It may have felt like a dream for some, but as the saying goes, “There’s no place like home.”
Since 2001, Summer Camp Music Festival has grown immensely in size and stature within the festival scene, and The Roving Festival Writer (www.TheRFW.com) has been there every dance step of the way. Even though the festival has grown considerably over the past few years, it still maintains a strong, intimate, close knit family vibe that binds everyone together through an eclectic array of great music.
Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, Illinois turned into a sun-soaked dust bowl as it welcomed the thousands of festival goers to an unforgettable weekend of blissful music madness. No matter what your musical taste is, Summer Camp 2012 varied a unique collection of tunes from every genre imaginable.
As far as festivals go, Summer Camp 2012 was virtually flawless. This year is not soon to be forgotten and it certainly was a perfectly balanced mix of everything a music festival should be. As with any major festival, there is much to be seen and even more to be heard. At Summer Camp 2012, we did our best to witness and hear as much as humanly possible. One can never absorb it all, but we can share and highlight some of the beauty that we witnessed this year.
Thursday, May 24th:
The Summer Camp Festival kick off began with a pre-party early in the afternoon on Thursday. This opening day has developed into a spotlight for local Chicago-area bands to rise and shine as they showcase their music and push the event into full swing. As soon as the party began, it was obvious that the festival was headed in the right direction and everyone was anxiously awaiting the weekend to come.
Friday, May 25th:
The official first day of the festival was Friday, and with so many great musical acts to soak in, it is hard to tell which way to go. Our day began with the annual moe. afternoon show, which set the tone for the fest and pump up the crowd for an epic festival experience. They opened their performance with “Not Coming Down,” and continued to keep the flow going with a great rendition of “Timmy Tucker.”
Keller Williams was up next on the Moonshine Stage, and he is always an up-beat and fun filled crowd favorite. Keller started his set out tranquil and slowly moved into a purified funk set, with him alone on stage. After getting the crowd going with his well-known song “Breath,” he went into high energy utilizing melodies and ‘hippy hop’ beat boxing to keep everyone moving until closing the set with a splendid cover of“Born to Be Wild.” The mid-day sun was now well upon us and we had to recharge our batteries. We then missed some anticipated shows like Leftover Salmon and Van Ghost, but had to physically prepare for what would happen next.
As the day then continued on, a sea of people flooded to the Sunshine Stage for the midday acoustic show featuring Bob Weir, Chris Robinson, and Jackie Greene. The trio began as the day cooled off with light cloud cover, enabling everyone to dance and sing along. They started out mellow and slowly built the show into a blues and jazz infused dirty jam session, covering mainly Grateful Dead songs. Bob Weir reminded all of us that he’s still got ‘it’ as he charmed
the crowd with not only his guitar, but his soulful resonating voice. Between all of the blues numbers,
“West La Fadeaway” was a high note to change the pace of the show a bit and fully engaged the audience. The trio then eventually descended into a version of“Uncle John’s Band” before finishing the set with a sing along rendition of the infamous closing tune “Not Fade Away,” leaving the crowd elated.
Cornmeal is a healthy dose of Midwestern bluegrass jam for the soul, and a Summer Camp staple. They had a slew of sets and appearances throughout the weekend, but this show was the highlight of the festival for the band itself. After leaving the acoustic set, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at the Moonshine Stage and hear Cornmeal in full out jam mode during the day like that, with the crowd hanging on every note.
Umphrey’s McGee then took over their ownership of the Sunshine Stage for their first performances of the weekend. In true Umph fashion, they teased the crowd with fan favorites during their two back to back sets and unparalleled light shows. The shows featured fan favorites such as “2nd Self” and “Pay the Snucka”, jam sandwiches inside of “Ocean Billy” and an outstanding cover of Tool’s “Forty Six and Two.”
In between the Umphrey’s shows, we had the chance to witness some of the Gogol Bordello set at the Moonshine Stage. This Gypsy-Punk band has so many levels to it, all of which they showcase fully with the highest energy possible. Wild, loud, and melodic the show was overall very impressive to listen to as well as watch as they empowered the crowd with songs like“Wunderlust” and “Start Wearing Purple.”
With Les Claypool and Primus about to start at the Moonshine Stage, anticipation ran rampant through the crowd. With heavy, intoxicating bass lines and off the wall lyrics, there really is no way to describe Primus except for irregularly eccentric. Primus shows are always intriguing to say the least, and this Summer Camp set was no different. The wild card really came out at the end of the performance when Bob Weir joined Les Claypool on stage and played an outstanding and unique version of “The Other One,” taking the show to even more unconventional heights.
Saturday, May 26th:
The dust started stirring early on Saturday, May 26th as Summer Camp 2012 was moving forward at full speed. We first made our way down to the Jagermeister Starshine Stage for Fareed Haque’s MathGames!. If you are not yet familiar with this band, than you are missing out on an innovative and impressive musical adventure. World renowned guitar player Fareed Haque leads the group of tremendously skilled musicians who break down music at its fundamental levels and then smoothly rearrange it into something never defined before. Mixing musical styles from funky jazz to electronica, MathGames! is known for “Taking you to space while time traveling dimensions.” There is not much that can top or match the futuristic groove they submerge you in, and it is very much a guarantee that you will enjoy the ride. The tempos, melodies, and abnormal beats will without a doubt mess with your brain while making you wiggle at the same time. If you missed MathGames! at the festival this year, I hope you will find the time to tune into their frequency soon.
