I have never been a morning person. For me, the list of reasons to wake up before dawn is extremely short. Departing for a road trip is one of the few acceptable reasons. A few weeks ago that is exactly what we did...at 430am. I had been looking forward to the Summer Camp Music Festival for months. After investigating all of the possible ways to spend money that I don’t have, the conclusion was that Summer Camp was most deserving. Despite the wretched weather and cancelled sets, it did not disappoint. Here’s a recap of some festival highlights. The countdown is already on for next year.
We had nearly 1000 km to go on the first leg of our journey that would wind us through our home province and three states. First stop, the windy city! The first of several heavy rainstorms greeted us as we arrived in Chicago, but by the next morning things were looking up. The billboards advertising “gentlemen’s clubs” changed to pro-life messages as we got farther out of Chicago. The sky-high advertisements that punctuated farmer’s fields repeatedly directed us to the whereabouts of discounted fireworks. Well-manicured fields, as far as the eye could see, made promises of August corn. This was the home stretch. Next up was festival headquarters at the Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, Illinois.
When we rolled into the festival for the Thursday pre-party the place was bustling. The sudden appearance of a festival is some sort of magic. Within a day there was an instant city. Roads were created, emergency services had set up a triage unit, a waste & sorting centre (250 volunteers strong) diverted as much recycling and compost from landfill as possible, a general store stocked supplies for the weekend, a street of food vendors and artisan shops lined the main road, a voter registration booth had been set up, and the list goes on and on. You could recycle an old cell phone, create an anti-bullying photo message at the One World booth, or donate hygiene packs and shoes to those less fortunate. Where else do you have to decide between doing yoga and riding a ferris wheel? On top of all of this, if you participated in just three of these “Make a Difference” activities you could attend a Sunday afternoon set with the Everyone Orchestra, made up of members of bands featured throughout the weekend. The planning and organizational feats accomplished by our hosts were impressive from the start. City planners would be wise to consult with festival organizers.
The pre-party kicked off at 1pm and went for 15 hours straight. Four different stages were jumping as campers arrived and got their bearings. Navigating our way to the primitive RV camping was like being in a game of Frogger, but with golf carts. As we were setting up, our new neighbour, Todd, arrives. He has traveled to the festival solo to volunteer, a real one-man wolf pack kind of vibe to him. Before the end of the day, two more campers are wedged in between our site and Todd’s. The festival hadn’t even officially begun, but it was filling up fast. We were in the sprawling suburbs compared to our friends who were camping in the forest. Tents were packed in so tightly there that you couldn’t walk between many of them. We were quite happy to have some legroom. We were also quite happy to be in RV luxury when the mercury dipped down to 3 degrees on the first night. And happier still when we had shelter from one of the most generous rainfalls I have ever experienced.
Sandwiched in among the spring weather and over stimulating environment was also the most impressive musical lineup to hit 2013. The musical highlights of Summer Camp were plentiful. I have (almost) always loved it when a favourite band covers another one of my favourite bands. That is exactly what happened when moe. and Umphrey’s McGee paid homage to each other with a kind of musical high five. The buzz around camp on Saturday morning was Umphrey’s encore cover of moe.’s Rebubula from the night before. But my favourite Umphrey’s surprise came later that afternoon when Brendan Bayliss resurrected a gem from Beck’s 1999 album, Midnite Vultures. A vocally spot-on rendition of Debra, infused with a few subtle, camp-inspired lyric changes, had the crowd in stitches. Umphrey’s were also joined by some special guests including saxy Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic (playing at the Hoxton in Toronto this Friday night), the horn section from Mad Dog’s Filthy Little Secret, and the one and only Taj Mahal. The general atmosphere from most acts was that they were having just as much fun as you were. And where moe. are concerned, possibly even more fun. Rob Derhak, moe.’s bassist, is one of my all-time favourites when it comes to stage banter. Turning to notice the Al Schier was missing from the stage during their Sunday set, Rob quipped that Al had left, that he had gone off to start his twelfth side project. Indeed, Schier was a busy bee. When I told Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee that I thought he had likely played the most sets with the most number of bands that weekend he was quick to say that Al Schier had everyone beat. moe. were incredible as usual. It had been nearly a year since I saw them last. I didn’t realize how much I missed them. They just keep getting better. And in response to Umphrey’s covering them, they answered back with a stellar cover of Umphrey’s own In the Kitchen. Saturday afternoon was a definite highlight all around. Umphrey’s and moe. had alternating sets on different stages. It was like musical volleyball. We couldn’t wait to hear what each band would answer the other with.
