Summer Camp Music Festival for many of us is a homecoming of sorts. It’s a reminder of where we came from. It’s a blast of excitement sprinkled with oodles of nostalgia for years long gone. Summer Camp is like a warm blanket on momma’s lap and we all get to sit down for spell and soak up the love. This year would mark my 11th trek to Chillicothe for the festivities and my sixth year working as a Camp Counselor. While the festival itself has grown by leaps and bounds it still maintains the vibe that hooked me all those years ago. Summer Camp at it’s core is a community of music fans who love to camp in the woods and see all of their favorite performers in one locale. Each year the producers of Summer Camp up the ante by inviting diverse and popular acts to play on one of the seven stages scattered around Three Sisters Park. This year headliners like Run The Jewels, Trey Anastasio Band, Primus & Waka Flocka drew thousands of die-hard fans to the fest. This is no longer just a moe. and Umphrey’s throw down this a full-blown immersive experience with surprise performances, art installations, carnival rides, top-notch food vendors and more. 2017 would be one for the books, let’s dig a little deeper.
Getting There > Thursday
Traveling with camping gear from Colorado is always a challenge. I knew when my bag scaled in at 49 lbs I was already winning. After a night in the Chicago burbs I headed down to the fest late in the afternoon of Wednesday. It has become a Camp Counselor tradition to gather for a potluck the night before it all goes down. It’s just one more reason that being a Camp Counselor is the bee’s knees. After a good night’s rest and a relocation to the VIP woods on the hill we were ready for some shenanigans. This was the first time since we met that I didn’t bring my wife with me to Summer Camp. She stayed at home with our toddler meaning I had no real anchor all weekend. As such I floated around a lot more than I would have with a proper crew. Much of the weekend was spent wandering from stage to stage, camera in hand, soaking up as much music as humanly possible. Here are some quick stats over the course of the 5 days I was on site I walked 77 miles, took 2200 photos, shot three hours of video, drank countless beers and met many many people. By early afternoon on Thursday I was chomping at the bit to see some live music so I got my festival started with Armchair Boogie. This four-piece haling from Stevens Point, Wisconsin are a breath of fresh bluegrass-y goodness. The authentic vocals meshed with the solid picking for a fun experience. I floated over to the Starshine Stage for the reggae/rock outfit Rude Punch. These guys had explosive energy and a positive vibration.
Soon it was time for Fort Collins’ Krushendo in the Vibe Tent. Krushendo was the winner of the Summer Camp On The Road Tour at the Aggie Theater. His high-impact bass heavy beats drew a decent crowd in the spacious tent. Summer Camp vets Family Groove Company put on their traditional Thursday afternoon set. They treated fans to a rowdy version of Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself” with the talented Ms. Janis Wallin slapping the bass. On the Campfire stage the phenom Marcus King was putting his band through their paces. His latest album was produced by Warren Haynes and feature’s his slide guitar work on the track “Virginia.” King displays a craftsmanship in both his songwriting and guitar playing that is well beyond his years. King’s performance at Summer Camp was well attended and well received. Twiddle, the savior of jam, took us all on a musical journey. Highlights from their set included “Blunderbuss” and “Jamflowman.”
The rest of the night was split between up and coming jammers Spafford and Aqueous. Both bands are tearing up the scene right now and both deserve your attention. I ended the night with a bit of Sun Stereo playing their classic “Fuck Em Up.”
This may have been one of the best Friday lineups on the books for Summer Camp Music Festival. The only thing to contend with was the weather. Each festival day begins with a Camp Counselor meet up and a look at the agenda for the day. I made it over to the VIP Tent soon after for a solo Keller Williams show that featured a fan pleasing “Gatecrashers Suck.” The VIP lineup this year was out of this world, but we’ll talk more about that when we get to Saturday.
