Milwaukee Record is proud to present Public Domain. The monthly video series features adapting some of the world’s best-known songs in ways they’ve never been heard before. Watch the entire series here.
It’s finally happened! Over the nearly three-year run of Public Domain, nobody has selected “Camptown Races.” Until now, that is. Prior to a recent show in Milwaukee, New Orleans-based PEARS (of Fat Wreck Chords fame) stopped by Cactus Club to give the famed Stephen Foster song a punk rock treatment. Foster—also known as “the father of American music”—published the song in 1850, when he was only 24. During his 37-year life, Foster also wrote time-tested public domain favorites like “Oh! Susanna” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” Still, “Camptown Races” is probably the most notable song in the impressive catalog that Foster amassed before his premature death.
Through the 160-some years since the song was written, “Camptown Races” has been covered and otherwise adapted by the likes of Bing Crosby, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Mercer, and Looney Tunes’ own Foghorn Leghorn. It was also featured on Blazing Saddles, which—using the name “Camptown Ladies”—references the song’s troubling past as a minstrel song. While the origin of “Camptown Races” is unfortunate and some past renditions (namely Al Jolson’s) are downright disturbing, the song has taken a far more acceptable form of late, including the uptempo, innocent, and all-around equestrian approach PEARS took in their adaptation.