Memories create the future. Memories of Memorial Day weekend at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL for Summer Camp Music Festival blended together with 23 years of Summer Camp past memories. Goldberg Productions announced this would be the last ever Summer Camp as we know it. We’re blasting off into a whole new world and I’m not sure if it’s following the dopamine or the rush of norepinephrine, the total lack of serotonin, or the much-needed oxytocin of so many hugs but I must admit, Summer Camp 2023 was a big ol blur. I'll try to use the Force.
Which way to the 5th dimension? I hitchhiked my way thru the galaxy of the last-ever Summer Camp Music Festival. Since 2001, I’ve called this planet home but now it’s time to blast off into the future. They say there will still be some sort of music festival at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL over Memorial Day weekend. They say maybe it will be a scaled-back version of the Summer Camp we’ve come to know and love. They say a lot of things these days but I have trust issues.
Thursday, May 23, the gates opened like a herd of turtles. The weather was a crispy nod to spring but the mood was autumn. The Soulshine tent, with white peaks to the sky thumping like a heartbeat, had BluCone singing about fresh groups? Fresh roots? No. They were singing about Fresh Fruits! The foxy female funk sounded like fertile earth as they scatted jazz on the mic about nonartificial sweeteners and all I could think of was nonartificial anything. No artificial life, no art, and no articulations from humans once AI really gets going. So many signs of life yet painting, performing, provoking passion, dreaming of a future that’s green like this scene in perfect harmony without removing the memories, using pain to promote us to power… what will my world look like without Summer Camp?
The North 41 was playing at the Starshine stage, perfect to get these thoughts moving from my head to my feet, take a seat, and just enjoy the moment. Live in the present. I was hypnotized in the cemetery of my mind. Hope is not a plan. That was my only plan for the weekend. Hope that this was not all just some dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago. Is this some sort of box of rain on a perfect day? Believe it if you need it, if you don’t just pass it on.
The multiverse got to spinning its quantum particles at sunset when Lotus cracked open the Sunshine stage. A big old family reunion, the hugs were prolific and the feeling was still very sentimental. The guitar dances a little louder not to discredit the drums but it’s very evident that something is missing. It was good to be together again. Can’t stop the sun from setting.
The Disco Biscuits sailed into the Sunshine stage after dark. Thursday night brought the prismatic jams of Disco Biscuits that included:
Twisted on the Road
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
To Be Continued
Story of the World> Twisted in the Road reprise
The Moonshine Stage would have to wait for the weekend as nothing played there for the Thursday night pre-party. For the first time ever, host bands moe. and Umphrey’s McGee played the Moonshine Stage together. Bringing together two different universes united the vibes even more. I once performed a marriage on the campground stage. Bringing two worlds together is something that happens at Summer Camp. Life forms took shape creating more than before while I made my way back to my tent. The first 8-10,000 people were here but we had a long way to go on this emotional journey. 20,000 were expected but who knows?
EDM madame Maddy ONeal closed out the Starshine stage Thursday night. She may be my new favorite. Not quite the hard-stomping EDM, she’s fierce fabulous, and full of soul! After doing shows with Dirtwire, Maddy O’Neal recently traveled down to Jamaica to DJ with the String Cheese Incident and I had major FOMO for that show. Now here I was in the cornfields of Illinois enjoying her in my own backyard. Drifting between dreamworld and waking life, life is funny like that. Can I time travel yet? Or is it just artificial intelligence that gets to have all the fun? I’m ready to be abducted.
Friday morning anointed the day with sunblock and patchouli oils. We tidied up camp and made a big breakfast. I thought that would give me energy but everything was so delightful, a perfect breeze swirled as I lulled into a food coma and had the most divine nap. The hum of the generator next to us was like white noise on a sound machine. Back to basics, indeed. Does anyone actually enjoy nature or do we just make videos of us in nature? OOOOH. Look at that tree! Here I am next to a waterfall. Gotta run. My phone needs charging.
The generator almost drowned out the signature keys coming from Kyle Hollingsworth Band but I was up and at em when I heard "Let’s Go Outside!" There is never enough Kyle Hollingsworth in the world. Everything was dripping with sweet sentimentality and when he ripped into "Reeling In the Years," again, I choked back the tears. Happy tears? Maybe. A cathartic release? Definitely.