It’s the Camp Counselors’ responsibility to introduce moe.’s first set each year and this time around it was CC Eric’s turn. Seventeen Camp Counselors lined up backstage and as we readied ourselves to do the deed. Moments later, the stage manager emerged to tell us all we were on a weather hold. We retreated to the lounge area under the tent as the rains swept past. It only took about an hour and three beers to get through the storm. The final result was moe.’s set was axed in order to get ready for Mike Gordon. It was as this point that I saw one of the most ingenious festival moves ever attempted. The water sat in large puddles in front of the Moonshine Stage. Ian called up all of the port-o-potty trucks to the stage where they proceeded to suck up all of the excess water. It was a stroke of festival brilliance that saved the set and kept the Moonshine stage from turning into a mud pit.
As security gave the all clear, fans rushed to the rail for the Mike Gordon Band. His set featured all original material except the Max Creek cover “Jones” which appeared late in the show. “Let’s Go” and “Tiny Little World” were also impressive. Gordon has such an amazing band including Robert Walter on keys and long time collaborator Scott Murawski on guitar. Fresh off the heals of their debut album Keller Williams’
KWatro took to the Sunshine stage. This groovyfour-piece takes the Keller musical flow of consciousness to a more composed place. They proceeded with a tight version of “Breathe.” Around this time I got a push notification via the Summer Camp App that members of moe. and Twiddle would be performing in the merch tent. So I hightailed it over to catch a unique bit of collaboration. Vinnie, Al, and Chuck teamed up with Twiddle’s Zdenek Gubb and Brook Jordan for four songs that put everyone in a good mood. Lacking any amplification this newly formed super group treated us to Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up,” The Beatles’ “Rocky Racoon” and even a Vinnie-sung rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “A Friend Of The Devil.” They closed it down with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
After checking out the Henhouse Prowlers for a few songs randomly in the Soulshine tent I sauntered on to the Lennon-Claypool Delirium. They opened with Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” before going into a slew of originals. This band is unique and it was an absolute treat to see them at Summer Camp. Their set contained a few more surprises in the form of The Who’s “Boris The Spider” and the set-closing Beatles cover, “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Umphrey’s McGee owns Friday at Summer Camp. They wasted no time on the first of their two sets by opening the night with “There’s No Crying in Mexico” into “40’s Theme.” Their second set was fiery and included the fan favorite “In The Kitchen.” By this point there was a massive track of mud in the middle of the field at Sunshine. This area would be a huge No Man’s Land where a few mud people found a home throughout the weekend. It made for interesting sight lines and some random drama involving an inflatable duck. They encored with a pair of Pink Floyd tunes “In The Flesh” into “Another Brick In the Wall.”
Between Umphrey’s sets I headed back to the Moonshine stage for the much anticipated Primus show. Fans chanted “Primus Sucks” as the band took the stage. They went into an epic version of “American Life” which woke up the rain-weary fans. As an homage to the weather Primus played a rare “My Name Is Mud.”
I caught bit of Twiddle’s second and final set of the weekend before venturing over to the pit for Run For The Jewels. There are several acts that I caught from a purely anthropological point of view. When will I have the chance to shoot Run The Jewels again? Never, that’s when. They were energetic and the crowd was lively. Many in the audience sang along to Killer Mike and El-P as they went though track after track. It was interesting and their stage presence definitely commanded attention. I headed over to the Red Barn for some Matt Butler conducted moe. before calling it a night.
There is no singular better way to wake up at Summer Camp than with the Bloodies and Mimosas set in the VIP Lounge lead by Van Ghost’s Chris Gelbuda. The guy is a musical encyclopedia, as I entered the lounge the notes of Phish’s “Ya Mar” could be heard drifting out of the entrance. He went into a song entitled “King of the Lot” to the tune of “King of the Road” and it was perfect. (Chris release this tune ASAP.)
