Summer Camp 2011: A marriage of creativity & comfort, clouds, condensation, & climate confusion

The Chicagoland weather forecast for Summer Camp 2011 included the infamous 50% chance of rain and sunny skies all weekend long.  What we found were marriages of rain and shine, glamour and gladiator, nature and music all tied together interconnected.    If you buy into numerology, the answer is in the numbers here folks.  Last year we brought attention to the 10th annual Summer Camp. This year the marriage of 1 and 1 displayed the creativity and power when different forms come together. It was as one would say a celebration of the ying-yang.

Predictions, hypothesis, and theories about what comes next are part of the fun of being human.  Yes, we have seven pounds of untapped and unexplained consciousness sitting on our shoulders that says guessing about what the future holds is fun.  We assume what the weather will be like thanks to Tom Skilling’s Seven Day Forecast for the Chicagoland area.  We expect to see certain people and listen to certain music while occupying, for most of us, the certain two pole humble abode tent we assume is the Taj Mahal for us weekend warriors that commit to Summer Camp every Memorial Day.

There is a law higher than production companies, airports, and schedules.  There is a greater answer than that of nature or of music.  The beauty is in the unknown.  Weather advisories only advise, they do not counsel, reason, or judge.  The relative humidity is still relative.  Weather balloons can lift children up away from their homes and some even tell you if the clouds contain moisture.  The whirlwind of unexpected events reminds me of what my mom always told me, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

The marriage of known and unknown we experienced by 20,000 people at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL this particular weekend.  I performed an actual wedding on the Campfire stage on Friday night.  I am a Universal Life Church ordained Metropolitan.  This is the part where I talk about love and its infinite forms… so if you want to skip over this and get right to the play-by-play, you may want to read this article from the bottom up.

Love is a many splendored thing.  20,000 people show up for festivals because the love of the music never lets them down.  But being human, we always have expectations.  We always see what we want to see and hope for outrageous miracles, it is indeed what separates us from the other mammals.  We do not move purely out of instinct.  We move with hope for the future.  Squirrels gather nuts because their instincts tell them it’s getting cold, you’ll need this.  We, with our “intellect” have grown beyond this.  There are modern conveniences, technologies, and services to provide for our every human need. We have choices such as fast food, restaurants, or going to the grocery store.  So when it comes to ordering up what we want in the way of love, sometimes we are so sure that we got what we want. Sometimes we decide to try something different off the menu.

Summer Camp is a beautiful blend of all sorts of love waiting to be had even if you shut your eyes and never see the thousands of hotties dancing alongside you.  Jenn and Chris took the plunge Friday night after Yonder Mountain String Band.  They said “you and only you are who I want to be with for the rest of my life”.  And since it was me up there pronouncing them husband and wife, I hope that means something.  The concept of commitment is a trust made with the soul.  It is not easily broken but then again, the soul can be fearful and you’d be surprised how fast that contract disappears.  Figuring he’d be a man with a big microphone, I talked to Jeff Austin before Yonder’s set began.  I was hoping he could direct some of the huge crowd over to the Campfire stage when they wrapped up.  Ah, what a fun guy.  He was pleased to do it, wrote down their names and everything.  He complimented Grateful Web and bounced along the makeshift road to the backstage area made out of platform boards.  The misty mountain hopping of Yonder included Whipping Post and Complicated pasting the low clouds and gusto of this Nederland CO based band.

While Jeff did not announce the marriage happening after his set, I can’t complain.  He did choose what I consider to be one of the most beautiful love songs ever written.  Call me perverse, but No Expectations- the classic Rolling Stones song- is definitely on my top 10 list of love songs.  Love is a delicate balance of the known and unknown and when I first heard YMSB do that cover I was obsessed. I had to look up the original and all forms of this beautiful song.  The concept of having no expectations, just appreciation for the love this person is singing about, is simply awe striking.  The unconventional beauty of this marriage really calls for reflection.  The pool of love gives and takes when you consider its mirror like properties.