Once our mental state was back in festival mode, we waltzed passed the Sunshine Stage giving our ears a chance to soak in the reggae soul performance by the Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars. We then traveled to the Moonshine Stage to see Summer Camp veterans Family Grove Company finish out their set. Not only did they sound splendid, but they were playing along with a horn section, which enabled them to fully fill out their sound.
The temperature was rising at this point, and the sun was beating down with all of its strength. We then took this time to rest and re-energize ourselves for before heading to the Sunshine Stage to see the infamous hip-hop artist Common perform. Being from the Chicago area, he was more than delighted to be there, and his energy was so high at times we thought he might fly off of the stage. The show was filled with antics and was overall quite enjoyable as he continued to declare his love for the Midwest and perform an assortment of songs. The mid-day set was a perfect addition to the overall festival by widening the all-inclusive mix of acts showcased this year.
We then ventured into the woods to explore a bit and escape the suffocating heat surrounding us. The Camping Stage had a diverse potpourri of acts throughout the weekend, but at this particular moment we arrived in perfect timing to catch a full set by Ultraviolet Hippopotamus. ‘UV Hippo’ is a premiere improvisational progressive rock band from Michigan who has recently gained recognition not only in the United States, but across the globe for their well-polished, intricate, genre-mixing sounds. The show turned into a mid-day dance party full of jams flowing into one another. This set itself was utterly outstanding with an exceptional version of “Run Rabbit Run” which led into “Yin Yang” and “Tiny Eyes.” They kept up momentum by finalizing the show with“Tugboat” leaving the crowd wanting more.
Back at the Moonshine Stage, Gov’t Mule was in full rock mode playing songs that included many notable classic rock covers as well as original Mule tunes. Warren Haynes had a playful, jubilant demeanor and sounded superb as he steadily went through the set with ease. The second half of their set is when Mule reached a superior level by flawlessly performing a non-stop stream of well-known songs that proved to be perfect for the show and the crowd in every way. The musical flow at the end of the set included “The Other One > Hunger Strike > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Hunger Strike” until finishing and closing the set with the Door’s “When the Music’s Over,” to top it off.
The Soulshine Tent continuously grows each year along with the festival, and now hosts an array of pleasurable and rare fest activities. The tent is designed to educate, inspire, and empower attendees by providing a shelter filled with live music, workshops, discussions, demonstrations, art, and education. Throughout the weekend, we had stopped by the Soulshine Tent periodically, mainly to see snippets of the multiple first-class music workshops that took over the tent during the course of the festival.
Saturday evening we went made it to the Soulshine Tent with full intent to do more than just stop in. At 9pm, in the midst of the chaos of the evening music schedule, we arrived at the tent to witness the Tricky Ol’ Puss & Mos Scocious Show, and what a show it was. They are an animated collection of talented people, with a deep, diverse appreciation of all things music. Hailing from Chicago, Mos Scocious is a well-tuned power trio that blends all genres of music together into superb sound arrangements. By incorporating an infusion of multiple music genres from jazz hip-hop, the band formulates a funky, gritty, and dynamic underground sound. With an extravagant musical style of its own, Mos Scocious produces a diverse assortment of tunes that help you groove and make you move. When they started playing around 9pm, the crowd was engaged with a set of remarkable music… but it was the wild theatrical aspects that made the show into an complete experience of unadulterated fun. The band played along with Tricky Ol’ Puss, an absurd, artistic, and boisterous magician who not only delighted the crowd with magic tricks, but who also sang with the band throughout the set. As the costumes, lights, confetti, magic tricks, and sexy go-go dancers frolicked about the stage, it only amplified how meticulous and well executed the music was beneath it all. Show highlights included many outstanding songs from their various albums as well as and some impressive covers like the Beastie Boys “Sabotage,” and delicious version of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka to complete the show.
There comes a time at every Summer Camp Festival when the Umphrey’s and moe. sets are stacked together, leaving their fans scattered about the grounds feverishly running back and forth from stage to stage. That is exactly where we were at this point… Lost in the madness attempting to catch as much music from both shows as we could, and from what we could gather, all four sets were musically gratifying and both bands have some of the best light shows utilized in any live shows today.
moe. powered their first set with a “Happy Hour Hero” featuring Warren Haynes, and ended the set with “White Lightening” and “George.” Up until now, every moe. Set at the festival managed to pick up more energy and momentum than the last, and the snowball effect continued. The night goes and the strength grows for moe.’s second set before it concludes with a well put together “Plane Crash.”
