When he was growing up near Tommys Lake in Lake Orion, John Carson used to play music by campfire with his friends. They joked that it was called "Tommystock."
Many years later, Tommystock became much more than some childhood friends hanging out.
In 2014, the Boy Scouts of America sold its historic Camp Agawam — a nearly 100-year-old, 140-acre campground on the east shore of the lake — to Orion Township. The next year, Carson and some friends realized they could rent the campsite out for private events. Thus, Tommystock was born.
"As a kid growing up out there, I was always wandering back there and getting chased off by the ranger who lives on site, whether it be on foot or bicycle or snowmobile," Carson says. "It wasn't until I was an adult that I actually saw the 140 acres and how beautiful it was, and the outbuildings and Old Fort Pontiac and the hidden amphitheater in the woods. It's just a beautiful thing."
The grounds wound up being well-suited for a music fest. It already had a covered pavilion and an amphitheater called the Fire Bowl, a hidden amphitheater in a recess in the woods, that could serve as the festival's stages. There were facilities for kitchens and other necessities, and beach access for outdoor activities like stand-up paddleboarding. Plus, there's campsites — so festival-goers can party until they drop, although non-campers are welcome, too.
"I guess a lot of Boy Scout camps have fire bowls, but it's just a really cool, quaint little amphitheater," Carson says. "It seats maybe 350 people. It's got a fire pit down there. And it's just covered with a canopy of trees. So when we put lights and stuff down there, we shine them up into the trees. At nighttime, the place just absolutely transforms into something magical."
In its third year, Carson and friends created Friends of Camp Agawam and applied for 501(c)(3) status to protect the site from future developers. The group also gives a portion of proceeds back to upkeep for the campsite.
"Anything we did out there, we just took the money right back into the camp to help support it and get things done that the township didn't necessarily have in their budget to do," Carson says.
Now in its fifth year, Tommystock has undergone lots of changes. The old Fort Pontiac, a period Revolutionary-era fort the Boy Scouts built, serves as a food court during the day. Carson says he hopes to hold a "silent disco" there at night, where people can listen to music on headphones and dance. They also paid to fix up the bleacher seating around the Fire Bowl, and put in new stone steps. A new stage was built appropriating wood from docks. Other changes this year include a beachside tiki bar; previously the festival was BYOB.
And as far as the music goes, Tommystock has one of its biggest lineups yet. Vinnie Dombroski will headlining the fest with two of his bands, outlaw country act the Orbitsuns on Friday and '90s alternative rock favorite Sponge, which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its landmark record Rotting Piñata.
At the end of the night, Carson says it's customary for musicians from different bands to have impromptu jam sessions — just like Carson's childhood proto-Tommystock. Carson says he's hoping for an acoustic Sponge jam session this year. At the other stage at night, there will also be "Electric Agawam," an electrictronic dance music lineup with house and techno DJs.
In all, the festival calls to mind a much smaller — much, much smaller — Electric Forest festival, or Illinois's Summer Camp Festival. Carson says last year drew 500 festival-goers, but he hopes to expand to 1,500 this year.
Tommystock runs from Friday, July 26-Sunday, July 29 at Camp Agawam; 1301 W. Clarkston Rd., Lake Orion; tommystock.org. Tickets start at $20. Sunday is free.
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