~Our love is like the water, that splashes on a stone, our love is like our music it’s here, and then it’s gone.~ -No Expectations

We danced and sang and floated thru to the Campfire stage where a quick ceremony beginning with laughter commenced.  “Mawwiage. It’s what bwings us togevah today.” It all happened so fast I wonder how a meteorologist would explain this.  Despite our sign JENN & CHRIS VACIK’S WEDDING and the hooting and hollering, several key phamily members were missed.  When I conduct ceremony, my teacher would say, the people that are supposed to be there will be there.  This was a matter of proclaiming their vows to each other in front of the people that mattered.  The people that show their support and fair the weather to find this union being displayed are the strongest components to this little dance we were performing.  It was open to all but a just a small group that gathered.  It’s amazing how a storm can appear and be done so quickly. Visibility was high yet there’s just no telling where this sudden disturbance arose from.  That’s what I predict a weatherman would predict.

“But let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”  - Kalil Gibron

The marriage of production and volunteers was a beautiful thing as we were unleashed unto a night of divine intervention.  All sorts of amusements lay ahead as we set out into the fields of music.  Choices for the evening included:  Umphrey’s McGee’s first set of the night, Paper Diamond, or Cirrus Minor.  We could hurry up and scoot over to the end of Lotus after lighting off Chinese lanterns.  The wedding party all buddied up and lit off an entire box of Chinese lanterns – there was just about the perfect amount of lanterns for how many people attended.  Good, another sign of all things good and right in my book.  Hey, I live for the little things.

Volunteers were all over that.  There were too many lanterns going up at once and I think, more than anything, he just wanted to see what we were doing.  The light mist sill persisting inhibited some from going straight up and the security sir was getting nervous. We stared off into the distance at the love lanterns lit about our Summer Camp family and were thankful that security had come to signify end of ceremony. We all headed off to do a little shopping first.

“Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart… you just gotta poke around...”  Shakedown Street

There was a fabulous shawl by Knottingbyhooks.com.    I enjoyed conversations with Cliff from laser guided visions.  The Eleven Productions caught our eye in the gaze of Celtic knot work banner on the front of their booth.  We Are the Good People tee-shirt company were reminiscent of the Be Good Family shirts I still sport.  I met a live artist named Stephanie but I never got her card… and Angela was back, peddling her beautiful tree amulet pendants. Cha-Ching.  That concluded the spending money portion of my evening.

The Sunshine stage was right here and we were drawn over to the Umph.  It had just gotten dark and those boys sure do have some pretty lights.  At the end of that set, the small stage lovers were haloed with 7 Walkers and Allie Kral of Cornmeal sitting in again over on the Yager stage.  Excuse me; make that over at the Starshine stage.  But alas, I was attracted to the same ol place, the original Moonshine stage.  STS9 was a great way to float into the night; I was definitely out of rhythm and ready to relax after all that planning and scheduling with the wedding.  I took a deep sigh and decompressed with the stress melting vibrations of Sound Tribe Sector Nine.

I woke up with a sense of chaos in my heart.  I was a lil agitated that I missed De La Soul.  I so did not get the memo about a last minute switch in the schedule.  I was prepared to do De La Soul at 6:15, then over to Yonder, and then do some marrying.  But while checking out Cornmeal at 5 o’clock, I hear that De La just finished up.  Yup.  What do you do?  I’m already at Cornmeal… and they just brought up Marshall Greenhouse…and they just covered for the first time Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill…and they just brought up Anders Beck… yeah.

“You can grab your things I’ve come to take you home! Yeah, back home!”  Solsbury Hill

I stayed with my hometown heart throbs Cornmeal.  I missed Big Gigantic because there was a kink in the plan.  Covering Girl Talk on Saturday, only hand selected press were allowed to take photos, but each and every security guy (at least to me…) would take the time and explain it and apologize. They were very gracious people.  Blue Moon Security- Mad Lovin for you guys- it seemed like one of every possible condition was thrown in your direction and you made the best of it and always had a smile on your face.  To those of you about to rowk, I salute you.