What’s the Honeydrippers' tune? "Sea of Love?" If I am correct, Fortunate Youth covered it and I was feeling no need to relocate to Jamaica or California. I have this amazing green soft grass natural turf under my feet right here in Illinois while the bubbles floated through the air and I levitated into a whole new world. Where was I? It was a brief one-hour set that felt like I was back in 1996. Maybe in 2014 when the tornado got us. Maybe in 2003 when Umphrey’s joined this party. Not sure where I was or what day it was, do I dare say Fortunate Youth’s vocalist Dan Kelley had the reggae rock vibes of Bradley Nowell? I just did and that was fanfreakingtastic.
I trekked off to freshen up when I heard the call of "Stir It Up," then "One Love," then "Get Up Stand Up." The Wailers were live and direct with dat kinky reggae. We are all part of a continuum, one long story and we are maybe a chapter, possibly only one page of that story. It’s weird to look in the mirror and discover the unknown in the only meat suit we’ll ever really know. Our own perfect machine and we’re still looking for some mystery that will take us higher. Nothing gets higher than the Legacy of Bob Marley and the Wailers.
I got a text on the little mega computer in my pocket saying that my friend Alyssa would be arriving at 9 pm. Planning like a squirrel, I had her ticket at will call but… Goose. Goose was on stage and in order to get to will call and have her wristband for her, I would never make it on time. The world was immovable but there was only one choice. Alyssa would remember waiting out in the parking lot. Goose would never even know that I missed their set. Choosing the homies always comes first, especially at a festival where there are over 150 bands. Until my particles can expand without this meat suit restricting 'em so that I can be in all places at once, I will be choosing the chosen family first. Loyalty is so human. I ran like it was high school gym class to the box office that closed at 8. I hit every single fence on the way there, thinking I knew the shortcuts. I don’t. Magically, I got there at 8:01 pm and they graciously helped me out. The entire staff of Summer Camp has always been so gracious. Overworked and unpaid, but gracious all at the same time, too.
Now to wait for Alyssa’s arrival. Do I get lost in the music? My heart was pounding like a heart attack so no. I cooled off and took a walk in Mr. Rodger's neighborhood. I gazed through the telescope of realms unfiltered cuz a quick walk takes 30 minutes and you’re a fool if you think you can push your way through these crowds. Don’t harsh the mellow man! Clocks are the glitch in my matrix, I’m working really hard to be better at noticing time but sometimes it goes slow and other days it goes so fast so I stayed near the gates just in case.
Wherever you stand, be the soul of that space.
I was lucky enough to find good friends right there and as we chatted, wouldn’t you know Alyssa pulled up right beside me? The paradigm shifted, Alyssa & I drove off thru the parking lot looking for a good spot nearby because one of the charms of Summer Camp is that you have to drag all your gear from the cars in the parking lot to the campgrounds intermingled with the concert fields. It was dark and she had a lot of stuff to drag.
By the time we got her and her stuff to camp and after we set up her tent and she caught her breath from the long drive here, we definitely missed Goose. This drives me to keep going to festivals. Maybe one day I’ll just bite the bullet and buy the Goose ticket. This weekend it was not meant to be, I guess. From the rained-out Goose set in 2019 to now, I just didn’t make it in time.
We cruised over to the Moonshine stage and rode the rail for my favorite and yours, moe. We strolled right up at the beginning of the second set. Allie Kral was playing Plane Crash. While I have seen this combo before and I have stood right here watching it, I knew this was different. We are different people doing the same things and it’s comfortable. It’s familiar. With practice, everything improves. I have no problem with repetitive motion because it may be repetitive but we are always improving. And then when they ripped into Ophelia, euphoria. Close encounters of the Summer Camp kind were upon me.
Saturday morning, in bittersweet style we stood in the wide open fields watching Family Groove Company. Like the last scene in Charlie and the chocolate factory where the fizzywig soda makes everyone float toward the fans of doom, we giggled and gushed until the music hit and we felt no pain. Are we aliens or are the rest of society the aliens? Watching Family Groove Company was watching a band that has resurfaced and kept on going through the asteroids of building families, getting a doctorate degree, and having side projects, but still Family Groove Company remains. "Thank You for a Real Good Time" gave way to Jordan’s almost Trey-like vocals on a cover of Tom Petty’s "American Girl". My heart swelled with pride for that classic tune that also served as the soundtrack to Handmaid’s Tale when you find out that the main character has a name that is not Offred. Her name was June. I think it was 2013, FGC played this tune with Allie Kral. It’s a Summer Camp staple. Jordan then went on to give gratitude to Summer Camp.