As I was heading down to VIP I noticed a Cyclone Sargent dressed in all the regalia that that name implies getting ready to grill up some good looking pork. As I headed back up to camp afterward I was greeted by the most amazing pork chop served to me like a lollipop with a napkin on the bone. The man looked at me with a smile and said, “Careful it’s the first one off the grill.” I took my bounty back to camp and devoured it quickly. It was the singular best thing I ate all weekend. I don’t always trust random food from strangers but when I do it’s from the Cyclone Sargent!
After meeting with the Camp Counselors I headed over to the Field Day festivities. For those that don’t know Field Day is a Summer Camp’s version of a Color Wars where attendees compete in various challenges including tug-o-war, twister, dodgeball, a Summer Camp-themed trivia contest and more. For all but one year since it’s inception the Red Team has dominated Field Day. This year we saw a huge turnout for the Purple team, but ultimately it would be Blue that came out victorious. Congrats Blue Team.
The VIP Lounge gets better and better each year. This time around we saw many of the major supporting acts taking a turn in the shade. The spacious lounge was rejiggered in order to create better flow in and out as well as easier access to the booze. The perimeter of the floor is dotted with couches, chairs, tables, and cushions to ease road-weary legs. The lineup was really ridiculous too. Saturday featured two interlocking VIP and main stage sets between The Infamous Stringdusters and The Wood Brothers. It was a good day.
The Stringdusters put on two solid sets of music including a rousing rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Not Fade Away.” On Moonshine they treated us to “Colorado” which always makes me feel good. I took a few minutes to head up and check out Summer Camp favorites Zmick. They are a progressive rock outfit hailing from Chicago and they are worth checking out. They shredded for an hour or so before retreating back to the shade. Somewhere in the middle of the madness I caught a bit of Kyle Hollingsworth Band in the VIP as well. He never disappoints.
Back at the Wood Brothers on the Moonshine stage I found myself standing in the crowd just soaking in the beauty of Oliver Wood’s voice. He performed “Muse” which made me think of my wife and my son and how much I missed them at that precise moment. I wiped away a tear as I made my way backstage for a beer and to ponder my life. By this point in the day many had heard of the passing of Gregg Allman. The Wood Brothers even went into “Midnight Rider” which would be played multiple times throughout the weekend.
“I don’t do a lot of talking at our shows… it’s a sad day for us… and music fans worldwide. We’re going to celebrate together.” -Warren Haynes
Gov’t Mule proceeded to open up with the Allman Brothers deep cut “Dreams” with Chuck, Vinnie, and Jim joining in. This set truly was a beautiful moment of reflection in the madness of Summer Camp. Eventually Al along with Andy and Kris from Umphrey’s would sit in on a scorching version of “Whipping Post.” I headed over to Sunshine for some distraction with The Pretty Lights Live Band. Derek hails from Colorado so it’s pretty incredible to see how far he has come . By all fan accounts this set in conjunction with his three hour DJ set in the barn was a beautiful culmination and display of his entire career.
Typical to Saturday, fans were treated to double decker sets from moe. and Umphrey’s McGee. Umphrey’s continues to play at the top of their game. They are musical madmen with a predilection for the dark and dirty jams. Their two sets on Saturday featured a boatload of classic tunes making fans very happy. Highlights included “Wappy Sprayberry” and a set closing “Ringo.” In the second set during “Cut Off ” the band went into a ridiculous version of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” to give a nod to Gregg. Moe. played equally well. Clad in all white they emerged for their first Moonshine set of the weekend ready to rage. “Kyle’s Song” was an early hit with the crowd. The invited out the Turkuaz horn section for a cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” as well as a set-closing “Happy Hour Hero.” Their second set was a “Meat”y affair. After opening with “Meat” they went back into it during “Seat Of My Pants” and the show-ending “Bullet.” They encored with The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” again inviting out members of Turkuaz. I walked my friends over to the Red Barn for a bit of Pretty Lights before calling it a night.
