Festival fanatics, hippies, and music-lovers from all corners of the Earth made their way to the front gate of Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois this past weekend. From Buffalo, New York to Boulder, Colorado -- I talked to people who drove 15+ hours in their cars to this festival. Why? It is an experience of a lifetime. This festival is not only four days of camping and music, but four days of people-watching, dancing profusely, and contemplating why life exists outside of the bubble that Summer Camp was for four days at Three Sisters Park.
The first festival was held in 2001, and about 1,000 people attended that year. Since then, Summer Camp Music Festival has more than tripled its annual attendance. The festival hosts more than 100 bands on six stages over a four-day period of time. The festival has maintained it's family feel over the decade of its existence, creating a "home away from" home type of energy. Summer Camp Music Festival is one in which it feels as though a civilization forms for one weekend every year, embracing individuality, creativity, and the love of music. Throughout the weekend, it was hard to imagine coming back to real-life after it all came to a close. The festival experience was just that, an experience that encompassed a feeling of liberation unknown to those who were there.
Not only are the bands and musical genres in attendance diverse, but Summer Camp also prides itself on being a GREEN music festival. They take all steps necessary to reduce their carbon footprint (volunteers were set-up throughout the festival to monitor the disposal of garbage across every disposal station on the campground), and they recruit a "Green Team" of volunteers to sort everything into three groups: recyclables, compostables, and landfill items throughout the weekend. Summer Camp Music Festival is also a huge advocate of non-profit organizations. They urge attendees to "make a difference" and stop by their tent dedicated to a wide variety of organizations. The organizations are set-up at the festival as a resource to educate those interested at their booths, and they also host panel discussions throughout the weekend. These are all set-up to increase attendee's awareness of important environmental and human rights issues, inspiring everyone to get involved and take action where applicable in a positive way (both locally and around the world).
As alluded to by not only the line-up itself but my previous post about this festival, there is something at Summer Camp Music Festival for all musical tastes. From electronic genres to folk & bluegrass, I tried to get a feel for a variety of genres, from local bands to main headliners throughout the weekend. The festival was more than conducive to that goal, providing me with a wide array of bands to check out.
On Thursday (May 24th), countless attendees lined up outside the main entry gate to the festival alongside hundreds of pounds of camping gear. The gates opened at noon; however, arriving at 9am was a good choice. The line was enormous three hours prior to opening, filled with festival-goers socializing over beer, lounging in lawn chairs, and selling various "camping" paraphernalia. The festival management was kind enough to start letting people through the gate about an hour before noon, as I'm sure they could sense the energy of the crowd - anxious to get inside and start their magical journey started.
Once inside, attendees had freedom to set-up camp wherever they could find the space. Most headed straight into the woods and shaded areas, foreseeing the high temperatures the weekend had in store. Lugging hundreds of pounds of gear (mind you, some folk only came with a couple of t-shirts, cigarettes, and a hammock to sleep in) was the least of everyone's worries. The worry at everyone's forefront was obviously what band they would catch first. Thursday is the "pre-party" for the festival, meaning everyone who arrived on Thursday had to pay a tiny bit more than the regular festival-goer. The bands playing Thursday night included Van Ghost, Family Groove Company, Digital Tape Machine, Cornmeal, Jimkata, The Coop, The Infamous Stringdusters, Trichome, Lake Shore Vibe, and a various array of smaller electronic DJ's to kick off the weekend.
Aside from checking out the various bands (band performance recaps & tracks below), I took a walk through the "woods" to get a lay of the land. I was in awe when I saw the various decorations and furniture people brought with them for the weekend. Crazy lights (of all shapes and sizes), full-blown colonies of tents, and people selling everything from artwork to "tobacco pipes" were scattered throughout the entirety of the woods. I literally described taking a walk through (especially when the sun is down and the woods are lit up) as taking a trip down the rabbit hole. It was a surreal experience that I think everyone should experience at least once in their life. The hippie sticks were fantastic, and ranged everywhere from lit-up umbrellas to Pee-Wee Herman dancing on a long pole. My mind was absolutely blown. I've also never seen more dreadlocks, hoola-hoops, and tapestries in my life - and it was, in fact, a beautiful thing.
On Friday, the folks without Thursday tickets started arriving and setting up camp within the random holes of unclaimed territory throughout the campgrounds. The 90 degree plus heat played a significant role in everyone's time. The amount of dust throughout the campground seemed unbearable at times, but most people shielded their noses and mouths with bandannas when necessary. I found myself seeking out the water hoses and misting tents at least once an hour to fill up my water bottle or soaking my hair (which dried within fifteen minutes each time, by the way). Sidenote: Camelback backpacks may be the most worth-while way to spend your money than anything else you may choose to buy for festival season. Aside from ensuring I, alongside my friends I was camping with, stayed hydrated throughout the weekend, we found time in between checking out bands to walk through the vendor sections at the festival. There were vendors selling everything from food to tie-dye shirts; hula-hoops to neon light toys; pipes to "self-growing" kits. I had the opportunity to chat with a few vendors, and they described Summer Camp Music Festival as one of the most laid-back and relaxing that they attend throughout their year.