Some force, some type of microburst seems to surge when the Punch Brothers take stage.  I could take comfort in catching that set on Friday pre-wedding.  The marriage of Chris Thile and just about anyone is a brilliant thing.  I have caught the Punch Brothers before in a much smaller indoor venue.  Oh boy! What a difference. The calculated convergence of Thile worries me like he is a child star that may get pressed too hard, but oh boy!  I sure can’t help loving him and wanting to see him succeed.  His harmonies without Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek still sound strong and long and oh boy!  I really thought that was her voice making that sound all this time.  At the University of Wyoming show, they had done a Radiohead cover to die for.  Here they played mostly their expected playlist and of course encored with Rye WhiskeyPunch Brothers Noam Pikleny and Chris Thile are perfection in motion.  They do bluegrass better than blue grass does blue grass. Wakka wakka.  But so true. To a clumsy awkward child star sort of way, these guys have a performance.  They do not give off the idea that this is your buddy’s band.  Perhaps more like your neighbor’s cousin that went to a fancy art school.  Thile said of their music that there were some instrumental shenanigans.  Being a lover of the word shenanigans perhaps I try to identify with him more than I could or should ever possibly imagine.  Heck, I’m calling him a perfectionist when in fact; he broke a string and kept on playing! For Brakeman’s Blues, Thile announced how he wished he had one more B note for this.  I hope Thile let down his hair and enjoyed the Summer Camp here in my home state of Illinois.

“Rye Whiskey makes the bell sound louder makes your baby cuter makes itself taste sweeter Oh Boy!”    - Rye Whiskey

“I think ya start with whiskey and add a few dance steps and ya got bluegrass!” – Chris Thile

Saturday morning awaking to the sounds of bluegrass n sass was a different kind of perfection. Gaelic Storm was something even my kids would love.  I am glad my little people friends are not around at this particular moment, for their set called for a stein of beer. It seemed only proper.  It may be bluegrass but there can be no whiskey for me this early in the day.  The band has such great crowd interaction.  Perhaps Tom Skilling would predict a Gaelic Storm upwind. The upwind whirled and whipped out at the crowd.  We heard the story of the donkey.  The donkey drank the whiskey. The donkey ran real fast. Nobody could catch the donkey as he raced onto the racetrack and out ran the thoroughbred horses.  The town so beloved their donkey that they placed bets on him to win the next race.  The towns people all got rich, and when the donkey died, they had him stuffed.  They place his head at the local pub and cheers him still to this day.

“So for good luck, squeeze the donkey… or whatever else you may have available!” – Patrick Murphy

The drummer, Ryan Lacey, who was jamming on his drum kit with his hands fell over, and of course it was all our fault.   They prodded at our humble heroes the Chicago Bears.  You couldn’t help but giggle and smile at their playful jest and fun with a feadog, accordion, and complete on bagpipes to battle with Jessie Burn’s fiddle. I shook it extra hard to Cecelia, the Paul Simon cover.  How can ya not?

The crowd had to wake up the band even. Ssshhh sssshhh sssshhh then LOUD! As we left that set we were sweating.  The marriage of day into night is an outflow of energy and emotion.  We stopped by the Soulshine tent to learn more about the nonprofits.  The rain had married the dirt and made little mud babies clinging onto my feet.  So I donated some shoes.  Figured I had to free myself up somehow!

Seemingly more people didn’t know about Soles4Souls, the charity organization accepting shoes because a lot of people had left their shoes behind come Monday morning.   I am pretty sure a great majority of Summer Campers have heard the lyrics, “whatever you do, take care of your shoes”.  I can feel the tear of Mother Nature with this kind of useless littering.  And the marriage of water and sky began again Saturday lightly all day.  For me, it made me appreciate the peek a boo game with the sun. I hate sunburns.