Sunday is always a bittersweet day at Summer Camp. The music reaches a feverish crescendo and then before you know it, it’s all over. I started the day again as everyone should in the VIP Lounge with Mr. Chris Gelbuda. Family Groove Company played a rare Sunday set much to the delight of their Chicago fans. After strolling through the park I decided to check out White Denim. This hipster rock outfit hails from Austin and just sounds like a good time. The small but dedicated crowd took turns shouting out requests and just generally chatting with the guys in between songs. They were a great way to start my Sunday on the Moonshine stage.
Yonder Mountain String Band was just getting ready to play VIP as I went to the bar for a beer. Ben went on a rant about how they play for normal people, but “…we prefer to play for important people whenever possible.” They took suggestions from the audience including one for a cover of the Misfits’ “Skulls.”
I raced over to Starshine to catch then end of the Pimps of Joytime set. This band as their name would imply are just a blast. High energy funk coupled with the impeccable vocals of Kim Dawson and Mayteana Morales. As I was heading out I noticed Electric Beethoven was chilling before their set. I went to say hi to Reed as I’ve had a chance to chat with him a few times over the years. Their manager inquired if I was the one who wrote up their show when they came through Fort Collins last November. I told him I was indeed the same person. “See, you get us man, you really get us.” That was perhaps the greatest compliment I have ever received from a band or their management about anything I’ve ever written, ever. All I ever really want is to “get it.” That’s sort of why I keep going to shows. The Electric Beethoven set at Summer Camp was 60 minutes of musical genius on display. Reed and company have done things to the music of Beethoven that give me hope for the future of music itself.
Back at Moonshine for Railroad Earth the band played sans Andy Goessling; they invited Matt Slocum to fill in on keys. They played well most notably during “Jupiter and the 119” and the first time played Allman Brothers cover “Jessica.” I caught the beginning of YMSB’s set, but opted to check out Staxx Recording Artists Southern Avenue on the Campfire stage. Anchored by sisters Tierinii Jackson on vocals and Tikyra Jackson on drums this soul-filled rock and roll band has it all. I was mesmerized not only by Tierinii’s vocal power, but the sheer tightness and energy of the band. Go check out Southern Avenue now.
The Umphrey’s Sunday afternoon set is always a good time. I truly enjoyed the mashup tune “Life During Exodus.” I was just sort of floating around when some other photogs told me they were heading to Moonshine for Waka Flocka. “Okay,” I said as I hopped on the back of the clandestine golf cart. I caught about ten minutes of Waka Flocka and for me, that was enough. After much anticipation it was time for the Trey Anastasio Band.
The previous two times that Trey played at Summer Camp he was hampered by the weather. This time we got two picture perfect sets full of TAB unencumbered by fear of the storm. Fans danced feverishly to the opening notes of “Gotta Jibboo.” The first set was spiked with heavy hitters including a spellbinding “Sand” as well as a sick version of Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel.” The whole team was on point especially Summer Camp veteran Jennifer Hartswick. She took the reigns on a stellar version of the Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood.” Additional highlights from set two included a perfect “Ocelot” and the set closing “First Tube.” TAB just fires on all cylinders. This particular lineup is a well-oiled machine and Trey orchestrates brilliantly. The rest of the night was all moe. It ended as it should with the band that started it all. The Disco Biscuits played on Sunshine but I was to busy soaking up the last moments I had with friends. Say what you want about the line or the mud or whatever, Summer Camp is a special place. I always arrive with a mission for coverage, but always along the way I am smitten by the beauty and wonder of it all. Inevitably on Sunday as we near the end, I find myself pushing it a little later, talking to friends a little longer and staying until the encore. I breathe it all in one last time like an addict giving up the ghost. Music is our church and Summer Camp is like our High Holy Jamboree. It’s always tough to get back in the car and drive back to real life, but it’s good to know that Summer Camp isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I’ve said it before, being a Camp Counselor is by far the best gig at the festival. It has given me the opportunity to do Summer Camp in a way that is really unique. With eleven years under my belt I can honestly say this party doesn’t get old. I’m counting the days until I’m hopping on the plane for number twelve. Until next year Scampers!