It is difficult to find words to describe my Summer Camp experience in a nutshell. I felt so many emotions throughout the weekend I cannot begin to sum them up - nostalgia, inner-peace, curiosity, excitement, anxiety (at times), and freedom. The positive energy felt in and around me was that of something not found in my everyday life. Everyone seemed to be content, liberated, and nonjudgmental. Everyone was simply living in the moments that the festival brought forth, embracing each one, and it seemed as though group-mind and harmony existed on a larger level than I've ever seen. If reality were anything like what Summer Camp Music Festival was, the world would be a better place.
On to the music (what we're all about, here at EARMILK). As I said earlier, the genres are diverse at this festival. With six stages and artists playing on each one of them at nearly all times of the day, it was difficult to see everyone I wanted to see. I'll highlight the shows and artists that stuck out the most for me:
Umphrey's McGee deserves an article all on their own, but it would be impossible to put their sets into words. Not only is the band phenomenal at jamming out beyond all expectation of a jam session, but the light show that accompanies their sets is indescribable. Umphrey's played more than four times throughout the weekend, and each time I tried to get a different feel for their set. I stood toward the front, feeling the music within me. For another set, I sat all the way at the back of the stage area and simply watched the show from afar. The lights are that fantastic - where I was captivated and could not take my eyes off the stage area throughout the duration of their set. They played an amazing rendition of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" and it blew my mind. Umphrey's takes pride in their every-changing setlists, improvisation, open-taping policy, and all around musical freedom for every show they do. No two shows are alike with this band, and in my opinion, that is the rawest kind of talent you can have as an artist/band. As far as their influences go (to give those who are not familiar with Umphrey's McGee), some include Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, and early Genesis as well as heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden. As primary influences, the band has stated they identify with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, & The Police as well. We urge you to check them out should you ever have the opportunity.
moe. is the festival's headliner that comes back year to year, and brings a crowd of fans with them (similar to Umphrey's McGee). The jam-band is another entertaining set to watch, and the lights - again, similar to Umphrey's - was quite the psychedelic experience. Consisted of five members, the band has been in existence for over twenty years, improvising sets in venues across the country. It was a pleasure to check them out at one of the festivals they are notorious for headlining.
The Infamous Stringdusters were a band I actually fell into seeing coincidentally. I was planning on checking out an Irish gig band, but they cancelled their set last minute. Instead, the Infamous Stringdusters were playing and my jaw dropped with the insane amount of talent coming from the stage while they were playing. A bluegrass band, the Infamous Stringdusters is consisted of five members playing all string instruments. They emerged as a band in 2007, and within that year they won "Emerging Artist of the Year", "Album of the Year", and "Song of the Year" at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards Ceremony. The banjo player, Chris Pandolfi, knocked me off my feet. Despite the disappointment of the Irish gig band I originally went to the stage to see, their high-energy performance gave me no choice but to stay put at the stage. They were phenomenal.
Keller Williams is a one-man band and despite the hot temperature and sun beating down on the audience, he had a packed house in attendance for his set. His music is compelling, and it is truly hard to believe he's the only one on stage creating it. His genre of music is limitless, ranging anywhere from bluegrass & folk to reggae & jazz. He loops with multiple instruments throughout his sets, and captivated even those hundreds of feet away in the shade.
Gogol Bordello is a band I had never listened to before this festival. They are known as a "gypsy punk band" and began their musical career in the Lower East Side of Manhattan over 12 years ago. They were so fun to watch - and their music is a blast too. I could not get over how well they incorporated various instruments into their set all the while mixing the sounds to create a punk & dub type of feel. The music was undoubtedly catchy, the band was high in energy, and gave me some unseeded insight as to why they have such a large following. After doing a bit of research, it is interesting that they have also appeared in a number of independent films, including Everything Is Illuminated. It's music unlike most music out there these days, thus the unique feel I went to the set without and left the set feeling.
EOTO consists of Michael Travis and Jason Hann. The duo strive on improvised electronic sets, diving into many of the sub-genres of electronic (dubstep/breakbeat/house/d&b/trip-hop). They have found a way to incorporate electronic music into live instrument sets, playing drums, guitar, vocals, etc. It was a phenomenal set to hear them explore music in a way I'd never seen before. Improvised music-making is the most intriguing kind of music, and to keep the crowd dancing like they did is quite the feat.
Zeds Dead formed in 2004 as Mass Productions (consists of two electronic genius': Hooks and DC). Their set at this festival was spot on with what I was anticipating. Heavy drops, stellar remixes, and an entertaining crowd. The LED hula hoops throughout the crowd co-existed with the lights coming from the stage. We cover this electronic duo often on our blog, so I won't go into much detail. All I will say is that they exceeded my expectations with their live set and I would definitely see them again.