I caught some hip hop that dewy Saturday with a rain shadow riding our tails all day.  First Wiz Khalifa decided that his 4:15 start time was not appropriate.  So the crowd bopped to some mixes by DJ Bonix that made me happy. There is never a time you play James Brown that I won’t have a huge grin on my face.  Somewhere after 4:20, they came out and rocked the mic proper.  Meanwhile TwoFfresh had just finished off their set mixing up some old skool Cheers theme song.  I was all sorts of geeked.  Onto Girl Talk’s 322-different-samples-on-one-album-old-skool-80’s-mixes (if you ain’t got no money take your broke ass home over the Beach Boys and Earth Wind & Fire’s September) and now the crowd had not only lost their shoes but their clothes and their minds. The toilet paper guns blast full stream ahead and the rumor began that girl on stage with her breasts exposed, got arrested when she walked off.

Girl Talk encored with John Lennon’s Imagine and between battling the weather and the crowds to stay in that muddy pit, we were all set adrift into the sunset set.  Hands were outstretched to help everybody each holding on to each other married in the muddle of the mud.  I headed off to the KDubalicious on the same ol stage, that sweet original music mecca of the Moonshine stage.  The Saturday night sunset set has been his since, gosh – don’t quote me, but I remember him playing that same set back in 2002 at Summer Camp.  And it never lets me down.

Keller never fails.  He feels Irie, so do I.  He talks to me like a papa telling a story and I am still that kid that adores story time.  He covered one of my prophets and muses, BeckKeller is doing Hollywood Freaks off the Midnight Vultures album, if any of you are familiar.  I screech at the very thought of the genius that is Beck.  So this puts me over the edge.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time, here I am. I have arrived.  Stars and moons confetti are shot out of a cannon and I just have to wonder. Is there a style that Keller can’t jump into while so clearly retaining his own confidence, his own image?  “Feeling Irie, not a cliché” Keller barefooted and being a dad while still being a rowk star has married the best of practicality with pointlessness.  I love getting funky with you too Keller.

Then the Saturday night rex in effect, the main headliner since Summer Camp’s inception, bust out on the stage, moe.  They began their first set of Saturday night in competition with Umphrey’s first set encore, and Mimosa and Signal Path.  I question scheduling choices like this, however, I understand that this is festival where schedules over lap.  I am curious what the reasoning is behind the genre separation.  Do they see the electronica club bangers as not big moe. and Umph fans?  Is there a subculture growing at this festival?

Before moe. could even think of firing the lasers, I had to scoot over and see the scenarios at the Mimosa and Signal Path sets.  Two very different feels within the electronica circuit, both stages had amassed crowds that were small but devoted.  From the looks of it they were plenty satisfied with the 3 other sets plus bonus appearances made by moe. throughout the weekend.  The electronic kids have a firm grasp on the glow stick course and they have bloomed into evening flowers of sweat, lust, and fairy dust.  Signal Path has a jazz flame thumping with live instruments of a three-piece band where as the DJ set of Mimosa was good for head thumping whomp stomping, holding the ground down style dancing trek steps.

I could feel the lasers about to fire so I stepped on it over to main stage, my sweet spot, the Moonshine stage.  moe. is the sweet lip licking on a Saturday night cake- well practiced jams and laser light show never disappoint fans!  Tribes gathered with their totem poles of Mega Man, Pee Wee Herman on a stick, Mickey Mouse, Senior Pickles the monkey, a giant rose, Pink Panther, Shamu, glowing tower of neon, balloons, light sabers, blinking lights, I might have missed Jazzy Jeffery the giraffe, but he’s always down to ride on the end of a pole and represent for the crew to find you better in the crowds…light up umbrellas, my favorite was the light up jellyfish.  Everyone had their personal post of power calling tribal meetings, squaws with glow sticks in their hair to signify single or married, and faces painted for battle of the love movement.  This was a gorgeous gathering place to spend a Saturday night.  Wonder how the newlyweds are doing, haven’t seen them since I woke up and wandered over to Gaelic Storm

Late night was later this year.  Not only were there shows going on in the red barn, Big Gigantic at 1:30 and Lotus at 3am but Cornmeal did another set for everyone that didn’t score tickets to get inside the red barn.  They played the intimate Campfire stage until 3am.  That was the very stage where the night before Jenn and Chris had gotten married.  It was a peaceful sleep to be had after JP Nowak stepped off the kit drum set and played up front with the rest of his band for a change.

