Here are some of the ten best campfire guitar songs for your next jamboree. These songs range the spectrum from silly to serious, rounds to sing-and-repeats, giving you the gamut next time you sing.
- "Home on the Range"—Traditional This is an old standby of any sing-along. Your campfire will be out in the wilderness anyway, so why not celebrate that fact? Pretty much everyone knows the lyrics and if they don’t they can learn them quickly. A great psych-up for any campfire, especially for younger children.
- "The Circle Game"—Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell’s simple song, with the message that life continues, whether we like it or not, is a perfect choice for a campfire song. Perfectly profound and easy to sing and play on guitar, lyrics like “We’re captive on the carousel of time” resonate at any age or stage of life.
- "Blowing in the Wind"—Bob Dylan Bob Dylan’s well-timed protest song is easy to sing and even easier to play on guitar. In its collection of rhetorical questions and ambiguous answers; it is provocative and simple; is it a call for peace or a mocking retort? The true meaning of this song still eludes us. Anyway, everybody knows this song, and if they don’t it’s time to learn!
- "Kumbaya"—Traditional How can you commune with nature without playing Mother Earth’s theme song? This soft song is perfect for those lulls in the group-sing, when a quiet song can do wonders to lift the energy of the group.
- "La Bamba"—Traditional A catchy song containing an even more infectious I-IV-V melody, "La Bamba," whether sung like Ritchie Valens’ rock and roll version or as more subdued folk is always fun. Whether or not your group knows what “Yo no soy marinaro, soy capitan” means in English, it is always fun to sing at full blast.
- "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"—Wallace Willis This hymn comes from the South during the time of slavery. It is truly a beautiful song, evocative and mysterious, hiding several meanings. A truly canonical song, "Swing Low" belongs at any campfire.
- "On Top of Spaghetti"—Tom Glazer This silly song borrows its melody from “On Top of Old Smoky,” another classic folk song. This one is a bit more fun to sing, though, and concerns pasta not past loves. If you have children in tow, they may be more willing to sing this than the original. Plus, who doesn’t love meatballs?
- "Hey-Ho Nobody Home"—Traditional This number is traditionally sung as a round. One singer begins the song, a few bars later, another singer joins in from the beginning and so on for however many choruses the group can take. So easy to learn, so hard to sing as a group, this will enchant (or frustrate) any group around a campfire.
- Bill Grogan’s Goat—Traditional This is a fun song to sing aloud around the campfire. Many versions require a leader to sing a line and then the group to repeat—which only adds to the excitement of singing. And the song’s silly lyrics about a hungry goat earning his punishment will enchant the kids in the audience.
- Red River Valley—Traditional This is a wistful cowboy ditty with simple lyrics about leaving a place you love. It is a good final number, and a nice send-off to the sing-along. And who can forget the simple, lilting melody or the song’s “cowboy who loved you so true?”
So now that you know the ten best campfire guitar songs, you should be well-prepared for the next sing-along. In the meantime, pick up a copy of "Rise up Singing," an absolutely essential text for any group-sing. Don't worry if you don’t know the words to all of these songs as yet. The campfire isn’t an audition, it’s an experience.