Review: Summer Camp Festival

By Justin Block

When I was looking at the forecast for Chillicothe, IL leading into this last weekend it was predicting “abundant sunshine,” which at the time sounded fantastic however a more accurate description would have been “abundant, never relenting sunshine with no hope for a single cloud, high temps just shy of 90, and summer like humidity with little to no breeze.” But I shouldn’t be complaining, despite the heat and blazing sun, the 10th anniversary of the Summer Camp Festival turned out to be a great time with lots of incredible music.

We pulled into Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe at 9:00 PM on Thursday but it took a little more than an hour to get our tickets from will call. However, that was more the fault of the people who show up to a festival without their receipt for their tickets, the credit card they used to purchase the tickets, and in one instance, without their driver’s license. Despite getting in late on Thursday we were able to catch some of the Macpodz and Dumpstaphunk in the barn. I had never heard of the Macpodz previously, so I had no plans to see them, but in the end I walked away glad that I caught their set. Dumstaphunk brought the funk and had whole the barn boogieing.

I woke up Friday morning at 7:00 thinking I was in Manchester, TN and little did I know then that Friday would end up being the “coolest” day of the weekend with each day getting progressively hotter. I tried pacing myself on Friday because the majority of the bands I wanted to catch were in the later afternoon and evening. The first highlight was catching the afternoon set of STS9 (they also played late in the barn). While I think STS9 is better at night and with lights, they sounded just as solid in the sunshine. Even though I’ve seen STS9 numerous times, I’m still amazed by the drumming and percussion of Zach Velmer and Jeffree Lerner. Next we headed over to Hood Internet which was my first time seeing them live and I’m already looking forward to catching them again. They create the perfect party music. Their eclectic taste in music had them mixing a wide variety of music from Lykke Li to the Talking Heads (awesome mix of Psycho Killer) to Weezer. My favorite of their set though was their mix of the Beastie’s “Shake Your Rumpa.” They ended their set with a slowed down version of the Dead’s “Casey Jones” which was quite the crowd pleaser. I also caught the second half of Gov’t Mule which was one those bands I wasn’t planning on catching but was very happy my friend talked me into going. Their cover of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” was probably the single best song I heard all weekend. They ended their set with a couple other great covers, playing the Dead’s “Loser” and the Stone’s “Wild Horses.” My night ended with catching the New Mastersounds and I loved every second. I admit I’m a little impartial to their jazz/funk sound but they lived up to my expectations and I made sure I also caught their Sunday set as well.

Saturday was a busy day and started out perfectly by catching the noon set of Rebelution who are out of Santa Cruz. Their reggae sound was a nice match to the abundant sunshine. California is churning out some great bands who play reggae with a Cali twist (i.e. Aggrolites and Slightly Stoopid). Next we caught ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) who played a good mix of old material and songs off their new album. They finished their set with the popular “Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down” with Zach Gill playing accordion. We then headed to Slightly Stoopid’s set which included horns that filled out their sound nicely. I don’t know if they are permanent members of the band as they weren’t with them the last time I saw Slightly Stoopid but they’re a nice addition and I hope they’re a part of their live act going forward. Then it was time for Pretty Lights which played my favorite set of the weekend. I apologize I don’t have any pictures of the set but this YouTube video from their Red Rocks show last year does a good job of capturing their sound, light show, and energy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mg3jqgenNk). I finished my night in the Vibes tight watching Ben Silver and Bethany Lokken of Orchard Lounge rock the house. There’s nothing like watching a whole tent of people getting down, although some had a little better rhythm than others. Their set attracted more and more people until the crowd was spilling out of the tent.

