Back in 2004, I skipped my senior prom to go to my first ever Summer Camp. The festival became my home away from home every Memorial Day weekend through college until I moved to China to teach English after graduation. Fast forward to 2016, and I brought my wife to her first ever SCamp. The next year, I joined the Camp Counselor squad. As you may have guessed by now, this festival is just a little important to me. Fifteen years after my first trip, I’m happy to say that 2019 was my best Summer Camp yet!
The Summer Camp That Almost Didn’t Happen
For the past couple of years, my wife and I have been doing the digital nomad thing traveling and working online. We’ve used Puerto Vallarta, Mexico as our temporary homebase for half of the year, primarily because it’s a relatively easy place to travel back to the US from.
Since I have so many friends and even a cousin in Chicago, the last few SCamps have been a breeze thanks to them. We would just fly into Chicago and GITV (Get in the Van for you non-UM fans) and they had all the gear ready. You can imagine my disappointment this year when our entire Chitown crew fell through. Weak sauce, guys!
Our crew from last year. None of them made it this year!
It was looking like we would have to buy all the necessary gear just for the weekend and either pay for the shuttle or a rental car. Adding in the cost of flights, that would make for one very expensive SCamp. We started to try and come to terms with the fact that we might have to sit this year out. Then we saw that final lineup. Then we saw the Red Barn schedule. There was no way we were missing out!
As one does when they’re in a jam, I turned to my friends. I put up a post on Facebook to see if anyone was going to Summer Camp and could maybe help us out in our quest to rage. An old friend from my Umphrey’s touring days reached out and said he was driving from Michigan, could meet us outside of Chicago, and even had gear we could borrow. Score!
Not bad for a borrowed set up!
Just like that, we were headed back to SCamp for the 4th year in a row…
Take that, Weatherman!
There’s no denying the unpredictability of the weather in the Midwest in May. Summer Camp might be a scorcher like 2018, or it might be a mud pit like 2013. Hell, you might even have some tornadoes roll around nearby like 2004! It’s always an adventure when it comes to the weather over Memorial Day weekend in Central Illinois…
In the days leading up to the festival, the forecast started to take a turn for the worst. It called for rain and storms for all four days of the fest, leading many to panic. We don’t mind the rain at Summer Camp, as it keeps the dust down and leads to some pretty epic rainbows, so we tried to remain optimistic.
And it’s a beautiful day in Chillicothe!
While we got a little rain this year and a few sets had to get axed as a result, I think this was one of the best years I’ve ever had at Summer Camp weather-wise. It wasn’t too hot, there was barely any dust, and there was just enough mud to be entertaining (I’m looking at you, guys mud wrestling during Yonder!) but not ruin the weekend.
I always joke around that a weatherman is the only job where you can consistently be wrong and suffer no consequences. Well, I sure am glad that the weatherman was off on this one! We ended up having a beautiful weekend at Three Sisters Park this year.
Old Favorites and New Discoveries
Before the Summer Camp lineup even comes out, I know one thing’s for sure – I’m going to see a bunch of my favorite bands and come away with a few new ones. I go into the festival pumped to see Umph, moe., STS9, Lotus, and all my other fave jambands, and then I get home with a treasure trove of new artists to add to my Spotify.
Such a treat to see Axe the Cables!
Kicking things off on Thursday for us was the STS9 Axe the Cables set. I had caught a bit of this set at Hulaween last fall, but my wife missed the whole thing setting up camp. She’s an OG, crystal-loving Sound Tribe kid, so she was super bummed. Finally getting to see them Axe the Cables together was a major highlight of the weekend for us, and their Friday night set was a rager as well.
Speaking of Friday night, how about Umphrey’s Mc-freaking-Gee?! They’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of their legendary “Anchor Drops” album this year, and they went ahead and dropped the anchor on us by playing the album in its entirety!
Back when this album came out, I was just getting into UM. I was a freshman in college and was skipping class left and right to drive to places like the Canopy Club and the Orpheum to see them play. Basically, “Anchor Drops” was the soundtrack to my college years. And damn is it a good one! I can’t wait to go back and re-listen to this set, as they absolutely nailed it.
I’m definitely a Spaffnerd now.
Ever since the first time I saw them a few years ago, I’ve been on a huge Spafford kick. These guys are killing it and get better with each set. Putting them on the Campfire Stage from 2-4AM on Thursday night was a great call. They took that late night torch and ran with it, and then came back out the next day to play another awesome set to the sun-drenched masses.
Lotus dance party on Sunday night.
Playing the last set on the Sunshine Stage on Sunday is quite the honor, and one not to be taken lightly. I remember two years ago when the Disco Biscuits about burned the place to the ground. Lotus stepped into that slot this year and they tore the place down with a set that left us speechless.
