Wham Bam Thank U Jam returns to Oxford
By Katie Christoff
Photo: [l-r] Nathan Goff, Mike Carpenter, Kimberly Weiss, Nathan Goff, Todd Panstingel and Brian Wise [not pictured] of Killed By Art perform at the 2014 Wham Bam Thank U Jam
The self-proclaimed “best weekend of the summer,” Wham Bam Thank U Jam, returns to Southwest Ohio this weekend for its sixth year. The annual celebration of music, art and life will feature more than 25 musical acts over the course of three days, along with art and food vendors.
The event is sponsored by Love of Life, Inc., a volunteer organization dedicated to promoting diversity through music, art and life experiences. It was born when a backyard wedding turned into a weekend-long celebration of, well, music, love and life. Attendees enjoyed the weekend so much, they decided to do it again every year towards the end of the summer, wedding or not.
Love of Life is a local charity organization on its way to becoming a 501c3, with a mission that’s fairly easy to decipher: stopping to appreciate the good things in life.
“We never want to use the word festival—we call it a celebration,” says event organizer Tracy Sax. “We stop and celebrate life and music and art and just escape for a weekend. This is for a thousand years. We’re setting it up so it repeats without us being here.”
An event with humble beginnings, Wham Bam grew from 400 guests in a backyard to over 2,000 expected at this year’s event.
“We’re freaking out because it used to be in the backyard,” Sax says. “But at this party everybody’s cool and nice, everybody hugs each other, there are no fights. It’s a very good crowd.”
In addition to growing in attendance, Wham Bam now features three musical stages as well as art and food vendors, live painters and sprawling campgrounds across from Hueston Woods State Park (just two miles from Oxford, Ohio, and Miami University.) It’s a 26-acre campground with a general store in the front.
Sax describes it as “out in the middle of nowhere,” and notes that there’s no cell phone reception at the park.
“When people arrive, it’s funny to watch them looking at their phones,” he says. “It’s part of [our] good vibe. Everybody’s happy, and there’s no texting or ringtones. It’s a nice escape.”
The three stages will host over 25 musical acts during Wham Bam. Sax named an 11-piece gypsy band and an African drum brigade as some of this year’s highly anticipated acts.
In addition to these, he also said there’s a secret sanctuary in a wooded area where acoustic acts will perform.
Many of these acts will play late into the night, some through the next morning until 4 a.m. These late-night jam sessions will be supplemented by fireworks and a huge fire sculpture.
“There’s a ceremony at dark [Saturday night,] where we thank everybody,” Sax says. “We’ve had a couple weddings at that time, but this year it’s supposed to be a surprise! A lot of first-timers don’t know what’s going to happen, it is very impressive.”
Wham Bam is already steeped in traditions like these, and Sax says they’re trying to repeat things that have been good in the past.
“Every year we learn so much,” he says. “But there are four things we do: live, love, learn and pass it on. It’s not a membership thing, everybody’s part of it—another reason we call this a thousand-year festival.”
These four pillars are based on Love of Life, Inc.’s mission, and since it’s a charitable organization, all of the musicians play for free. The proceeds that don’t fund the event’s costs go to charities like the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center.
“They teach underprivileged kids to play musical instruments,” Sax explains. “It’s a huge, beautiful thing. Our charity is acquiring musical instruments to give to them.”
A good weekend, for a good cause and a good price. Presale tickets are available for $40, and provide access to all three days of the festival.
“Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about it,” Sax says. “It’s the celebration of the summer. Every time I go to the patio at one of the Dayton bars, I hear [people talking about Wham Bam]. It makes me very proud.”
As for the aftermath, Sax says the event organizers take a short break from each other before calculating the funds they’ve raised.
“After the festival we don’t talk to each other for a week or two because we’ve been together for so long,” he laughs. “We get back together and give away big checks around Christmas time, with the proceeds we make from the weekend. Part of each ticket goes to charities.”
Wham Bam Thank U Jam will be held Friday-Sunday, Aug. 14-16 at Hannon’s Camp America, 8501 Camden College Corner Rd. Presale tickets cost $40 for all three days. Camping is welcomed. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit whambamthankujam.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at KatieChristoff@DaytonCityPaper.com.