Sunday morning brought more hot sun, a gigantic headache, and some idiot blaring Ween’s “Voodoo Lady,” a song I enjoy but not at 7:00 AM. Apparently I wasn’t the only person annoyed as I got to overhear someone very clearly voice, or rather yell, their displeasure which caused the culprit to thankfully lower the volume. Despite the heat and headache we made it for Steez’s set at 11:00 AM and I was impressed by the number of people who made it out for the first set of the day. I spoke to a couple people who had no plans of catching their set but could hear their sound from their tents so they wandered over to the stage. I think this was the case of numerous other people as the crowd kept getting bigger and bigger the longer they played. Sunday ended up being my most enjoyable day of the weekend which was in part due to the Avett Brothers set. This was my first time catching them live and I couldn’t believe the high energy they brought. I got a kick out of watching an interaction of the group in front of us when they played “January Wedding.” As they started playing that song one guy turned around and said “I hate this song and I skip it on the cd everytime” while another guy in their group said “I love this song” which drew a look of clear disdain from the guy who just said he hates the song and it appeared he was re-evaluating their friendship based upon this news. They also brought out G Love for harmonica on a song and Scott admitted they’ve been big fans of his since day one. Next on our schedule was Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa and I was impressed by Dweezil’s band because while Frank is irreplaceable, they captured their sound perfectly, which is no easy task considering Frank’s arrangements.

My night then ended with two pleasant surprises, the first was seeing G Love & Special Sauce. I have seen him a handful of times previously but hadn’t in a good four years and I was impressed by how much he’s matured. I don’t know how long ago Special Sauce added Mark Boyce on keys but he is a great addition and really completes their sound. I know G Love has his detractors but there aren’t too many people who can play harmonica while playing lead guitar and at the same time play everything from traditional blues to hip hop to funk and even threw in some acoustic numbers. It made me also think of all the different bands I’ve seen G Love sit in with through the years which I think is a testament to his diversity in music as well as his musical prowess. Even though I was drained of nearly all energy come 11 PM on Sunday night, we caught the set by Chicago Farmer which was probably the biggest surprise of the weekend. I had previously never heard of him, but for a guy on acoustic guitar to get that many people dancing, I was highly impressed. I can see why he gets some comparisons to Dylan, which fair or unfair he’s a captivating solo performer similar to Dylan. He also played some great covers, “Loving Cup,” “Stuck in the Middle with You,” and “I Shall Be Released.” His original material was as exceptional as his covers and at times sounded as if they might be covers themselves. I became an instant fan and look forward to catching him in a Chicago bar in the near future.

While it was a weekend of wonderful live music and a ton O’ fun I do have some constructive criticism for the peeps that put on Summer Camp. First off, I would not give golf carts to everyone and their mother. I can understand security, police, medical, and even some of the staff needing carts but the most annoying thing of the weekend is when someone who clearly wasn’t in one the aforementioned groups honking the horn on his golf cart for you to get out of the walkway. It got to the point that if I was honked at to get out of the way and there wasn’t someone dying on the cart, I would just slow down my pace and refuse to move. Another suggestion would be to have more tents or places for shade because if you weren’t lucky enough to get a spot in the shaded woods, it was one hot weekend. Then there is the cleaning of the port-a-potties which was decent at times and at other times completely horrendous that I’m sure it was becoming a health issue. We camped right next to two bathroom trailers which in the men’s trailer had 3 stalls and 4 urinals and the women had 6 stalls. The trailers were just slightly better than the port-a-potties. However at about 7:00 PM on Sunday they completely closed one of the trailers and when my wife went to use the bathroom around 9:00 PM there was 2 inches of standing “liquid” and when she told someone on the staff, he simply said “I know but you can use another bathroom”. Nice advice, but the other closest option was literally over a half mile away.

All in all Summer Camp was highly enjoyable and I look forward to attending the festival again. My one piece of advice for anyone attending a festival this summer is to leave yourself a little room in your schedule to walk around and catch some bands you didn’t plan on seeing because some of my favorite and most memorable moments at festivals are catching bands I had no intention of seeing and end up blowing me away. More than anything though, just go see live music; it’s good for the soul!