Pulling into Summer Camp for my first time I couldn’t help but feel a bit apprehensive. Everything I’ve read or seen on the web says “It’s an amazing fest… as long as it doesn’t rain“ Yet, here I was, pulling up to the gate on Friday morning after 3 solid days of precipitation. Stepping out of my jeep into the parking lot I immediately sunk into the mud up to my ankles and thought to myself “Welp, I guess it’s time to get dirty!”
I unloaded all my gear with the help of a few amazing friends (I will be bringing a wagon next year) and took my place at the end of a long, mud-covered, tie-dye-colored snake heading for the country version of TSA. Upon entering the festival, I was shocked by the vision in front of me. What was once a farmers field just a few weeks prior had been transformed into a musical utopia. My senses were blissfully overwhelmed. The smell of chorizo bread (my new favorite fest food), the vibrant colors of Dimple Dye tie dyes, and in the distance you can hear Keller Williams warming up for his set. I knew this was going to be good! After quickly setting up my tent in the woods and strapping on my cameras, I clogged through the once feared mud and prepared to scratch that musical itch that had been steadily building for weeks.
Summer Camp Music Festival seems to have figured out how to please a wide range of musical tastes all in one location. From a saxophone playing Sasquatch to jamgrass virtuosos Armchair Boogie, to freaking MOE! There is truly something for everyone.
As I trudged through the muck, I was greeted with smiles from every person I passed, usually followed by the mantra “Happy Scamp.” Groups of wonderfully and uniquely dressed people got in line behind their creative totems and made the pilgrimage to where the real magic happens.
My first set was Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass at the sunshine stage. In the beginning, the crowd was apprehensive at first. Circling all around the mud pit like a high school dance. People seemed to need a nudge to get down and dirty and Keller Williams happily obliged. By the third note played all within earshot had surged into the deep muck and were swaying back and forth like Keller’s curly locks.
My next set was moe. at the Moonshine stage. Moonshine was by far my favorite place to consume music. Set on a hill and adjacent to the camping area, it gave concert goers many options on how they wanted to attend. From your campsite hammock, riding the muddy rail, or sitting on a blanket up the hill - you can do it your way. Moe. left nobody wanting and I had to remind myself many times to close my jaw and pick up my camera. They simply melted faces.
The rest of Friday was a blur of amazing music. From Family Groove Company, to Mungion, to Here Come the Mummies, I topped everything off with a killer set by Umphrey’s McGee. As I lay down to rest at the end of a long day I drifted off to the soothing sound of trap music coming from a DJ near the boofing bridge area deep within the wooky woods (it’s cool they stopped by 6 am).
Saturday started off right with the incredible Maggie Rose. Her soulful voice is just what I needed to recover from the 17,000 steps (but who’s counting?!) I took through the mud the day before. Next, I stopped by the Campfire stage to see a personal favorite of mine, Old Shoe. Old Shoe made a hot day even hotter as they never fail to bring the heat every time. I decided to check out the Soulshine tent after that and saw the amazing Armchair Boogie. Those boys bluegrass your ass off. The highlight of my day was shooting Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. Not only did they bring energy few can replicate but I had the honor of shooting alongside legendary photographer Jay Blakesberg (a goal of mine since I picked up a camera).
Sunday began with the wise words of Chicago Farmer and the Field Notes. Cody’s lyrics make you stop and think. I feel that this is so important in a time where most new music is built around a boring hook. The heat got a little intense, so I enjoyed moe. from the comfort of my campsite and refueled in order to close out this fest right. Smashing Pumpkins was my next choice, and I was so pleased that I went. Billy Corgan did not fail to deliver. Every song was on the lips of everyone in the crowd, it was truly a magical experience. After Smashing Pumpkins, I stopped by the Frick and Frack Casino. I was truly amazed at how much fun was had there. I closed out Summer Camp at the Campfire stage, easily my second favorite stage. I saw Lespecial for the first time and was blown away by their unique sound. Closing out my first Summer Camp was the endless ball of energy they call Andy Frasco and the U.N. You know it’s going to be a fun time when the first thing that happens at the beginning of the set is a fan throwing a bag of mushrooms up to Andy. Hours later with my gear soaked by raining whiskey and feet numb from miles walked all in the name of music, I laid down in my tent with a huge smile and already began to think about what I learned to make next year even better.
Summer Camp, I will be back and I’ll be smarter and stronger next year! I learned so many things in my time spent at Three Sisters Park. First, bring socks!! - all of your socks. Walking around with dry feet is so nice but also a necessity if you are going to walk 10 miles a day. Second, make friends with your neighbors. When the Sunday ground score ticket holders come through the woods it’s nice to have someone who knows who belongs at your campsite. Lastly, whatever you do, visit the Frick and Frack casino. The staff there is hilarious and it’s an experience that I’ll never forget.
In closing, I want to thank June and Grateful Web for making this incredible experience possible. It’s a weekend that I’ll never forget.