Denver’s Rock Spring Campground is preparing for its 184th annual Rock Spring Methodist Camp Meeting, to start on July 28 and span the first two weeks of August.
Thousands of people attend the old-fashioned religious revival program, which consists of singing, daily worship and sermons led by local clergy. The event also features children’s activities and camping in rows of multi-story wooden structures referred to as “tents” that surround the main arbor.
The event culminates in a free, nonticketed “Big Sing” event where many well-known bluegrass gospel bands perform each year.
The meeting’s website calls the event “The original ‘unplugged’ show. No air, no heat, no phones, no TV – only family, friends, food and worship.”
The meeting has only taken one year off in its nearly two centuries, due to a polio epidemic, probably in the 1940s, said chairman of the campground board of trustees Van Barker of Denver. Barker wasn’t sure of the exact year it was canceled. The 1940s also featured the meet’s first female preacher, who drew a record crowd, Barker said.
Barker himself has been attending the meeting for 61 years, since he was a child. Like many others, for him the meeting is a significant event he looks forward to every year. He remembers when the open-air wooden “tents,” all built of unfinished wood with silver tin roofs, had no bathrooms, and rows of outhouses were lined up behind the structures.
The 255 tent structures now have modern bathrooms, added about 30 years ago, according to Barker, but are still reminiscent of the days before plumbing was expected. At one point, all of the tents were lined with straw on the ground floors. A few still are.
“As children, we came and stayed for the whole two weeks. We bathed in a washtub, brought two weeks of clothes and stayed on the grounds,” said Barker. He recalls activities like playing in the woods and pitching horseshoes, which children who attend still do today.
Barker’s own life also reflects another tradition of the meet. Many people have met their future spouses there. Barker himself met his wife when they played together there as children.
He said Rock Spring Campground also hosts about 15 to 20 weddings a year. Many of the couples who meet during the late-summer revival return to have their weddings on the grounds.
Other traditions also surround the meetings. One example is “rocking the tent,” in which pranksters wait until everyone is asleep and then pelt the tin roofs of the tents with rocks. Barker said his tent was rocked last year.
The meeting is attended by people of many professions, some of whom go to work during the day and return for the evenings and weekends. Barker said people come from as far as Texas and Connecticut for the meeting.
Many who attend have bought the wooden tents simply to stay there during the two weeks of the meeting every year. While in 1899, lot number seven sold for $1.25, today tents have been purchased for up to $50,000, said Barker. Other tents have been passed down for generations, some for more than a century. Most tents have porch swings hanging outside.
This year, the Big Sing, the free concert that will pack the 44-acre campground, will be held Aug. 2. It will feature The Chuck Wagon Gang, a group that has been playing gospel music for over 70 years with varying members.
The group’s website calls it “the oldest recording mixed gospel group still performing with ties to the original founding”. The Phillips Family and The Sunshine Sisters will also perform.
Another bluegrass gospel concert, featuring The Cockman Family, Mountain Faith and Extreme Measures, will be held Aug. 9.
Local musical talent will also perform in the “Community Singing” held Aug. 1.
All concerts are free. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs for the concerts, as the 1,000-seat Arbor often fills up.
Marjorie Dana is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marjorie? Email her at email@example.com.
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