The 16th annual Summer Camp Music Festival shined vibrantly Friday morning, as fans from across the nation flooded through the gates of the glorious Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, Illinois for another epic celebration of music, arts and life. Born in 2001, the monumental event has grown to be one of the most celebrated Midwest events of the summer, hosting national acts such as Neil Young, Trey Anastasio, Steve Miller Band, Tom Petty, Widespread Panic and many, many more. While the scene has changed drastically since their debut in 2001, the mindset and overall vibe of the fans has remained the much of the same. Smiling, happy-go-lucky faces of all shapes and sizes marked their weekend territory with colorful tapestries, intricate artwork and massive tents and canopies as the weekend began to unfold.
Friday began with a bang, as newly famous comedy-based rapper Lil Dicky took the stage for an impressive performance. Dicky spoke of love, religion but mostly of humor as he relentlessly attacked the crowd for a solid 60-minute performance of comedic hip-hop gold. Next up was none other than Keller Williams, the glorified savior of all things acoustic funk. Keller brought an amazing vibe to the still-gathering crowd that did not disappoint. Midway through the set, the Moonshine stage was packed full for the first time all weekend, and the fact that we had all arrived at the most beautiful festival on the planet was beginning to sink in.
Following Keller Williams was the one-and-only Greensky Bluegrass, who played an enormously delightful set featuring an Al Schneir sit-in on the Wood Brothers tune “Luckiest Man,” as well as an appearance by none other than Keller Williams, in which they jammed a long, twisting version of “For Sure Uh-Huh,” in which the band teased Phish’s “Run like an Antelope.” The set came to a close with a beautiful rendition of “Leap Year,” and with that the sun began to set behind the trees and the moonlight began to sparkle.
Meanwhile, at the Sunshine stage the burning fire that continued to brew throughout the day began to take flight as the first set of Umphrey’s McGee was under way. A ridiculous second song “Plunger,” which featured Led Zeppelin teases, dove into some Jake-heavy rhythms that eventually floated into classics like “Wife Soup” and “Miami Virtue” off their most recent studio album Similar Skin. Only the second-ever “Rocktopus” followed up behind Virtue, and fans were treated to a very nice version of the song that debuted at UM Bowl just a few weeks prior. Set II featured some heavy-metal thunder including the set opener “Stinkos Acension,” and Brendan Bayliss directing the creeping rainstorm during “Ocean Billy.” The set was finalized with an unfinished “In The Kitchen > Hurt Bird Bath” that literally shook the entire Sunshine stage. Maybe it was just your typical thunder storm, but maybe, just maybe, it was the rock gods shining down and showing their approval on a terrific opening to Summer Camp Music Festival.
Friday late night featured a plethora of musical genius, starting with an incredible 12:30-2 am set from the one-and-only jamtronica messiahs STS9. Since Alana Rocklin’s inception in 2014, the band has been on an incredible run of funked-out tunes, and Friday night was no different. With the wind swirling and the rain coming down heavier than it had all weekend, STS9 opened with the fan-favorite “Totem” which immediately energized the massive crowd. A thick shade of rain began to mask the lights as Tribe classics such as “Vapors” and “Rent” came out of the woodwork to move the people of Summer Camp. The 90-minute set concluded a beautiful rendition of “When the Dust Settles,” and the energetic crowd departed from the Sunshine stage satisfied.
One of the major highlights of the weekend came late Friday night in the barn, as TAUK and Umphrey’s McGee combined forces to form Tauking McGee - an epic supergroup of jazz, funk and all things rock n’ roll. The band ripped through both UM and TAUK classics, and even channeled their inner-Nigel Tufnel with an epic cover of “Big Bottom” from the legendary cult classic film This Is Spinal Tap. As the group approached the end of their set, a truly epic moment occurred. One by one, each member took their respective instrument and smashed it against the cold, hard stage. The sound echoed throughout the building as the reverb went crazy and the crowd erupted. It was a true rockstar moment that left everyone in the Red Barn grinning ear-to-ear.
Saturday’s music began bright and early with a massive set from Steve Kimock and Friends which consisted of Jeff Chimenti and Dan Leibowitz among many others. The group tore through a number of beautiful renditions including an epic 15-minute version of the Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song.” At this point the sun was heavy in the sky, and those who had been at Summer Camp since the Thursday pre-party were beginning to feel the heat. Sweaty, smiling faces were scattered throughout the crowds and people actually began to wish for more cloud coverage, something that going into the festival people though would be abundant, a good problem to have nonetheless.
Everyone’s favorite 100% improvised live electronica group EOTO took the Sunshine stage next, and brought an incredibly funky, yet still semi-heavy set to the massive crowd. Their style has changed drastically over the last five years or so, as they seem to be resorting back to their older rhythms. The over-the-top chainsaw dubstep sounds are still there, but they are few and far between, instead it has been replaced with more melodic upbeat rhythms that almost seem to mimic funky house music. It was a nice change of pace, and by the end of the EOTO set, the sky had unfolded from a beautiful sunlight canvas to what seemed to be a brewing storm.
Following EOTO was one of the more nationally recognized bands on the entire Summer Camp lineup, The Roots. The Roots were the only band all weekend to have the weather truly affect their set. After playing one song, the group announced they would have to momentarily pause the show to let the weather above pass. The break was short-lived however, and within moments Questlove and the Roots crew were on stage for one of the best performances of the entire weekend. If there’s one adjective to describe The Roots, it’s tight. They were so mechanically sound and on-point it was incredible.
Ripping effortlessly through soulful R&B classics and funk tunes, you could understand why this band has stayed relevant and popular since the late 90’s. Additionally, the group knew who they were playing for. They didn’t focus as much on their raw hip-hop material, but rather dove deep into intricate funk tunes complete with an incredible horn section and Questlove holding down the beat as a backbone. It was hands down one of the most incredible sets of the weekend, and a moment that will be talked about for Summer Camp’s to come.
Saturday night concluded with Moe. and Umphrey’s McGee going back-to-back-to-back-to-back in true Summer Camp fashion. Fans bounced back and forth between the Sunshine and Moonshine stages all night, often times in a large crowd. These two rock groups are truly the staple of his festival, and the reason people come back year after year. Between Moe’s signature Americana jamband sound and Umphrey’s hard, grooving progressive rock, the bands have paved the way to make Summer Camp what is today. Each set was unique and built to perfection, featuring sit-ins, covers, bust-outs and classics. Saturday night at Summer Camp 2016 was the definition of perfection, and paved way into one of the most epic Sunday’s seen at Three Sisters Park in quite some time.