Wick-it The Instigator is another DJ that did not fail to impress with his live set. One of the downsides of some of the electronic artist sets at this festival was the location of them. His set was in the "Vibetent", which was enclosed, smaller than most, and hot as hell. The temperature outside was 90 degrees plus, and inside the tent it was at least fifteen degrees more. I couldn't catch the entirety of his set in fear of passing out, but from what I experienced of his set, he is talented to say the least. With his roots firmly planted in the hip-hop genre, he sampled several known pop-culture beats, mashed them with heavy bass-lines, and his energy was contagious. The entertainment that stemmed from his sampling, sick drops, and performance speaks to his success in the future.
Gigantic Underground Conspiracy was one of my favorite sets of the festival. I was bummed out that the set was while the sun was out, because I wasn't able to rage and dance as much in the heat as I would have been able to at night. Gigantic Underground Conspiracy is the combination of four powerful musical forces: The Disco Biscuits' Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner, Big Gigantic's Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken, Conspirator's Chris Michetti, and Underground Orchestra's Ben Baruch. If there was a musical equation for an electronic/live music phenomenon, the combination of the four should be it. The ground was shaking, sweat everywhere from uncontrollable dancing, and the talent up on that stage could be felt across the festival grounds. Again, I wish they played their set at night. I can only hope to catch these four together on stage another time in my life; it truly was amazing.
Rebelution blew my mind. It was a day-set and the vibe of the show could not have blended better with the mood I was in. Rebelution is a 5-man reggae band from Santa Barbara, California. They've been together for eight years, and it seemed to me as if they had been playing together for decades. They had a huge crowd for a day-show, and although the heat was almost too much to bear, it was impossible to stand still. Their set was relaxing in sound, and I remember thinking to myself "I've never met one person in my entire life who doesn't like reggae music". They have done a phenomenal job at exemplifying everything that reggae music stands for and should be.
Future Rock was an absolute blast. It was Saturday night and the lights from the show (alongside the lights within the crowd) were so aligned with my mood, I could have listened to them all night. I found myself dancing without consciously making myself dance (which I normally have to do). Their hometown being in Chicago, I plan to catch more sets in the future. Their music encompasses drifting elements of Krautrock and space rock to rhythmic textures that reference Motorik, funk and four-on-the-floor disco. It's undeniably catchy. Their light show was truly as good as their music, which always makes for a great set.
Gramatik's set was nothing short of a rave. It was an absolute blast to watch. Unfortunately, as with Wick-It's set, it was inside the enclosed tent, making it nearly impossible to stick around for the entire thing. In checking out his live set, I came to realize that his "Good Evening, Mr. Hitchcock" track has a lot less energy than what he mixed live. His music was upbeat, bass-filled, and while there were moments where his music was a bit on the ambient side, it was more upbeat than I had anticipated. Because his music helped deem my 4/20 this year successful, I had to check him out. I was not dissatisfied, I just wish that I could have handled the 110 degree heat inside the tent he was playing in.
araabMuzik was intriguing to me. He had a "hypeman" who hyped up the crowd throughout his set, and he thanked the crowd when the set was over. araabMuzik, himself, never spoke. That said (or lack thereof), he was one of the most talented electronic artists I've seen to date. Where most electronic artists have pre-made beats they play throughout their set, araabMuzik came with his MPC drum machine, speakers, and that was it. He created the beats and instrumentals live, and the pace at which he moved his fingers seemed unhuman like. While people were dancing like crazy in the crowd, I found myself more in awe with his fingers and how insanely fast he was able to move them. To create danceable beats that fast, off the top of your head, for an hour straight, is truly the epitome of talent in my opinion. It was clear how talented he is, and he is bound for big things in the music industry with that much of it.
Cornmeal was one of the first bands I had the opportunity to catch at the festival. Cornmeal formed over ten years ago, and is a roots and bluegrass jamband from Chicago. The band is consisted of five members, and truly encompasses the sound of more than that. They had an energy about them that had almost everyone in the crowd dancing, singing, and smiling. The fiddle player, Allie Kral, stood out to me the most throughout the set. She can work a fiddle like no other person I've ever seen play live. The vibe of the performance was overall fun, inspiring, and beautiful. It was an amazing experience to observe all of the people in the crowd truly connected to the music being played. "Hoopers" (people I'd deem as professionals at hula-hooping) turned their LED lights on throughout the set and provided everyone with a light-show to coincide with Cornmeal's vibe. It was truly an incredible performance to be a part of.
There were quite a few bands that were at Summer Camp Music Festival that I had the opportunity to see, but if I continue to type, my hands may fall off. Some of the sets I caught not mentioned above: Pretty Lights, Yonder Mountain String Band, Jane's Addiction, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Common, Gov't Mule, 12th Planet, and Galactic. All of which, were nothing short of phenomenal. Overall, this past weekend was an epic one in regards to music, lights, and an overall experience. If you haven't heard of this festival, I urge you to check it out next year. Summer Camp is unique in culture, music selection, and overall energy. I will be attending next year, and you should too. Even if you're coming from as far a 20-hour drive away, it's well-worth it, and people do it because it's just that wonderful.
I'll leave you with a couple of tracks from artists at the festival: