Just like that, another edition of Summer Camp is in the books. They say time flies when you’re having fun, and that old adage sure rings true every Memorial Day weekend. In the blink of an eye, four days seem to blow right by. This year was the 18th edition of the Summer Camp Music Festival. It was my 7th overall, and 2nd in a row as one of your trusty Camp Counselors. Here’s a little recap of my weekend at Three Sisters Park:
Traveling to Summer Camp
SCampers come from far and wide to make it to the festival. These days, there’s even a massive crowd sleeping at the gates on Wednesday night. Props to you guys. I don’t know how you do that AND survive the long weekend.
As for this Camp Counselor, I once again made the trip up from my newfound home of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After working Wednesday morning and packing up, we caught two different 2.5-hour flights to get up to Chicago. We got a few hours of sleep on my cousin’s couch before hitting the road bright and early.
Once again, we set up our campsite near the Camping Stage in the good ole’ “W00kie Woods.” I even managed to convince someone to let me drive our rental car right up to the edge of the woods to make set-up that much easier. Score!
Most of the first day was spent running around trying to snap some photos and videos of all you crazy people getting into the festival. I like to try and cover a lot of ground on Day One when my batteries are charged, both in my cameras and in my body.
Of course, I also managed to catch a decent amount of music on Thursdsay. I love bouncing around the smaller stages and checking out new acts I’ve never heard of before. Without fail, you always leave SCamp with a few new favorites to check out. I was in the church getting my Camp Counselor credentials when I realized my friend Nate’s band Envy Alo was about to finish on the Camping Stage. I hustled over there to hear their last few tunes. These guys are from Boulder and they crush it! Definitely give them a listen.
The Starshine Stage had a great lineup on Thursday night starting with Crosseyed & Phishless. The Camp Counselor bosses – dat boi Matt on drums and Brad on guitar – are both in the band, so we had to get out and support them. Having missed their set last year due to exhaustion, I was stoked to groove to some of the best Phish cover covers out there.
Next up was Beats Antique, a band I really enjoy but had only seen once prior way back at All Good in 2011. They’ve come a long way since then and it was nice to see some of their newer tunes live with their amazing dancers as well.
The 1-2-3 punch finished up with Lettuce, who brought the funk as usual. I’ve managed to catch a lot of Lettuce sets over the past couple of years and they never disappoint. Sadly I couldn’t stay until the end, as I had to start making my way over to the Red Barn for the Umphrey’s McGee late night.
It was way back at my first SCamp in 2004 that I missed out on the UM Red Barn set thanks to the tornado warnings. Believe it not, there were no smartphones and no Summer Camp app back then to alert us that the show was actually going to go on, despite the park being evacuated earlier that day. 120+ UM shows later, and I’m still butt-hurt about missing that one.
As expected, the boys from UM delievered a solid set full of classics, new tunes, and plenty of improv. One of my favorite songs is “Haji,” so you know I was fist pumping like crazy when they busted that one out. Everyone loves a good “Let’s Dance” cover, which sent us all dancing out into the moonlight.
In between the late night acts, I stepped outside to do a little bluegrass jig to some Yonder Mountain String Band. That was pretty awesome having those guys play an extra set on the Campfire Stage. It just goes to show you how big of a day Thursday is at SCamp now.
Although I’m not the biggest NIN fan, I did manage to score tickets to catch them in Chicago this fall. How nice that there was a SCamp super group playing a tribute set to familiarize me with their catalog. My old buddy Jason from Cherub did an excellent job channeling his inner Trent Reznor, and he certainly had a kick ass band backing him up.
Friday started out with the Camp Counselor meeting in the church. While going to a meeting at a festival may sound lame, I actually really enjoyed the chance every day to talk to the fellow counselors and marketing staff. It’s also great to charge your batteries and soak up a bit of that A/C!
Last year was my first year as a Camp Counselor, and sadly a torrential downpour stopped us from introducing moe. The weather gods smiled upon us this year, as we made it out on the Moonshine Stage to welcome the perennial headliners. It was great to see Rob back on stage at SCamp after he kicked cancer’s ass in the last year. I even got in the pit for the first time ever to snap some photos of one of my favorite bands!
With Yonder up next, we just got comfortable at the Moonshine Stage. I took a little break to check out the vendors and snap some photos before Yonder hit the stage. Few bands out there are better for a daytime festy set than these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a disappointing Yonder set at a festival. Ditto for Lettuce, whose Sunshine Stage set we caught next.
Over the past few years, I’ve had several people tell me I needed to check out Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. I finally got my chance this year as I headed over to catch a bit of their set on Friday afternoon. The crowd up on the rail was rowdy as hell, so clearly these guys are doing something right. I enjoyed it and will definitely listen to them more going forward. Oh yeah, and how about that rainbow during this set?!