Umphrey’s McGee was unquestionably ‘on fire’ for both of their Saturday evening sets, bringing out their best. It has been a pleasure to watch them progress so much over the years, and it was widely noted that the two Saturday Umphrey’s performances were some of the best. The first set included “Bridgeless” and “August” as they played at a level of peak performance. The second set sent the crowd soaring with their rendition of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” which was marvelously executed and stands out as a monumental musical moment of the weekend. Umph continued to shine powerfully for the rest of the performance before guiding the show to a close with an outstanding encore of “All in Time.”
Saturday evening ended for us at the Campfire Stage watching The Ragbirds. They come from the land of Michigan and they are good. Really good. The set was a melodious soundtrack that quickly took the crowd on an unpredictable musical journey around the world. They share their well-traveled stories through what can be described as ‘eclectic global folk music,’ utilizing instruments and sounds from all parts of the universe. Drums pound out infectious beats as front women Erin Zindle flawlessly changes songs and instruments with ease, all the while dancing and sporting a contagious grin. The Ragbirds performance was positive, inspirational, diverse, and virtually overflowing with energy as they iimmaculately played songs from all four of their albums including “Onyame Kokroko” and “Tantrella.”
Sunday, May 27th:
Being well aware that Sunday would be the hottest day at the festival, everyone was prepared and nothing stopped them from coming out to get groovy. Despite the heat, Umphrey’s and moe. both played to large lively crowds early in the day. Umphrey’s worked on ‘melting faces’ during their last performance of the festival. They played well known tunes such as “Partyin’ Peeps,” and even some new music, before concluding their Summer Camp appearance by closing with “JaJunk.” In the Starshine Tent, moe. did an acoustic show which set the tone for the day. The moe. performance was intimate and included songs such as “St. Augustine” and “Lazarus.”
We then waltzed over at the Moonshine Stage to catch Yonder Mountain String Band. This band never seems to play an uninspired, uneventful, or unimpressive show and they consistently come forward with high energy sets. Their powerful sound has many noticeable influences, but they are best defined as a compound of jam infused bluegrass. The Yonder boys took the stage fully loaded with excitement, and the heat smothered crowd was wildly ready for them. They flew thru a fire filled set advanced by highly regarded fan favorites like “Traffic Jam,” “Ramblin’ in the Rambler,” and “Follow Me Down to the Riverside.”
With our sweaty bodies now caked in a thick layer of dirt, we needed a minute to cool down, clean up, and chill out. During this rejuvenation period, we were unable to make some shows including a performance of purified New Orleans funk from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. As we traveled through the festival grounds we briefly had the chance to hear the rock-rap-raggae mix of Michael Franti and Spearhead performing a set that included “Ganja Babe.” Their show was laid back and genuinely positive, with a large crowd savoring every moment of their performance.
It was now close dusk on Sunday as we moved toward the Moonshine Stage to join the horde of people awaiting Tedeschi Trucks Band. As soon as the infamous duo walked on stage, they instantly took ownership of their moment to shine. Incorporating his phenomenal guitar skills with her utterly tremendous vocals, the two create an original, organic, swampy mix of soulful, funky blues music. Their set was outstanding, with highlights like “Midnight in Harlem” and “Bound for Glory” which also gave every band member its own moment in the spotlight.
We arrived to the Vibe Tent just as it was about to be taken over by the exotic pop-funk beats of Rubblebucket. They looked and sounded fantastic as they performed a pleasant, fully engaging set. Rubblebucket utilizes a flamboyant horn section on top of overlapping layers of drum beats along with the voice of front women Kalmia Traver to create an original sound. They are weird, worldly, and a instrumentally inclined to take you on a melodic adventure somewhere you can dance. There show was lively and eclectic, where a good time was had by all.
It was now time for a major focal point of the festival to take the stage, and so we made our way to the Starshine area. Galactic is musically and culturally everything New Orleans, and when put together, the music produced is an electric form of funk. Their Sunday Summer Camp performance was completely sensational on all levels. The band itself is at the heart of a diverse collaborative musical community, constantly keeping each show and song open to a revolving door of never ending guest performers. Their jam packed set prompted and provoked the crowd to dance and participate. We all sang along to “Hey Na Na” and “Get Funky,” but the show was really elevated with a funky “Cult of Personality.” The peak for Galatic’s performance, and the festival itself, came out in the form Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmire.” Perfectly executed, Galactic and Dirty Dozen Brass Band covered it flawlessly, in pure funk style. There is no better way to end a set or a festival than by experiencing music like that.
It had been a long weekend, and it was all starting to catch up with us. Unfortunately, because of this we missed several other hot acts throughout the day such as Victor Wooten, Break Science, Greensky Bluegrass, Pretty Lights and the much anticipated Jane’s Addiction. Regardless, the festival was a voluptuous experience filled with thoroughly gratifying music that did not skip a beat.
Summer Camp has turned into a well-rounded, perfectly executed, and fully complete music festival in every way. This year was sensational, and the thank you goes out to all who worked so hard to make it an impressive success. Summer Camp 2012 came and went so fast that it did feel like a dream…a beautiful, lucid, dream almost as good as anything imaginable. Even though it is now over, we all will be anxiously awaiting our return home to the fields of Chillicothe next year.