“We have played 19 Summer Camps and 35 sets of music over the years. We are so so grateful to have been a part of 9 different stages over the years.”
Jordan then went on to list all the different stages, memories abounding for the places and ways this Three Sisters Park has morphed into a playland of the highest degree every year for 22 years.
The Campfire stage was once just a platform with an easy up over it. Over the years, Dubskin took to that little platform, Joel Cummings from Umphrey’s McGee joined Joe Hettinga on keys on that little platform, and now it has progressed to a full sound stage sans wood palates but the campfire remains burning warm for all to share. 2023’s Campfire stage housed Nasty Snacks, the winners of the Summer Camp on the Road contest. Saturday morning brought the funk as they are fresh off opening for Lyrics Born at Chicago’s City Winery.
Staring into the speckled clouds of the galaxy, I proudly proclaimed to myself and anyone around me I guess, “Is that a cock n balls?” Lots of people cocked their heads to gaze into the abyss as well. One fella asked me, “Would you like to see my art?” Why yes? Yes I did. He was drawing all sorts of mandalas and word art and I knew this was home. Not many other planets have hand-drawn band art like this. With hope in his eyes, he asked if I liked it. I liked it very much.
Girl Talk is an artist that will give you the exact blueprint for his art. Sample after sample, his music is as if your neighbors are blasting competing songs and somehow from your apartment in the middle it all sounds just perfect together. The dial of the radio spun to create just one song out of many.
But let us not forget my new find. Do you like new music? The best part of a festival is seeing the lineup and wanting to see all your favorites but instead, you catch a band cuz your feet won’t carry you any further. That alone is worth the cost of the ticket. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Finding new music (that you really like) can be an archeological dig but not at Summer Camp.
Dogs In A Pile took the 4 pm Saturday set at the Starshine stage. It was Revenge of the Dogs in a Pile, complete with Booger and a belching contest. I don’t get around to the VIP stage often but they did play one set earlier at that VIP stage. The setlist for the Starshine stage was:
Let U Go
And that, in retrospect, was probably why I’m so in love with Dogs in a Pile. That lil nugget gave me the keyboard dream feelings like Dumbo’s Circus. It was a carousel of fun reminiscent of Stange Arrangement, my Summer Camp band find of the year 2010. I still swoon over Strange Arrangement anytime they come out of hibernation.
Yum T. Dum
Royals (Lorde cover)
I meant to be over at Cory Wong’s Moonshine stage set but when Dogs in a Pile’s drummer was like an octopus of impetus pushing us forward, these tigers on a gold leash would not be tamed. I stuck around until the end with no regrets. The schizophrenia of a big music festival called for some sort of restraint even when it leaves you feeling bewildered and confused.
It was the perfect warm-up for the workout that is Girl Talk. The Sunshine stage had cloud coverage and the whole crowd from stage to soundboard was getting down! Greg Gillis (Girl Talk) also gave gratitude from the stage. He’s played several times over the years and mentioned the “Weird shit we do in the woods” fifteen years ago.
As the sunset and Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade took the stage, it got weird. Keeping it weird in all the best ways as only Colonel Les Claypool does. They recreated Pink Floyd’s Animals in its entirety. Horah horah. Can’t you hear that opening line just thinking of the album? Pigs on the wing took us all to outer space.
Just before that Dirtwire kept us grounded with their world-beat tribal blazing set on the Starshine stage. The heartbeat of the land came alive with just two members, David Saton and Evan Fraser. It’s time to leave the capsule if you dare. I’m stepping through the door and I’m floating in the most peculiar way. The stars look very different today.
Is the interest in space exploration in order to live forever? Why are we so interested in what is beyond? Stretching out beyond this blue planet seems kewl, but like, why? Can’t we live simply so that others may simply live? Every year, moe. takes the Moonshine stage and Umphrey’s rages the Sunshine stage. This final Summer Camp brought their worlds together and it was everything. Worlds colliding!
So you’ve decided to couple up at Summer Camp. There was no better place to canoodle than at moe.’s Saturday night set of Summer Camp, always with love in the air here. Saturday night started off with one set of moe. then the marriage of moe. & Umphrey’s McGee. Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever together on stage, SCamp presents your Summer Camp hosts since 2003. I now pronounce you fulfilled.