Friday night was a massive UM > Tipper > UM sandwich. The first Umph set was a solid one, featuring a dancey “Triple Wide” and topped off by a sit-in from the horn section of Lettuce. I had planned to leave early to get to Tipper, but you don’t walk away from that!
The Moonshine Stage was packed to the brim for Tipper. I walked into the set not knowing much about him, but felt like I had to check it out thanks to all the hype surrounding his set with the visuals. It was all sorts of weird up there. Gotta love SCamp on a Friday night! While I wasn’t quite sure how to dance, I was grooving by the end of the set and would definitely catch him again.
Coming down from that madness, we headed back to UM and set up a nice spot in the back. Thankfully their stage wasn’t a massive mud pit this year as it was in ’17. The second set was a good one, concluding with a return to the “All in Time” they had started in the first one. I love it when UM brings it full circle in their shows.
While I could have gotten into the barn for moe. that night, I decided to just wander around. Sometimes it’s nice when there’s not a must-see act on the schedule and you can just go out and take it all in. I checked out the new Pyramid Stage and thoroughly enjoyed the lazers coming off the Starshine Stage. My wife and I wandered through the woods taking in the wild scene back there. You haven’t SCamped until you get lost in the woods, people!
For Friday late-night fun, we checked out a bit of Aqueous on the Campfire Stage to start. I’ve been hearing good things about these guys, and they definitely brought the heat to their 2AM set. After a couple of songs, we bounced over to Pink Talking Fish. It’s hard not to like a band that covers three of your favorites, and I always enjoy their festival sets.
My plan all night was to stay up for sunrise kickball with Stasik, but by 5AM I was struggling to stay on my feet. One look at the packed schedule for Saturday, and I decided it was a better call to try and squeeze in a few hours of sleep before my tent became a sauna. As Stasik would say the next day, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” Seems like you crazy kids had fun out there, though. Kudos to all you wild folks who managed to stay up for that.
After our Saturday meeting, I got myself over to Sunshine to catch Spafford. Last year at SCamp was my first time seeing them, and they’ve become one of my favorite bands since then. Their unofficial slogan is “I’m killin’ it,” and that’s precisely what Spafford has been doing. If you haven’t caught these guys yet, do yourself a favor and head to a show near you. Their Saturday set was pretty chill, which was definitely welcome in the searing afternoon heat.
From Spafford, I headed over to check out some of the field day activities. Watching the teams play a massive game of twister was pretty damn entertaining. It was a big, tangled, sweaty mess of hippies and it was great. Although I didn’t participate this year, I’m Purple Team for life! I joined the purple squad at Camp Bisco back in 2007 and have done several color wars/field days with them over the years. Of course, Purple Team took home the gold this year at SCamp. I highly recommend signing up for a team next year, as you’ll make new friends and possibly win a pizza and beer party.
One of the best parts about SCamp is reconnecting with old friends. My best bud who I’ve known since we were five made his way to his first Summer Camp this year as he works for Lagunitas in Chicago. You know we had to make it up to their 4:20 Happy Hour in the Soulshine Tent to grab some of their delicious beers. Good beer always tastes better when it’s free! Chicago-area band Lunar Ticks was playing in there as well, and they delivered an on-point Rush cover that had the crowd rocking.
From there our crew headed over the The Main Squeeze. They were one of the acts my wife was most looking forward to seeing, and they did not disappoint. I’d love to catch them in concert and see a full set one of these days. I had to bow out a bit early this time around so I could finally see the guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer. This kid is absolutely amazing and I think the sky is the limit for him.
Our evening kicked off with Cypress Hill. It sure was foggy up there at the Moonshine Stage and it smelled like there was a skunk running around the place. I wonder what that was? I remember blasting all those Cypress Hill songs with my buddies back in the day, so that was a nice bit of nostalgia seeing their set live.
In case you didn’t notice, there was a bit of a hip hop theme on Saturday, with Action Bronson also performing a set and several acts hitting the Soulshine Tent that night. I dropped in there to see a bit of Truth aka Trouble. The group consisted of the rapper along with a DJ and a guitarist and it was damn good. It’s cool to see SCamp expanding to even more genres each and every year. I’m a jamband kid (as if that wasn’t already obvious), but I love catching new bluegrass, electronic, folk, and now hip hop when I come to Three Sisters Park.
Saturday night was a huge one, as our group attempted to pull off the STS9 > moe. > Umph > moe. > Umph marathon. With a big crew, we were able to carry our chairs, some sarongs, and a couple of coolers full of beer between the stages. We also made sure there were always a few full jugs of water. Hydration is happiness, as Brendan Bayliss once told us.
STS9 is one of my favorite bands, and I don’t get to see them that much these days. They’ve been on fire since Alana joined them on bass. I’ve particularly enjoyed their recent Wave Spell releases where they just jam on some old school Sound Tribe improv. Be sure to check those out if you haven’t already. Oh yeah and we can’t talk about that show without mentioning that sunset! What a beautiful Summer Camp moment that was.
There are some variables that change year to year at Summer Camp. You may get a dust bowl, or you may end up in a mud pit. One constant, though, is moe.’s Saturday night set. No matter what’s going on at the other stages, I always try to get over to Moonshine for the second set of moe. They always bring the heat on Saturday night, and this year was no different.
With so many great acts at SCamp these days, you’re bound to have to make some tough choices. Saturday night was the hardest for me – whether to go into Tribe’s Red Barn set or stick around for UM. After a long day, I opted to stay put with my nice chair and cooler full of ice cold Lagunitas. Umph’s cover of “1999” by Prince made my night and was a highlight of the whole weekend. My wife and a friend got into the barn and said Tribe threw down a heater of a set as well. Everyone in our group seemed happy with their decision and that’s all that matters.
Sunday started out with warnings of record-setting heat. As such, I stuck around the church for a little longer after the meeting to enjoy as much air con as possible before sweating all day. Before we knew it, it was time for the final set of UM. I got to hang out with some old touring friends up at the soundboard for a while and see one of my favorite covers – “Africa” by Toto – in one 90-minute set.
After UM, I had to get back to camp to find some shade and chug some coconut water. You know this Michigan boy still had to make it up there for the Greensky Bluegrass set, though. These guys have come such a long way and they deserve all the success. It was hot as balls up at their set, but the crowd was still getting down thanks to spray bottles and water guns.
That intense sun and heat was starting to take a toll on all of us, so we decided to take it easy for a while and save up energy for one last big night. With my newfound artist wristband, I decided to finally check out the VIP Lounge to catch some of Victor Wooten. It sure is nice in there and seems to be well worth the upgrade.
On the way out, I managed to catch the end of JJ Grey & Mofro. Major props to those guys for coming out on stage in full-on black suits. I have no idea how they did that with the sun beating down on them, but damn did they look and sound great!
I always listen to the Grateful Dead on Sundays, so it was great to see Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band make their way to Summer Camp for a 2-set show on the final day. Their original material sounds great, and of course they treated us to several Dead classics as well. Al from moe. sure got around this weekend, and his sit-in with Phil was one of the best.
One artist I discovered in the last year who I was really excited to see is Tycho. I’ve been listening to his stuff all the time, as it really helps me get in the zone when I’m doing video editing or writing. His music is so beautiful and relaxing, and it was amazing finally seeing them live. I guess they’re taking a break from the road to go record an album, so we can all look forward to some new tunes soon.
Although I wanted to catch Phil’s 2nd set, I had to pass in order to get backstage to do an interview with Cherub. I was still able to hear that “Shakedown Street” on my walk back over to Starshine, and it was smoking! I’ll have a whole post on my night with Cherub coming out soon, so you’ll just have to wait for the details on that. Let’s just say that the party was raging backstage and it kept going well into the wee hours of the morning. Their set was pretty awesome as well, including a sit-in with DJ Paul from Three Six Mafia and a couple of new tunes.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to any of moe. on Sunday night as a result of backstage shenanigans with Cherub. It looks like they delivered two killer sets, though. I almost walked back up there to catch the end of Set Two, but decided to go kick it with some friends instead. Living abroad, I don’t get to see my friends that often. Music festivals are about much more than just the music, and I love getting that quality time in with old friends in as well even if it means missing a hot set.
We closed out our SCamp in the VIP Lounge for the Cherub closing party. DJ Paul pouring Fireball shots down people’s throats and tossing beers out into the crowd really got the party going in there! This old man had to retire back to camp around 3:30 for a few hours of sleep, as I was gearing up for a month-long Eurotrip to get me to Russia for some World Cup games. You have to pick your battles, people. I’m happy to say that I’m writing this on a train from London to Amsterdam on Wednesday after SCamp and I actually don’t feel like shit. Woo hoo!
Lesson: Never, ever leave your bag unattended! Sadly, someone stole my wife’s bag at some point in the wee hours of Monday morning. She had her phone, ID, and credit cards in there, so we had to spend all of Monday dealing with that. We’re taking it as a lesson learned and you should, too…especially in the super early morning hours when there are nefarious characters wandering around. Even better, don’t carry your important stuff on you at all. Wear a money belt with a little cash, hook that wristband up to a credit card, and leave your phone locked in the car. The thief got nothing in the end but $7, a phone charger, and a cheap bag from Mexico, but we had to deal with a bunch of BS as a result. We’re not letting it ruin our festival, though, as this was one of the best SCamps ever.
Over the course of the weekend, I got to reconnect with some of my best friends. I also made a ton of new ones, from the Camp Counselor squad and from just wandering around talking to you beautiful people. Coming back to Summer Camp really feels like coming home to me now that I’ve lived out of the country for ten years, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Rage, Rest, Repeat. Until next time, SCampers!