This year’s Summer Camp Music Festival has once again proved itself as a one of the best music festivals in the United States. Over Memorial Day weekend, an estimated 15,000 people made the pilgrimage to the small town of Chillicothe, Illinois, for what can only be described as the experience of a life. Since 2001, Summer Camp has been one of the fastest growing festivals in the Midwest and this year was possibly the best one to date. Its seven stages and over 100 artists gave festival goers a non-stop feed of music with more options that one could wrap their head around. In the rare chance that those in attendance were not busy enjoying the music, there were countless other attractions to assure that they got the full experience.
There are numerous music festivals across the country with impressive lineups and exciting activates, but what sets Summer Camp apart is its blissful vibe. As soon as you enter the grounds of Three Sister’s Park, you are overtaken by a warm comforting sensation that starts deep in the stomach and radiates throughout your whole body. Being at Summer Camp felt like returning home after a long absence, which is something I have rarely said in my festival going career. I was in the parking lot for less than five minutes and a group of people approached me with hugs and greetings of smiles and gifts. It was as if everyone around was an old friend, all of them more excited to see you than the last.
Activities for Scampers were endless, ranging from a festival wide Treasure Hunt, to musical workshops with some of the top artists in the country. The Soulshine tent was home to most of the weekend’s many events. For those interested in lectures or other educational activities, there were classes and workshops focusing on Permaculture, Cob Building, Composting, Hula-Hooping, Sustainability, and Solar Energy. In the entertainment department, there were performances by members of LCD Soundsystem, Here Comes the Sun Stereo, Floodwood, and The Everyone Orchestra. There was also an art gallery with live art performances, daily raffles for charity, and a Non GMO March. Possibly the most exciting of all were the three carnival rides, supplying campers with non-stop thrills!
Though General Admission tickets only covered Friday to Sunday, Thursday was still an eventful night for those early comers. Starting off Summer Camp Music Festival 2014 was Soul Census, followed by a mix of folk and electronic music. The main events for the evening were Twiddle, Future Rock, The Ragbirds, Sun Stereo, and Upstate New York’s own, Floodwood. Floodwood is a folk/bluegrass band featuring Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico from moe.. For a fairly quiet first night, there was still plenty of fun to be had at Summer Camp.
The floodgates opened Friday morning as ecstatic festival-goers came from far and wide. By noon, Three Sisters Park was brimming with smiling faces and the music had only just begun; you could feel the excited anticipation in the air. moe.’s first set was nothing short of stunning. For over an hour and a half the quintet rocked their heavy jams to thousands of Scampers. With solos ranging from metal to psychedelic, this was perfect headliner to kick off the fest. More rocking jams were supplied by Umphrey’s McGee as they played the first two of their six sets. Umph Love was in abundance as the band exhibited their immense repertoire, including tracks off their soon to be released album, Similar Skin. Primus also reigned in a massive crowd for their one and only performance of the weekend. Les Claypool’s stellar bass playing was the foundation for the headliners unique funky yet dark sound. Besides moe., featured bands from the Upstate area were Jimkata and The Manhattan Project. Both bands are specialists in the electronic jam sector and represented NY well with their hot digital jams.
Saturday was again a perfect festival day, with sunny skies and warm weather. Like the previous day, moe. and Umphrey’s showed they were unstoppable, playing another two sets each! Other must-see performances for the day were Lotus, Devil Makes Three, Mike Dillon Band, and The Werks. Each band seemed to be as good if not better than the last, spreading love and good vibes throughout Summer Camp. With warm hearts and bright eyes all around, it was not hard to tell that everyone in attendance was having the time of their life. There to show the true talent of New York State were Floodwood, Break Science, and the very popular Big Leg Emma. Big Leg Emma played a diverse set of some of their original grassy jam mixed with covers including The Beatles’ Hey Jude.
When you thought it couldn’t get any better, the heat got turned way up on Sunday… literally. The temperature was near 90 degrees at Summer Camp as music lovers convened for one last day of immaculate tunes. Sunday was the biggest day of the weekend by far, bringing in over 1,000 more Scampers. The day was packed with big names of all genres. Groups such as Yonder Mountain String Band, The Wood Brothers, Bassnectar, Gramatik, and Lettuce were all on the line up for the last day. Zac Brown Band and Trey Anastasio Band also blessed Summer Camp with two sets each. And of course, to close things off, Umphrey’s McGee and moe. each played a set, joining together for a short epic jam session. The shining lights from New York State for the day were Turkuaz and Auto Body from Brooklyn. Dopapod and Aqueous illustrated Upstate’s talent, each playing an hour of psychedelic jam-rock.
An immense amount of work goes into putting on such a startlingly impressive gathering like Summer Camp Music Festival. Behind the scenes of all the fun, music, and art, was a volunteer staff of over 500 people who did everything from maintain a safe environment to sorting every single piece of trash generated by the immense crowd. Summer Camp’s Green Team was in charge of waste management at the festival, creating Earth friendly waste receptacles divided into trash, recyclables, and compost. All vendors also were required to use recyclable and compostable utensils and plates. Summer Camp is more than just a festival, it has become a movement for change and to bring awareness to important issues that affect us all. There was also a great amount of Non-Profit activity as well, mostly focused on sustainability and environmentalism.
For a seasoned festival-goer or a first timer, Summer Camp with leave you speechless with a smile on your face the whole way home. Three Sisters Park is the perfect venue for the fest and with the outstanding artist lineup, art, and weather, no one could possibly ask for anything more. Any chance there is to attend Summer Camp Music Festival is the chance of the lifetime and you are guaranteed not to leave disappointed. There is no festival with a comparable vibe.
You can download recordings from Summer Camp below.