Here Come the mUMmies
When I saw that Here Come the Mummies were going to be in the Red Barn after UM, I knew we were in for a good time. I love the story of this band and how they formed, and I had been hearing great things about them for years. Their Red Barn set was a ton of fun, and seeing them sit in with bands like UM and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was one of the best parts of the weekend.
Speaking of Pigeons, I first caught these guys last year at SCamp for a few tunes. I’m not gonna lie – I almost wanted to dislike them because of their goofy name and pajama pants. Just like actual pigeons, though, these pesky guys refused to go away. I kept hearing their name from friends and they kept popping up on my Spotify. I’m happy to say that I’m now a proud member of “The Flock” and that I got my fill of some Pigeons this weekend. They absolutely crushed their Red Barn set and their duel show with moe.
When Gumby sits in, you know it’s gonna be good!
By far my favorite discovery of the weekend was the man, the myth, the legend – Andy Frasco. I had heard some other Camp Counselors talk about him and how fun his shows are, but I had never seen or heard him. We rocked up to the Campfire Stage on Sunday afternoon to find him dancing on stage with Gumby, jumping in the crowd to do dabs, and leading us on a Bar Mitzvah-themed dance party. That was the show of the weekend if you ask me!
Welcome back, Pnuma!
One band that was both new and old at the same time for us was Pnuma Live. We saw tons of Pnuma Trio shows back in the day and were sad to see them hang it up about a decade ago. It was awesome seeing them back on stage, especially with the psychedelic jellyfish out in the crowd!
You’re Never Alone at SCamp
When we realized that most of our crew was bailing this year, we were a little bummed to say the least. We’re used to raging festivals with a group of friends and weren’t sure how it would be going to Summer Camp on our own. As it turns out, you’re never alone at SCamp!
First of all, let me take a minute to talk about the Camp Counselor squad. What an amazing, inspiring, downright kickass group of people! I only get to see these guys once a year, but they all feel like lifelong friends already. It’s an honor being a part of this group, and I had such a good time getting to spend some more time getting to know everyone.
It didn’t take us long to start bumping into people we know at Summer Camp. It seemed like every show we went to, we ran into another friend. Hugs were shared, high fives were given, beers were cracked, and smiles were contagious.
Hanging out with our good friend Watermelon Steve.
I just gotta say that I’m so proud of my friends and how far they’ve come. One of my buddies was helping to run the Starshine stage. Another one traveled up from Georgia to work with Funk You. My friend who gave us a ride was working with team UM all weekend.
Another old homie used to play secret DJ sets at the campsite a decade ago. You now know him as Jason from Cherub, and I got to see him rock a French Disco Party set on top of the Good Bus. It’s such a good feeling seeing the hard work and dedication of my friends pay off. You guys are rockstars!
Jason Huber rocks the Good Bus.
Just as it is with the music, it’s also inevitable that you make new friends at SCamp. Our campsite was pretty bare-bones with just a tent and a few lawn chairs. Our awesome neighbors invited us in to use their easy-up, table, and coolers, and we had fun getting to know them all weekend.
A few months ago, we were lucky enough to see Phish on the beach in Mexico. Imagine how stoked we were to run into one of our new friends from that trip at Summer Camp! She had traveled there from Louisville with a huge crew, and we all became friends instantly. It really is amazing how much the music brings us all together.
So Much More than Music
When people ask what Summer Camp is, the go-to response is “It’s a music festival!” Of course that’s true, but SCamp is so much more than just music.
Purple Team won a hard-fought tug-of-war.
Over the weekend, I got to be a part of the hilarious Field Day activities. Not as a participant, but as a casual observer. I got to witness Yellow Team come back from being down 6-1 to win at dodgeball and proceed to have a mustard-soaked celebration. You would have thought these guys won the Super Bowl with how excited they were!
Making a difference at SCamp.
One thing I love about Summer Camp is how much the festival strives to make a positive impact. We visited most of the non-profit booths to get to know what they were up to. HeadCount was there registering people to vote. Amnesty International had several petitions for people to sign. The Yodeladies were there promoting a friendly and safe environment for women at shows. It’s awesome to see all the great things people are doing with their time at Summer Camp.
Taking a walk through the SOULPATCH.
On your walk in and out of the Moonshine Stage, you probably noticed a beautiful little garden. Did you know that it’s actually there year-round? The SOULPATCH is one of the coolest initiatives that Summer Camp has going on. I interviewed them last month for the blog, so definitely check that out and support them.
Looking Forward to #20
It’s hard to believe that our little music festival is turning 20 next year, and in 2020 no less! I honestly think 2019 was my best SCamp next year, but I already know next year is going to top it. I’m sure Summer Camp is going to pull out all the stops to celebrate such a milestone anniversary, and I can’t wait!
We finally made it to the Cosmic Village!
I’m back in Mexico now and have spent the last few days looking back through my pictures and videos. I’ve had a giant smile plastered across my face the whole time. Some say Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, but if you ask me, it’s really Summer Camp! See you guys next year for #20 in 2020!