The last day of the festival is always a struggle for an emotional gal such as me.  Either I can’t wait to get the heck out of there or the “but I don’t ever want to leave…!” syndrome kicks in.  What a wash!  While I had anticipated waking and baking with Strange Arrangement (figure of speech of course!) the overcast weather was a rolling in again.  I waited around patiently for the music to begin at 11 am. But Tom Skilling’s mojo wasn’t working with us today.  Strangement opened to a groggy-eyed Highway that got my blood pumping and apparently if that kind of rain is just “bowling in heaven” well, I don’t believe the Dude was abiding today.  By the second song the entire field was filling up fast with people and with dark cumulonimbus clouds. The marriage of human energy and earth energy built.  We were Steamrolling into the third song, yes yes, keep going!  Strangement was jamming The Route and I swear that scene from Caddyshack was all I could think about. Simultaneously, Strangement playing “you’d better check the lost and found to get you back on solid ground” and the scene where Bishop plays his epic golf game in the rain and gets struck by lightning were flashing in my mind.  I was growing more and more wild with excitement when the production guy came on stage the first time to say the weather is getting bad but we’ll let them play on!  But as they began to play their fourth song, their new song too, he came back. And shut it down.

Tom Skilling’s 7 day outlook did not include this.  I wanted my 7 more songs of Strange Arrangement.  Alas, it was predicted to be sunny and hot on Sunday. Of course I had missed the premier pre party Thursday night when Strange Arrangement’s keys man Joe Hettinga brought the house down late night with Digital Tape Machine.  I was Summer Camping for at least 72 hours and I still can’t make it to all the music I want! I was looking forward to being schooled by Fareed Haque and his Math Games but the water washed away the morning schedule and again the volunteers were out full force making sure everyone was okay, holding down poles where necessary, smiling still.  Beyond that I want to mention the security set up by campers this year. I am always amazed at the democracy that naturally occurs when it comes to protection of one’s belongings at a show.  That is when you decide who to trust and when your turn to return the civil duty and watch the stuff will be.  There were safety words amongst campers like “strawberries”. If you were shuffling about camp and didn’t know the safety word you were shuffled back out.  That’s fucking teamwork.

I had time to ponder and regroup as I waited out the storm that looked like a spanking from above.  I am staked down good and my gear is equipped waterproof and all, I was thankful to have this stolen moment with me and Mother Nature.  I watched as the lightening lit up the woods and thought ahead to the Electric Forest Festival.  These festivals play the rhythm of my heart as the rain pitter patters and the thunder booms the light showers bless the ground with their cleansing properties. It sure did make for a muddy rest of the day because as all things do, the rain came to an end.

The sun came back out on time for The Giving Tree Band to take the campfire stage at 3 pm.  They had just driven in from New York from a Friday night show near Manhattan.  Normally I get a little upset about people bringing their dogs to a festival because I can’t have mine, it’s a common courtesy and a practice in civility to be polite of this rule, but when I saw they had brought Goldie it was as if Noah had unloaded the arc here at Summer Camp.  Not to mention, you have to understand the life of a touring band is not easy.  These seven musicians are on the road and live together at their studio where they live completely eco-consciously.  I saw them taking in the Avett Brothers sans dog and watching from the crowd.  It was refreshing to see artists appreciate other artists just like us fans do.  One thing can be said about The Giving Tree Band and that is they are down to Earth fellas, true dirt worshippers, and always interesting to be around.  And that’s foregoing their amazing set. They opened with Caged Lion, played Circles, I’m pretty sure we got a Three Sisters for Three Sisters Park, and closed with a new song, temporarily called Thief, but may change before it makes it to the next album.  The set resonated with the sound of a snowflake – utterly unique and hard to catch on your tongue.  My spirit soaring, I was re-energized with the strength of the sun and plenty of dancing room to get down with my fellow Giving Tree Huggers.

