, whichever team has the most tomatoes (measured by volume) is the winner. Good luck!

I must admit, I decided to continue playing photographer rather than joining in this long, loud, fun, and extremely messy game! It didn’t entirely stop me from getting the occasional splash of tomato pulp, of course, as I spent the game wandering in the midst of a lot of people having a blast trying to keep as many tomatoes — or remnants of tomatoes — as they could for their team.

Half an hour later, the whistle was blown, circles were examined for the spoils of war, and a winner was declared — the Boats! Of course, some people pointed out that it was mighty suspicious that they’d somehow managed to make it through all of this with a few whole tomatoes left over in their circle…but despite some good natured rumors of cheating, the Boats remained victorious.

Tomato fight!, Camp Tomato, Woodland Park, Seattle, WAOf course, the fact that there were some mysteriously whole tomatoes left was an oversight that some people couldn’t ignore, and a short fast-and-furious tomato fight suddenly erupted before Jason called it to a halt.

One last mass recital of both the Tomato Scout Pledge and the Tomato Scout Anthem, and the day was declared at an end. Jason was quite happy with the way the day had turned out, and has every intention of making this a yearly event — so some weekend in early spring next year, be on the lookout for word on Camp Tomato 2006!

At this point, there were a couple of hours before the evening concert. While some people went off to find dinner, others took the cardboard tomatoes and alligators from the bridge pageant and went marching down to the Paradox Theatre (an event captured by one person on Flickr who wasn’t quite sure what was going on). Since Prairie’s cold medication was wearing off and she wasn’t feeling at her best, we decided to take the couple hours to head home and rest. We came back to the apartment, and she napped while I prepared and uploaded the first batch of photos.

After nap and picture time was over with, we hopped back in the car and headed out to Ballard to the new location of the Paradox Theatre for the concert. When we got there, the parking lot was already full of people entertaining themselves while waiting for the doors to open. Prairie grabbed a spot in line, and I went wandering around with my camera.

Before the show, Paradox Theatre, Seattle, WA

Eventually the doors opened, and we all filed in. At first, Prairie and I were a little concerned, not having been to the new Pardox before, as there were no chairs in the hall — just a large open room with a stage at one end. Normally this wouldn’t be a big thing for us, but with Prairie feeling a little under the weather, we didn’t want her to end up getting too jostled during the rowdier parts of the show. Thankfully, that didn’t end up being a problem, as we just found a spot by the wall towards the back of the space, and were able to quite comfortably enjoy the show from there.

The stage, Paradox Theatre, Seattle, WAJason’s spring shows are generally a lot less theatrical and a bit more “raw” than his fall shows are, consisting primarily (and sometimes exclusively) of whatever he’s been working on during his annual winter-long sabbatical. This year was much the same, starting with Jason explaining that for much of the winter he’d been writing a bunch of “silly, stupid” songs, a few of which he played for us (including one song written for Columbus Day, as it’s one of the holidays that just doesn’t have a lot of music written for it).

Camp Tomato concert, Paradox Theatre, Seattle, WAHe then told us that, tiring of being able to write anything but stupid songs, he’d started collaborating with some of his friends and fellow musicians (unfortunately, I have no head for names, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to forgive me that for the most part, they’re going to go uncredited Thanks to Josh for helping me out with the names here!). He started by calling Andru Bemis who he had a cardboard figure of on-stage to stand in as they did a few songs via telephone. He then brought Jay Thompson for a few songs with each of them on guitar, and then Jherek Bischoff who played drums and keyboards at the same time while Jason played bass guitar (to my memory, the first time I’ve seen him play a bass — though I’ve seen him play accordion, guitar, piano, and shovel in the past).

He also did a reprise of the winter’s guerilla supermarket performances, bringing up most of the key players onstage to give those people in the audience who’d missed out on the fun a taste of what had been done to poor, unsuspecting shoppers in around fifty different Seattle-area grocery stores.

The middle part of the concert was rather somber. Early last month, Jason’s friend Ken Hunt died unexpectedly, and Jason played a few songs that he and Ken had done years ago, along with a very moving performance of “With”, off of Only Just Beginning. Afterwards came a few more slow and sad songs, including one very nice piece without any lyrics, just Jason on guitar (and as an aside, I’ve never ceased to be amazed at Jason’s ability to hold an audience full of often rowdy and rambunctious teens absolutely dead silent during the quieter portions of his shows — something that shows not only his abilities as a performer, but his fans appreciation and respect for his music…it’s something that I’ve seen far more “famous” artists have serious difficulties doing, and it’s one of the many things I love about Jason’s shows and his fans).

For the last portion of the show, Jason brought the energy level back up to its usual wonderfully rambunctious levels, with both “May Day” and the “Drinking Song” — both long-time audience favorites, and personal favorites — getting the audience up on their feet, dancing and singing along. I’ve put together a 3-minute video clip of “May Day” here. It’s about 3Mb, and my server speed isn’t the greatest, so expect a bit of a delay before it’s ready to play.

Leaving the show, Camp Tomato concert, Paradox Theatre, Seattle, WAOnce the show was done, Jason passed out noisemakers to the crowd — bottles filled with rocks for the men, and ‘plinkers’ made of empty cans and rubber bands for the women — and everyone filed out the back door of the Paradox. Many of the audience then went on a trek down to Gas Works Park to erect a May Pole, however, Prairie and I reluctantly decided that it was in our best interest to go ahead and head home for the evening.

All in all, it was an incredibly fun day, beginning to end, and we’ll definitely be back next year for Camp Tomato 2006!

Many more photos from the day can be found in this Flickr photoset. Josh has also posted a bunch of pictures, as well as his initial thoughts after the show.