Berks County’s Vero DeHart is part of the team behind Camp Punskylvania, the scrappy, three-day music and camping event that will close out Pennsylvania’s summer festival season Labor Day weekend.
Pennsylvania’s summer music festival season was originally slated to be bookended by two established, name-brand events: the Roots Picnic at the beginning of the season in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, with Jay-Z’s Made in America festival set to close out the season Labor Day weekend on Philly’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
But with MIA’s cancellation due to “severe circumstances” a few weeks back, the summer festival season in Pennsylvania will instead wrap on the grounds of Scranton’s Circle Drive-In, where the third installment of the Camp Punskylvania Music and Camping Festival will be staged Sept. 1-3.
The contrast between the two events is striking, and points to a growing trend of niche-focused, smaller scale summer festivals throughout the state, like the Briggs Farm Blues Festival in Briggsville, and the Americana-focused Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown.
MIA had major headliners like Lizzo and SZA, Instagrammable V.I.P. tents, and the deep pockets of concert promoter Live Nation behind it. Camp Punksylvania has underground punk veterans Tsunami Bomb and Suicide Machines anchoring its lineup, carnival rides and camping, and a proudly D.I.Y., all-female team known as Riot Squad Media running the show.
Exeter Township’s Vero DeHart is the director of artist relations and hospitality for Camp Punksylvania. She points to her experience booking shows for Riot Squad in Philly, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg the last couple of years as an education in resourcefulness within a D.I.Y. framework. And that small scale business model has proved successful so far for Camp Punksylvania.
“We have to make sure that we’re watching every penny that we’re able to get,” DeHart said. “It’s about using the small amount of assets that we have in the most efficient way, so that we can deliver the best experience for attendees while also making sure we don’t go tens of thousands of dollars in debt personally.”
Camp Punksylvania began in 2021 in the remote southwestern Pa. location of Artemas. As DeHart puts it, the first year was “basically 300 people disappearing into the woods.” Attendance doubled with the move to the Circle Drive-In last year. This year, DeHart said they’re on track to have more than 1,000 people in attendance.
DeHart chalks up the gradual increase in ticket sales to several factors. Scranton’s equidistant location between New York City and Philadelphia helps, as does the credibility of having both established bands and up-and-coming Pennsylvania-based acts playing across the festival’s three stages.
More than anything, DeHart feels the festival’s mission of creating a community for marginalized individuals — whether they’re on stage or in the crowd — is connecting with people.
“I think a lot of the music industry is kind of sketchy, and at times there are people and groups of marginalized people that don’t feel safe in these spaces,” DeHart said. “We really want to be that place and that festival where you can go and you can be yourself. Pushing that has allowed us to grow this community of understanding and love.”