Watching Chuck on absolute fire walk over to Joel was a joy not soon forgotten. Where else can you get the xylophone from Vinny at the same time as Bayliss calling back to the boys on stage? They played some moe. songs, they covered Allman Brothers’ "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and Blue Oyster Cult’s "Don’t Fear the Reaper" complete with a massive cowbell. They had a fever! Rob had the prescription with more cowbell. Lest we not forget the incredible Talking Head’s Crosseyed and Painless.
Nor should we forget the incredible new takes from moe.’s earlier set while the sun was still up. Nate Wilson, moe.’s keyboard player took the vocals for Blind Melon’s No Rain. It definitely deserves a mention as Shannon Hoon was originally from not too far from Three Sister’s Park. Kids still go to his grave to party and pray. That song sweetly sufficed the melancholy mood of this final farewell.
As the massive band on the Moonshine stage parted ways to give Umphrey’s their Saturday night party, Brendan Balyliss who always holds such a sentimental piece of my 30DB heart took the mic after playing Don’t You Forget About Me (cue John Bender on the football field). Umphrey’s had invited moe. back on stage with them and I think the whole crowd took a collective inhale while he spoke. He spoke of belonging and acceptance and how moe. has that influence when it came to these two bands becoming one as the hosts of the late great Summer Camp Music Festival.
“For the first time, it made me feel legitimate. Because I’m very illegitimate. The point is, if somebody like me can get somebody like them to come on stage with somebody like me, then maybe somebody like you can convince somebody like them that you are worth it. It made me feel special even though I’m not.”
The tears washed into the rain.
All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
I like watching the puddles gather rain
And all I can do
Is just pour some tea for two
And speak my point of view
But it's not sane
It's not sane
Sunday morning offered day passes and the biggest lineup one right after another. It was an emotional swamp of perfect weather, fresh faces, and the whole dam family all entering the park. A deluge of dunkaroo and the crew I first hung with here at Three Sisters Park in 2001 had me on fire inside my soul. This community, these people, all encapsulated with this music is what it is all about. You don’t spit into the wind, you don’t ask Uncle Randy for a photo on Saturday night and you don’t mess around with Dancing Chris.
There are so many traditions and so many ceremonial things to do and yet this final Summer Camp left me looking for new ways to carry on. Everything in this world is changing so rapidly. The part I love best about my musical family is that we are all seeking something. We are explorers. While the lineup of Sunday was so stacked, I have but one final story for this Sunday at the final Summer Camp.
There is a family that is so very near and dear to my heart. They hold my memories for the past 22 years. As life tends to do, they couldn’t both make it at the same time but they bent over backwards to get here. It’s incredible what music lovers will do. They could move mountains as if their child is under that car just to see their favorite bands. But also, they completely care for their children and they work 40 hours a week and they still find time to somehow make it all happen.
He had her ticket on his phone. I left my phone at camp and ran to give her his phone. Alas, his phone has facial recognition so even his wife could not access her own ticket on his phone. Security was great but all this technology is too much for me. So often I feel like a victim of my own devices. This was such a weirdo example of that yet again. Summer Camp employees to the rescue thank GAWD they are human and they can understand the situation so they gave me her wristband. I figured all was well and this was no big deal. It really wasn’t but I had to run to the ticket booth again. High school gym class all over again. Then run back to camp to get my phone with her phone number on it. Heaven forbid I actually know my human friend’s phone number. Is all this technology actually helping?
I stood out at the gate calling her name like KARL but no answer. I was so afraid she was just pissed and perhaps she would just leave. Should I run back to camp? But I have her wristband. The way the ticket booths are set up, I was inside and the other booth was outside and I was so disheartened thinking I had fucked this up for her. After alerting anyone I could at security that I had Melissa’s wristband, I took off running to the other side of the festival grounds to get my phone. We connected and again I ran back to the entrance gate with her wristband and collected my precious prize. We were all together, a little worse for wear but all together at last. I hope all the staff I harassed that morning now knows that Melissa Warren got in and that we had a real good time.
My emotions were not about the music on Sunday. My emotions were all about the people. There were so many beautiful people. So many beautiful ideas I would love to discuss with everyone but that is impossible because of the music. We all know one person that has a whole set of rules for how you should view music. Don’t talk when the band is playing and I hate to break the rules. So I missed a lot of bands because of these rules. Why break the rules when I can make up my own? If you don’t want me to talk when the band plays maybe I should just listen to bands at home. That is not what being a human is about. We commune. We find healing in relationships. We need to be around each other, hug, hold hands, and exchange information. We just do. Maybe we could discuss the rules of how to speak to one another but that will be a topic for another day.
