These are the tall tales told by campfire light, under the moon just slight, and peppered with lasers dancing overhead. The scissor-like sidestep from reality, Summer Camp sizzled brighter than ever this year. There was Pigeons Playing Ping Pong with a rainbow net, a revival of the old 1992 hip-hop days, and a field full of living flowers being watered by the sun. 2018’s installment of Summer Camp had musical notes formed by clouds for miles. Between discovering new music and then missing their sets, to field day fun, to the inner dimension travels between campsites, no journey brings greater discovery to the childlike mind than Summer Camp Music Festival.
Summer Camp, realized, is in the Soulshine area. This hood is where the live art, art galleries, permaculture displays, glass blowing demos, concessions, beehives, swings, shaded spots for hammocks, and the place that sells heaven on earth - moonmats- is located. Two of the best keys players around hosted the Friday party there: Joe Day and Kyle Hollingsworth. Kyle was handing out samples of Lagunita’s beer while Old Shoe took the stage. The Make a Difference raffle gave out tons of kewl stuff: hoodies, artwork, hats, free downloads, and even tickets to Summer Camp 2019! If you were caught doing something awesome: being friendly, picking up litter, carrying someone in need to the med tent, you got a ticket and a chance to enter the Make a Difference Raffle. How awesome is that? The real world doesn’t often reward you for the good deeds you do. Shit, sometimes I feel punished for doing the right things in the real world.
Old Shoe kept it comin’ on home. Wherever you go, there you are. They closed with a Railroad Earth cover, Long Way to Go, followed by their original Dust Bowl. Dust Bowl is such a barn burner, I can’t even explain. That song will forever make me dance - like Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show way back when. The Soulshine neighborhood was chill enough to step back, take in some amazing sights, and catch up with other campers. Old Shoe was the best local band to host that kind of vibe because they seemingly know everyone from around here.
From there, put a pep in your step and fasten your seatbelt for a ride on the good time express. 9 stages of music to choose from, but old habits die hard. Head over to the old Yager stage. They call it the Sunshine stage these days but you know it’s all the same because man is it hot. When “Fuck That’s Delicious” host Action Bronson was sweating thru his shirt, you know it’s hotter than the heat in the kitchen. He was cooking up hip-hop for the hungry man. He chopped suckas like onions. Leftover Salmon rocked this stage too, just after Spafford and well into the hottest part of Saturday. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Despite wanting to take in every second of the divine line up of music, frequent stops back to the campsite were necessary. The campsite is the central experience in Summer Camp. Folks had severe cases of FOMO for what happens in VIP, but truly, the heart of the Summer Camp is in them trees. We had a sweet spot with friendly neighbors. Ain’t nothing like a hug, hello nice to meet you, amiright?
Now I had seen this fun band a long time ago at 1st st pub in Nederland CO. I couldn’t tell you what they played or why it was so fun, but I remembered their funny ass name: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. They were generous with stickers, and we took all the promo stuff they had to give us that night. It was a fun memory. I was with a girl that is totally into death metal too. The fact that we both enjoyed a band as much as we did is really something to marvel in retrospect. That had been about ten years back so when I saw them now? Well, shoot… I had finished another new job intensive training session and got into the car. Now, this particular job was in sales, so I was pumped to not take no for an answer. I got into the car, turned up Jam On, and it was “Baby, I Got Something For Ya…. Something for my baby, Aw!” That day, it became my jam.
Summer Camp officially began for me that day at that moment. The log got thrown on the fun fire; the fun dial got set to 11, we set sail into the bubble breezes blowing by and never looked back. Ya see, not only was their energy coming off stage bigger and brighter than ever before, but it was tighter than ever before. You can sense a profound maturity and ambition from Pigeons. As an audience, you can’t help but wanna support and set that adrift to higher heights. The flock was in full effect as Scrambled Greg came bounding on stage. The rain had stopped as we were lined up ready to get a spot near stage. The music started. The rainbow appeared. It only got stronger the longer they played until a Bob Ross double rainbow hung like a horse up in the sky. It was yuuuuge. And they played it. I got something for you! They carried on strong thru the hour-long set. It was a blissful eruption of controlled chaos, especially when Al Schier from Moe. came out to join them on stage. Jeremy Schon and Al were trading licks, and it lead the dance to an absolute fever pitch. Ping Pongs were flying, and it was GAME ON from that point on.
Now if we had one of them golf carts, I know what we would have done differently. But we didn’t so what ended up happening was… orbital. Orbital affairs start to take the same shape over and over. If you do it right, you are extending the length, but you’ll alway return to the same spot inevitably. That’s the best I figure really. We walked by stages of Umphrey’s McGee and Jade Cicada and came back to the welcoming arms of the woods. We popped out at the Camping Stage where what we saw was groovy sounding. The bass was thumping like brick after brick in a final Tetris round. It laid a foundation for my face to keep ticking away from awe to smile to awe to smile. It was EGI.
EGI has been around for a while now, mixing up members and instruments. This incarnation has found its deep pocket. Now ascending the fundamental funk, the highlight had to be Big Handsome. They ripped through their new song Thrive off their album Vessel and into a primus fueled, YEM like jam with two simple words for lyrics: Big Handsome. Even saying those words rekindles the funk flame with fancy bass licks to adorn the simple words. The best part is that the bass player wrote this song for his boxer pup, Gordon. It’s now become the song for every beefcake pup I see. Big handsome!!
Old Shoe was at it again; it’s just so comfortable. Something about their Country Home always calls me back. EGI’s crowd funneled over to the Campfire Stage. This performance had me losing my mind as they shred into Dire Straits Money for Nothing. Joe Day’s falsetto vocals mixed with Paul Priest’s shredding on guitar built up at sneaky tempo that unleashed on a steep little hill. “I want my MTV…!” I lost my mind and my bandana. Under an almost full moon, they had drummer extraordinaire Greg Fundis up to add djembe to the mix. Between he & Old Shoe drummer Jonathan Reed, they sounded like fireworks and looked like them too with the lasers from the Starshine stage cutting thru the backdrop. I love Greensky, but when they also covered Money for Nothing later in the weekend, Old Shoe’s version rung supreme. Further on into the set, the merch table was flooded by folks hoping to get their golden ticket to Shoe Fest. They gave out free stickers and koozies and hidden inside one of the koozies was a free pass to summer’s last dance, Shoe Fest. The real swagger was seeing their double-disc vinyl, Country Home, for sale.
Vinyl is up to 9% of all music media being purchased. It is the only format that is biting into streaming music sales. Spafford recently released For Amusement Only on vinyl - and their pre-release sold out, twice! When Brian & Jordan of Spafford were asked about this, Brian emphatically replied, “Why wouldn’t we? We just released a big new studio album. We figured we should test the waters, check to see if this was all a dream or…” and Jordan was super pumped about the bigger art that it affords them as a band. “I’ve seen High Fidelity. Of course, I wanted our new album to be available on vinyl. I love that the artistic expression of vinyl gives you something you can touch. You are able to read the lyrics and feel the music, not to mention the artwork itself.” They include Sean Tierney and Jon Rose’s art prints for sale with their music, a big ol newspaper press pressing out what would become their iconic SPAFFORD logo. When you listen to their music you are reminded of that first time you put the needle to the record of Pink Floyd. Test the waters? This is the new Roger Waters. Their music is a beautiful dichotomy of spontaneous vs. planned musical conversations. I gotta get my hands on this Spafford vinyl. They pump out the jams, and they are puttin it on wax? Count me in!
You can catch Spafford going tropical on the next Jam Cruise. They are about to sail away. Without making a tacky yacht rock reference, Spafford is patient and posed for full album glory. It is no doubt that their album is the perfect band for vinyl format. It’s great to hear them on Jam On and all, but one song just doesn’t cut it. I have definite FOMO for catching them on a boat all night long. That is my most anticipated Jam Cruise band this year. Unless of course, you consider the loveable long timers that will no doubt yuk it up on the boat, Leftover Salmon.
The messengers of Americana are at it again. Leftover Salmon has a heavy touring load to support their new album, Something Higher. I asked them when we can expect a biography or docuseries about their almost 30 years of doing what they are doing. “Early next year. It’s a book by Tim Newbie,” answered Vince Herman. “And if you haven’t yet, check out Years in Your Ears… A Story of Leftover Salmon. It’s a film done a couple years back by Eric Abramson.” Note, “a couple years” was probably ten years ago. Along with being the house band for the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” there is Leftover to be caught on mainstream television but not enough. They uphold the genre of Americana these days, especially with the growing divide in the political landscape. They are the guardians of the flame that keeps this blend of zydeco, bluegrass, jam, poly-ethnic slam grass alive.
The life and times and harrowing adventures of Leftover Salmon keep on rolling, adding more miles to their lifeline. Another new addition, which I thought would be so innovative and a possibly new idea is Uncle Vinny’s reserve. Would they have a strain of marijuana to go along with the Something Higher tins and rolling papers that are for sale in their merch booths and online? Of course, they will. It’s also in the works. They don’t know when it will be released, but until it is they have delicious edibles named for them available at many fine Colorado retailers. They will keep on touring, and the growers will keep on growing. That’s one thing we can count on in these crazy times.
While painting landscapes with their music and advocating for their American blend of music, they have also always participated with HeadCount. They have always encouraged people to take part in the politics happening all around and to not stick your head in the sand when it comes to our country, our lives, our freedoms. I asked them, besides voting, what is something that you would encourage your audience to do right now - something simple and something right now - what would you say? “Run for office,” said Vince. Greg and Drew kinda smirked and also offered, “flee the country.” We all had a good chuckle. But they all agreed on the same stance they have always held true to- vote for change. Make your voice heard.
What is the secret to their sustainability? What keeps them going after all this time? “We don’t know how to do anything else. Honestly, it's what we do, it’s who we are. It’s our identity at this point. Whatever it takes.” The laughter, the roots, and the music shines in that very motion. That is what make Leftover Salmon the prophets of our jam scene.
That, and perhaps Andy Thorn and Vince wandering around the woods late at night on Saturday. It blew the kids mind! With a mix of I’ll Fly Away and Marshall Tucker Bands Can’t You See - in true Vince Herman Festivaaaaaal style, they delighted fans - of which some were EDM fans there to see the electronic acts. They didn’t know - until now- who Leftover Salmon is. Vince Herman is our new George Carlin. “Can’t cha see? Ooooh, can’t ya see? What Jimmy Buffet, been doin to me!” Ya gotta love Vince Herman.
My only complaint for the entire weekend was a minor infraction of group think. I can agree to disagree about all sorts of issues but this moment at the water refill station was irritating to the core. The way the station is set up, the water source came from one end, the left in our case. There are water spigots on both sides so you may say right but i’m going left. Perspective my people, perspective. Anyway, at one end - whichever end you may see it it where the water comes from. Each spigot receives a little less pressure as we all share that water coming from the source. The gal closer to the source of water and right left of us (see what i did there, ha!) was giving herself a full-on bath. No problem with that. Her long brown silky hair and tramp stamp dermals definitely deserved a rinse. My problem came into play when the folks to the right or left of us away from the water source were not getting any water from their spigots. Nalgenes were thirsty for just a drop, entire camps were waiting to refill their gallon containers to keep themselves hydrated. Nonetheless, she continued to keep her spicket on full blast. She had her own lil puddle and seemingly was in her own little world as the entire crowd waited for her to finish washing her cootch for the 5th time and get her feet perfectly clean (even tho she would have to walk out into the dust bowl immediately upon leaving her lil puddle) while the rest of us waited to maybe brush our teeth or fill a water bottle. On and on she went, triple dipping everybody part. She does know that there are showers available here, right? I bit my tongue but the stares she got were deadly. Although she was blissed out using all the water, she didn’t even notice the rest of us. Don’t be that girl. One of the most beautiful parts of a festival is the community and the group think that can be so positive.
Enough of that, let’s talk about the positive: the groups of people that graciously shared breakfast with us in the morning, the show going buddies that created a group pile of trash and we all took turns taking hands full to the proper receptacle, to the gal behind me that spotted my sunburn and almost without asking shmeared sunblock all over me in a delightful almost massage from a stranger. That’s what it’s all about. Like raindrops of love in a sun-filled overexposed cornfield, there were more moments of coming together than one girl stealing all the water for her cooch. There really was. CommUNITY is what it's all about. I only write about one bad experience for the sake of us all learning more and doing better.
Let’s take time for fun! A sincere highlight of the Summer Camp experience was Marco Benevento’s set. With a massive keyboard and a Willy Wonka look alike top hat, Marco arranged himself and his gear on stage with a warm disposition and a gregarious smile that reached my soul. His band mates had tee shirts on that said, “WE ARE TAKING TIME FOR FUN.” Last I saw him; he was sitting in with someone else. I’ve caught the awesome JRAD, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Benevento Russo Duo, Garage a Trois, but it was an absolute treat to see him lead his own brand of weirdness. His songs were fun and breezy and welcoming. He has this bubblegum cheesy 80’s style mixed with absolute skill on the keys. Marco is my answer to the long-forgotten Blake Babies of 1992. He wasted no time to get to the groove, his keys could not only dance on top of the bass, but his reverb was set up like Sting circa 1986 that was a one-stop shop for the low end. Happy Cha Cha was a smattering of all these new versions of old favorites. He makes a little birdhouse in audience’s soul. The piano-led jam led into living loving; she’s just a woman, then Tom’s Diner, then he gave away his new LP on vinyl. He played Green Vert from that LP, and I now have my requests in at my favorite local record shop. I know what I am looking for next as I thumb the 12.375 inches of musical bliss.
Closing out the weekend was the headliner that really summed it all up for us, Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band. They played the Sunshine stage as the mean mr melanoma tucked away to bed. Grateful for a reprieve from the brutal sun, the opening set reflected a slower tempo than I would have anticipated. Anticipation was palpable as musicians from the weekend lined up off stage to catch the legend play right here in the cornfields of Illinois.
When they returned for the second set, the tempo picked up. All things must pass. 2018 was a snap back of the rubber band of consciousness. Summer Camp has been known to be diverse in their line up anywhere from country to alternative, but this year seemed like the only extremes were in the weather. They had a nice pocket of Saturday night hip-hop, and the closers were an homage to the original festival prophets. I was a little disappointed that Phil’s son, Grahame was not on stage with the family band but the garden variety of familiar tunes more than made up for it. If there was family lacking on stage, the family of scampers in the crowd formed in its wake.
After playing Domefest in PA, Mungion member Joe Re noticed our Grateful Web Terrapin Turtle trailhead artwork. “There was an art installment at Domefest of the Terrain turtles. We must be following this artwork.” Mungion is on our bands to watch list. I inquired about how the summer is going for them as they spread out further from their Chicagoland base. What are you listening to right now in the van? “Honestly, our old music that we each made growing up. I think right now currently is a pop-punk band from our junior high days.” Their VIP performance had eluded us, but as we packed up to leave Summer Camp 2018, we had to stop for their nod to 95 Phish performance. There was a massive glowstick war happening to Melvin, their lighthearted funky jam. It was a fine farewell and a feeling of humble humor. When would I see my scamp family again?
What else are you gonna do? When you don’t feel appreciated in the real world, you do as Leftover Salmon has done. You do what you have always done. If you don’t know how to be anything but kind, you keep following the kind vibes and loving the music that makes you who you are. Like a hippy convention or trade show, Summer Camp is the Midwest’s first chance to get out there and see what we’ve been sleeping on all winter. There are artists, flow arts, music, gardeners, and happy campers all around. The sunburnt stamp of Summer Camp left its mark on me. The bug bites will disappear, the sun kisses will fade, but in my heart, I am forever better because of this experience.
The out-of-our-control choices at Summer Camp are sun or mud. That melanoma mister in the sky managed to keep me out of commission for a few hours overall. When I thought of it, I preferred that to the ten extra pounds of mud on my ankles dragging me down for 30,000 step each day. 2018 had given us the best of both worlds, a little rain, a lot of sun and that beautiful, blessed rainbow. No matter what the elements bring, when we fight the elements, we fight together. Together is the best place to be.