The Kickoff of Summer Festival Season
A Caribbean-hot weekend at the Summer Camp Music Festival kicks off summer festival season. Photo slideshow and recap by Angela Morgan.
Memorial Day weekend is typically either cool and rainy or Caribbean-hot. At this year’s Summer Camp Music Festival in Central Illinois, it was Caribbean-hot but no one seemed to mind. Nearly 25,000 people of all ages traveled from all over the country to Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, Ill. this past weekend to celebrate the kickoff of Summer Festival Season.
From its humble roots, Summer Camp has turned into a nationally acclaimed music festival that continues to keep the quality and intimacy of years past. When it debuted in 2001, around 20 bands performed. This year the festival hosted more than 100 bands on seven stages over four days.
There were food stands galore, beverage tents, numerous unique vendors, plenty of port-o-potties, Festi-Cab shuttles, shower trailers, ATMs, and whatever those attending the festival sell themselves. Several pop-up shops were all around the camping areas with everything from handmade clothing, artwork, food, and even massage and Reiki treatments. Activities were available for all ages including activism and music education workshops, sustainable living information, crafts, kids activities for the wee ones, and live artists throughout the grounds. A complete little village it was.
There was no ocean to cool off in, but the festival did a good job with keeping ice available and free water flowing throughout the grounds. Squirt guns and battery-powered fans were a necessity, as was finding a little shade for breaks. When music begins at 11 a.m. and continues most nights until 4 a.m., you have to know how to pace yourself on this musical marathon.
Music at Summer Camp is an eclectic mix that touches on all genres, including jam bands, bluegrass, blues, electronic dance music, hip-hop and reggae.
Thursday was the day set up for early arrivals to the fest and a smaller number of bands performed. Friday was the first full day of music on all stages with Gogol Bordello, Umphrey’s McGee, Primus and Lotus as headliners. Saturday brought bands like Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Kids These Days, Orgone, Common, Rebelution, ALO, The Ragbirds, Gov’t Mule, Umphrey’s and moe.
JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound gave a high energy, soulful James Brown-kind of show to the festival, even performing an upbeat, hand-clapping version of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Do not miss them when they play Jazz in the Park in Milwaukee this summer.
Kids These Days instantly recruited a new fan base with their impressive eclectic show that brought a horn section and sultry vocals via Macie Stewart over their live hip-hop instrumentation – which they call Traphouse Rock. Orgone is an Los Angeles-based funk band that has been on tour almost non-stop since 2010; they’re a Booker T. and the MG’s for the next generation, as they are consistently being called for backing band studio sessions.
Gov’t Mule was formed as an Allman Brothers Band side project by Warren Haynes and Allan Woody 15 years ago as a way to show their love for 60s power trios like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and The James Gang. Mule is now a staple of the festival circuit bringing original tunes and keeping the classic music of the 60s and 70s alive.
The final day of the festival was the hottest yet (96 degrees in the shade) and the music was just as hot. Umphrey’s, moe., Hot Buttered Rum, Yonder Mountain String Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Caravan of Thieves, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Pretty Lights and Jane’s Addiction all helped to close out the festival.
Caravan of Thieves played a gypsy-fused style of swinging folk music that is very catchy and entertaining. It may start out as the tune “You Are My Sunshine,” but after a few bars, it turns into a very dark tale. The bluegrass jam came in the afternoon with shows from Hot Buttered Rum and Yonder Mountain. The dust cloud grew as the sets sent the entire crowd into stomping and clapping mode.
The award for the most crowd involvement in a set would go to Michael Franti and Spearhead. From the moment they stepped onto the stage, Franti had the crown singing along, brought fans on stage and even jumped into the audience to sing a few times. Their fun-yet-thoughtful live performances will make you smile, think a little deeper and remind you to enjoy every day of your life.
Summer Festivals are such a great means to discover countless new music and truly is some of the best people-watching you’ll ever experience. If you go next year, don’t forget your hula hoops, glow sticks and an open mind to be introduced to so many amazing new bands and talented musicians.
The hot, humid and windy conditions turned everyone into little dust bunnies on the dry plain over the holiday weekend, but no one seemed to care. It was all about the music, and celebrating the beginning of Summer.