I need music for my mental health. Summer Camp has polished me like sandpaper. I’d call these people my family but they aren’t around at Christmas time so I can’t in good conscience say that truthfully. Family is a four-letter word. As Bayliss said, I too am illegitimate. They hate me for who my dad was. He has been gone from this planet since 2007 but it doesn’t stop the feelings. Emotions can be heavy like that. While I wish I could report on Chicago Farmer and the Fieldnotes or Keller Willimas or even the band that played my wedding, Old Shoe, I cannot. I do know that Old Shoe opened with Dustbowl, my favorite songwriter Joe Day’s pinnacle song thus far.
After getting all that physical love from the fam we scooted back to camp where we played with the neighbors. They had a new tradition that I had not yet experienced and I was jazzed. Who wants to do a Dunk-a-roo!? I do! They say the words out loud and there is a pageantry to it that I could not resist although in hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. We love bad decisions. They make for great stories.
Step One: say the words I do and take a shot. Step Two: keg stand style plunge into a cooler of ice water. I’m very into cold plunges these days so heck yes. Step Three: a friend of your choosing slaps you. Step four: shotgun a beer. It’s consensual wakeboarding. And it was filled with laughter and good times. I’m reporting about Dunk-aRoos when I know I really should be saying something about the indomitable Sierra Hull. She was all the way over at the Moonshine stage and again, I’m just a dirtbag photographer. I don’t get VIP nor can I afford it so here I sat on the other side of the park. I had done my jog and sprinting for the morning. It just wasn’t going to happen.
Lucky for me, however, Andy Frasco had Sierra Hull up on stage with him. Again, he brought up Maggie Rose as he has at Summer Camp in the past. Again he had Saxsquatch. Again he ran that shit show like the conductor of the funk train he is. Wook of the Year Andy Frasco got his Stanley Cup or excuse me, he lifted the Larry O’Brien of Lostlands. Yay, Sportsball! It was the championship game of Sunday that lead right into Willie Nelson.
Andy Frasco’s Worldsaving podcast is one of my favorite musical interview shows out there. The recent episode once again features my sweet Vince Herman, the real champion of the jam scene. He is the Bernie Sanders of our arena, coming in a close third so many times but never ever giving up hope. Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. If you ever want to know a little history about this wookie world, I recommend beginning with that new episode from Andy Frasco’s World Saving Podcast. They discuss Col Bruce Hampton, Wavy Gravy, and the real heart of this wookie world. They talk about doing it for the good stuff, it’s not about the money, cars, not even the bling It’s about how you feel, without all those things. Happiness will keep us free.
Jack Cloonan and I are tuned in. we'll be wearing our tinfoil hats. Join us there! Also, I don’t have much to report about Jack Cloonan’s set at the Campfire stage Sunday night, unfortunately. I can report that I will be catching his set somewhere down the road. After Frasco ripped the roof off the Starshine, we space-traveled to the Moonshine stage for one last time. It feels like that but that is not true! There will be more music from this stage in the future. But it may not be Willie Nelson and family and it definitely won’t be like it was on this final set of my Summer Camp 2023. I could shut off the clocks and live here forever.
Yes I understand
That every life must end
As we sit alone
I know someday we must go
Oh, I'm a lucky man
To count on both hands
The ones I love
Some folks just have one
Yeah, others they got none
Stay with me
Let's just breathe
There could be no better pinnacle for this final Summer Camp, well, maybe Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die. That’s the beauty of art. You get to decide what you like the best. The best artists present it to you and they let you take it home. They decorate time and you keep the memories. The best souvenirs are between the ears.
The pre-fest rumors of Billy Strings being a part of the Willie Nelson and Family lineup were not true but maybe the rumors of the Summer Camp orgy camp were true? I mean, Andy Frasco’s set got pretty orgy-like. There were cowards and lions, tin men, and brainless harmless scarecrows. We're not in Kansas anymore. There is no place like home. And you were there… and you! And you!
While we wrestle with the doom and wait to be abducted, the alien probes overstood as we had one final close encounter of the Summer Camp kind. Is it Al or is it AI? (as in Al Schnier or artificial intelligence) The aliens have no answers for us. They walk alongside us here on Earth and I wonder why they would want to be here and not their home planet. Perhaps they want what we all want, to live long and prosper.
Check out more of June's PHOTOS from Summer Camp 2023