Another greatly anticipated act was the Bright Light Social Hour. These beardos have been on the road almost non-stop since their debut album dropped and they showed up almost everyone at SXSW a few years back. They pack a punch and you never quite know what you are going to get. Their afternoon set, complete with moustaches that would make Nietzche himself proud, was different from others I’d seen. Aside from a grueling tour schedule, the band also recently swapped out their keyboard player. You wouldn’t know it though. Andrew B doesn’t miss a beat. The energy was still there, and they delivered an impressive set, but the tone was less dance rock and more Southern soul. The BLSH are maturing. While a part of me longed for the dance party side of things, a bigger part of me was pleased with the versatility of this band. Any worry as to whether they could deliver on their next album was snuffed out.
-Robert Randolph’s new favourite band
-insert link from Becky
On top of all of the activities going on at Summer Camp at large, there was another whole other layer of fun inside the VIP tent. Private sets, reclining chairs and equal parts Cuestion tequila and talent made this upgrade worth every penny. The cleanliness of the VIP washrooms also made it worth the walk from pretty much any other stage. The first VIP show we caught was Keller Williams. Arriving without shoes or a setlist, he took to the stage with an acoustic guitar and a call for requests. He covered a fair bit of ground in this set. A sweet Eyes of the World had the crowd swaying in unison, and moments later we were enthusiastically singing the refrain from Gate Crashers Suck. At this, Keller remarked that we sounded “like angels, man”. On the first of our soggy mornings at camp we were excited to check out the funk band, Lettuce in the VIP tent. Upon our arrival their soundman tells us that they are running late. The band played a gig in Brooklyn the night before and their drummer/songwriter, Adam Deitch, missed his flight. We patiently sip margaritas in our rain boots and eventually Deitch is delivered to the stage, hood up, dark shades on. Oh boy. With a warning that they haven’t slept, Lettuce rips into their trademark, horn-heavy, upbeat funk. Joining them on the sax was James Casey, a key member of Trey Anastasio’s power trio of horns. We were expecting them to bring it and, sleep or no sleep, that is exactly what they did. Hell, if I had that kind of funk in my soul I might never sleep again.
Almost all of the negatives of Summer Camp can be attributed to the weather. Water makes a big damn mess. There’s no way around that. Even our reliable rain gear just couldn’t hold up. Bands playing in the afternoon had to cover their gear with plastic sheeting. Umphrey’s Joel Cummins said the rain was coming in sideways, straight into his face while on stage. The UM crew had to take a hairdryer to his Moog in between sets. And it just got worse. By Sunday evening a full-on Wizard of Oz style weather system had arrived. Battling our way to the stage for Trey’s second set we decided to throw in the towel. Only half of our crew had made the foolish attempt to venture nearly a kilometer (check) across the grounds to the _______ stage. Not too far from our site, between our RV and the _______ stage, we took shelter in the Vibe tent. To get back to the safety of the RV we had to navigate between cars and past crippled, overturned shade tents. It wasn’t until the next day that we heard Trey’s second set and moe.’s finale had been canceled due to the storm. It was unfortunate, but also kind of reassuring to know that we weren’t too old to hack it.
RAIN IN VIBE TENT
But this brings me to another huge bonus of VIP access at the main stages…fewer footsteps make for less mud. The VIP sections still had grass when the main areas had become a mud pit from the stage right to the vendors at the back.
-more onion rings next year
Full set of images at: