This past Memorial Day weekend marked the 13th anniversary of Summer Camp Music Festival, and annual event that takes place at the celebrated Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, Illinois. Since the festival’s beginning in 2001, it has grown rapidly into a bona fide heavy-hitter event by delivering major artists of multiple genres year after year. This year’s lineup was no exception with major headliners including Trey Anastasio, The Avett Brothers, STS9, and Zeds Dead all scoring premier time slots. Also partaking in the madness were staple acts moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, both of whom played multiple day and night sets throughout the weekend. With plenty of new faces along for the ride teaming up with some of the veteran festival acts, Summer Camp 2013 was one for the record books and one the fans won’t soon forget.
Thursday evening graced the festival with a thin layer of cloud coverage and a light dose of rain as eager campers flooded into Three Sisters Park to set up camp and begin the festivities. In typical pre-party fashion, supporting acts of all shapes and sizes energized the crowd on some of the festival’s side stages. Fan favorites Family Groove Company performed a particularly smooth set on the Starshine Stage, highlighted by a sit in from Cornmeal’s Allie Kral to perform the song, “American Girl” by Tom Petty. Allie Kral returned to the stage with her band Cornmeal a few moments later and the bluegrass veterans treated fans to an inspiring and emotional performance. Kral recently announced that she would be leaving Cornmeal once the weekend was over, after playing over a decade with the group.
As the afternoon blossomed into night, a wave of frigid cold swept over the park and festival goers were forced to bundle up for the remainder of the night. Sure to warm the crowd up, however, was Digital Tape Machine featuring keyboard wizard Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee. This seven piece Chicago-based band performed an interesting style of tech-house mixed with other progressive electronic sounds. Add those ingredients on top of live mixing and scratching and you’ve got yourself a hybrid blend of dance music that kept the Summer Camp crowd on their toes and dancing through the night.
Late night pre-party highlights came courtesy of the Vibe Tent, which kept the party going until 4 a.m. with sounds of soulful electronic funk and high energy rock n’ roll. Local Illinois group Sun Stereo preformed an electrifying set to a broad array of listeners, displaying tunes off their most recent album Rogue Satellite. Equipped with a tight horn section and a barbaric frontman by the name of Kelly McMorris, this six piece band rocked the Vibe Tent from beginning to end with their soulful sounds. For those who dig improvisational rock with a funky twist, the Thursday pre-party also featured Ultraviolet Hippopotamus and Dopapod, two of the premier providers of psychedelic progressive rock. The crowd sang along loudly as Roster McCabe frontman Alex Steele joined UV Hippo on stage for an electrifying cover of Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” Both bands kept the energy level high for those brave souls bold enough to stay awake until 4 a.m.
The sun shone bright and early Friday morning, and the weather could not have been more magnificent. Birds could be heard singing loudly throughout the campgrounds and the sky was a bright blue flecked with white clouds. In other words, it was the perfect conditions for moe. and Umphrey’s McGee to burn the stage into oblivion. moe. was the first major performance at the Moonshine Stage, and wasted no time diving headfirst into “Captain America,” one of their well known tunes. Midway through the moe.’s set, the first appearance of a giant Hunter S. Thompson figure was spotted dancing through the crowd. Standing around twenty feet tall, this figure would become a common sight throughout the duration of the festival. Drawing hands down the biggest crowd of the weekend so far, moe. played at a high level and lived up to their reputation as one of the scenes’ most well respected and distinguished jam bands.
Umphrey’s McGee headlined Friday night by performing two face-melting sets to a packed crowd, firing on all cylinders from start to finish. Highlights of the show included “Nothing Too Fancy” to open the first set, and a roaring “All in Time,” which would be left unfinished until the second set. Big Gigantic frontman and saxophone player Dominic Lalli joined Umphrey’s on stage to perform “Bright Lights, Big City,” which sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy. The two massive sets delivered on Friday night reinforced the fact that this band is constantly evolving toward the unknown. Their improvisation constantly progresses and takes new forms, going to realms few bands even dare to venture. All you have to do is watch the chemistry between Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger to realize that this band is a force to be reckoned with. Showing no signs of slowing down, Umphrey’s McGee has become one of, if not the premier touring jam band still around today.
While Stasik and company were taking care of business at the Sunshine stage, electronic phenomenon EOTO were busy crafting their heavy dance vibes for festival goers at the Moonshine stage. Made up of The String Cheese Incident’s Michael Travis and Jason Hann, this non-stop touring duo has become a must-have act for the late night festivals. EOTO’s newest creation is the Lotus stage, which illuminated the Summer Camp skies with colorful lasers while the stage itself displayed intense geometric patterns and nature-filled designs.
Friday night alone was worth the price of admission. From Yonder Mountain String Band bringing the heat on strings to an awe-inspiring performance by STS9, this night had it all and then some. There was so much happening at all times of the day and night it was nearly impossible to conquer everything on your wish list.
The remaining two days of the festival saw the quality of music stay consistent while Mother Nature proceeded to rear her ugly head. Heavy rainfall throughout Saturday and Sunday turned the dirt trails into slip n’ slides and the stages into mud pits. However, this didn’t stop the resilient fans from trekking through the mud to see their favorite artists.
Saturday saw rising electronic star Griz take flight and drop soulful beats on the Starshine Stage, while tribal DJ’s Garza and Hilton of Thievery Corporation brought their organic flavor of sound to the Moonshine Stage. Once again, moe. and Umphrey’s McGee delivered jam packed sets in the rain to their respected fans. Although the weather grew more severe as the night moved on, the crowd seemed unaffected by the storm and tried to embrace it the best they could. VIP members and fans lucky enough to score a ticket were treated to an exclusive STS9 + Big Grizmatik show late Saturday night in the barn. This late night extravaganza featured an entire set of STS9 followed by the first ever performance by “Big Grizmatik,” consisting of electronic music producers Griz, Gramatik, and Big Gigantic.
By Sunday afternoon there wasn’t a soul in Three Sisters Park who wasn’t covered in mud. Abandoning all hope of staying dry, free spirits embraced the sludge by sliding around and having fun with their friends, while others took refuge at their campsite and locked themselves away in their tents. The trails were an absolute disaster making navigation throughout the park an adventure in and of itself.
Getting to the final Umphrey’s McGee show of the weekend took some very careful maneuvering. This fancy footwork paid off however, when Umphrey’s McGee took the stage and delivered one of the most sinister versions of, “Tribute to the Spinal Shaft” heard this year. Jake Cinninger’s fingers seemed to fly at light speed across the fret board as the rest of the band segued seamlessly into “Wife Soup.” The crowd sang along with Brendan Bayliss to the chorus of, “Wouldn’t even believe your eyes, its all your circus now,” as the rain began to fall harder and harder. It was one of the most majestic and surreal moments of the weekend, and fans showed their appreciation for this special moment by throwing up the signature Umphrey’s devil horns. Next, Umphrey’s invited Taj Mahal and Luther Dickinson on stage to perform the blues standard, “She Caught the Katy.” Closing their final performance of the weekend with the fan favorite, “Miss Tinkle’s Overture,” Umphrey’s McGee walked off stage to wild applause from their fans.
As Sunday night progressed the weather became increasingly more severe and intense. Thick bolts of lightening filled the sky as thunder shook the campgrounds. Only the hardcore of fans were still standing in front of the stages, many of which were waiting for the performance of Phish’s legendary guitarist Trey Anastasio.
What was left of the crowd erupted with applause around 8 p.m. as a smiling, red-haired man emerged from behind the Sunshine stage. Accompanied by a six-piece band, Trey Anastasio took center stage and proceeded to conduct a symphony of sound that seemed to dance continuously around the storm. Opening with the Phish’s “First Tube,” Trey had the crowd at his finger tips from first note, as he smiled aimlessly into the sky. The sky, however, had other plans. The winds began to howl and the storm proceeded to take hold as the band weathered through the storm. After completing a full hour of music that included “Push on ‘Till the Day,” and “Alaska,” Trey announced that they would be back shortly for a second set. However, after only getting through a few songs through the set, the band announced that the conditions had grown too severe and the show would be suspended until further notice. Although this was disappointing news to many fans, it did not go without good reason. Thunder and Lightening consumed the rest of the evening, and festival goers retreated to their respective campgrounds for the remainder of the night.
Despite the weather, Summer Camp 2013 proved once again why people flock from all around the country to attend this festival. Countless sets by multiple musicians are what set this destination apart from the rest. So next time you’re searching for the best music festival in the Midwest, search no further than Summer Camp Music Festival.