With adjustments made in the schedule due to thunderstorms, next up was Bruce Hornsby.  What a perfect Sunday to thaw out over Mr. Hornsby and the Noisemakers.  It was a beacon of hope on that rainy day as he pulled out all the noisemakers including of course his baby grand piano, an accordion Bela Fleck, and Jimmy Herring whilst they played Jacob’s Ladder! That led into the next set of Huey Lewis and the rUMors, which was of course, Umphrey’s McGee on as backup to the musical legend himself.  I don’t need a new drug.  This one is doing exactly as it should.  This drug called music is getting me high! Two living legends in a Sunday afternoon, more if you count in the guest spots and the stage sharing, I was taking what their giving ‘cuz I’m working for a living… thank gawd I am – work hard play hard, momma always said.  Huey Lewis gave us Heart & Soul.  Summer Camp teaches good manners.  It’s always nice to share while you dance in the rain.  Sharing the small space of mud was not easy.  Leave it to the old pros to know that their audience is out there.  We may have been hiding back behind the stage where the dry ground let us dance and yet the music kept coming as high energy as if we were all rail riding this Sunday afternoon.  I swear that mud didn’t smell like mud.

This year Summer Camp brought on a new partner in crime, Widespread Panic.  They released special day only passes for Sunday only and most day only fans were anticipated to arrive in time for the Widespread show.  I was moving slowly by now.  Given up on shoes yet still a pound of mud a piece on my feet added to the work out of getting around between 6 stages of music.  I felt the buns of steel effect and couldn’t make it down to the front of the SpreadHeads before it was too late to snap a photo.  Again, you gotta learn to fly by the seat of your pants at a festival.  When I had arrived down stage to snap a photo I was told only for the first 3 songs were press allowed.  I had barely missed it.  So it was the unwinding of a Sunday evening, but still more booty bass shaking had to be done.  I rested up after EOTO took us thru sunset, their second Summer Camp appearance and second time playing this same slot.

Bassnectar moved up to a Sunday night headliner spot at the biggest best moonshine stage.  This was a huge show.  Every inch of the ground was packed with the brightest, most glow stick rage friendly bass faces all smiling and staring with a child like exuberance at that long haired leaping gnome Lorin Ashton.  I tried to approach the photo pit and was blocked by arm locked ladies that were not willing under any circumstance to budge from their spots.  I asked politely but they told me that me and a thousand other people want to get closer to him.  I was told to wait back there.  Hey, gotta respect that!  The set was a more subdued version of the Bassnectar I’ve seen before but it always has a filter effect for me when he plays an outdoor venue.  Something about the indoor venue for Bassnectar makes the bass take my heart over entirely. This was a smile bright light fest of happy campers ready till rage against the light of the end of summer camp.

moe. played until 1 am and it was the final marriage of everyone from classic rockers to bluegrassers to the club bangers time to rest and rewind and enjoy the moe. they had perhaps taken for granted all weekend.  Moe. is by no means Bruce Hornsby or Bela Fleck but they are the kings of this castle and a kind and generous ruler they are.  I love when they announce birthdays and personal achievements.  It was actually Ryan’s 100thmoe. show,

“That’s awesome. That’s crazy. We appreciate it.” –moe.

Marriage is a social institution. The very notion of the marriage of both sides of marriage: the biblical sense of the word and the legal sense of the ceremony blow my mind.  The act of marriage happens every day all around us.  Communities blend and marry meditation, moderation, movement, and music.  On this Memorial Day weekend 2011, four planets aligned to the moon and a bright Venus hung off that crescent moon in the sky above all of our heads. Despite our wildest dreams, despite our hopes and our commitments that we all make, there are no guarantees. We are here right now, this is the right time and I hope to see you just in the right place.  Rain or shine I’ll see you next time!

Check out lots more photos from Summer Camp 2011!

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