How to Entertain at a Campfire

On our life list of must-learn talents: entertain at a campfire.

Aug 31, 2010
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Alexander Ishchenko via Shutters

For Overachievers: Play an Instrument

Start with the guitar. It's easy. Lyle Lovett, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan don't need any more than three chords; neither do you. Start with G, C, and D. Learn to play them without a pick. (It's dark and you're drunk; you'll lose it.) Don't be too obscure—people need to sing along—but don't sing "Free Fallin', " either. Learn a Sam Cooke song. And remember to use your voice. Think it sucks? So does Neil Young's. Have a sip of whiskey and let 'er rip.


First, divorce yourself from any obligation to the truth. Southerners, though maligned for our deficiencies in other areas, are, without a doubt, the world's best storytellers. This is because we couldn't care less about facts. Truth to a southerner is as useful as tits on a boar. If you're not from the South, you're at a great disadvantage. So you need a refined technique. Have a drop of something cheerful. Slow down. People say a story shouldn't take too long. That's not true. When you know you've got the audience's interest, slow down until people get uncomfortable, until they're wondering whether you're an idiot. Then deliver the knockout. You have to deliver the knockout. You also have to be competitive. You need to steal—steal from comedians, but also from crazy people. Truly crazy people have a gift with language. They can upset expectations, which is all that campfire storytelling is. That, and doing your duty as a human at our primal gathering place. Once I was at a fire in the Himalayas. The buzzed porters started singing song after song, these gorgeous songs. They finally asked when we were going to join in with some American songs. We had nothing. It was pathetic. From that moment, I've always been ready to sing a song at a fire. People talk about the wonders of the modern world, the progress of technology. That's fine. But have your bases covered. --AS TOLD TO ABE STREEP