On May 25, 2017, I packed up my car, picked up my brother-in-law, and headed to Chillicothe, IL for the annual Summer Camp Music Festival. However, I was not going there primarily to see Moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, along with a host of others, but to work a booth as a nonprofit. It provided a very interesting and honestly, one heck of an different experience.
Before I start about Summer Camp, let me detail a little about what went into being a nonprofit in the “Make a Difference” area of the festival. First, we had to write up an application on the website. Then we needed to detail a little bit about ourselves and answer some general marketing questions. After that, we talked to the nonprofit coordinator, Cassie Carroll. After all of that, we got the official notification that we would be part of the festival, which came about mid-April. This was a little nerve-wrecking for planning purposes, since we had to get all of our stuff together in about six weeks. But, it all worked out and we got everything together perfectly well.
So, my brother-in-law agreed to come and help me run the booth. We got three tickets as a nonprofit, so a friend of a friend also came and helped. They were extraordinary and did great work to help our nonprofit succeed in what we were doing at Summer Camp.
Now, a little bit about the nonprofit that I run. It is called Here/Hear and is an organization that gives hope to those affected by mental illness. We do this through a variety of ways, including educational initiatives and developing support groups. But, a major way that we work is by engaging the arts as a way of talking about mental illness. We often use the Trey Anastasio quote, “Music has always been my protection against the world, from a very young age. I feel safe inside of a jam.” What he alludes to, and what Here/Hear works to bring out, is that that the arts are a safe place to express yourself and to encounter yourself.
This information about Here/Hear is pertinent because of what we did to set up our booth. Our booth included both a chalkboard where people could write encouraging and positive statements, as well as some painting canvases where people could paint/draw what they were feeling and what they wanted to express. This was in addition to information about our organization and the work that we do. We really tried to engage the arts at Summer Camp and give people a safe space to express themselves and what they were feeling.
In order to do this, though, we had to bring a lot of stuff to Summer Camp. And this is where the adventure begins.
Our time to load in was 10am CDT on Thursday, May 25. So, after I picked up my brother-in-law, we drove the three and half hours to get to Three Sisters Park. Upon arriving, though, things were not marked as well as they could have been. This meant that we went into the wrong entrance and no one had any idea where to send us. We ended up parking in a random spot, called our nonprofit coordinator, got our car, and went to the correct place. Once we got there, we loaded up a large golf cart with as much stuff as we could and Cassie Carroll drove us to the site of our booth. Now, the reason that Cassie had to drive us in was because Summer Camp does not allow you to drive in to the festival grounds or to camp near your car (unless you do Primitive RV Camping). Now, the process was a little annoying, but it worked out well because of the help of Cassie. After dropping off most of our stuff, we went back out to the car to get the stuff for our campsite and to park our car in the correct place.
With the car parked, we set up our camp quickly and then rushed over to set up the booth. We were directly across from the Soulshine Tent. This did not last long, though, as a major thunderstorm came through on Friday afternoon and turned our both into a swamp—parts of our booth were literally underwater. So, Friday afternoon was spent tearing the booth down in a huge mud puddle and then putting it up in a smaller, less deep mud puddle. The mud, though, just became part of the story that was Summer Camp Music Festival 2017.
So, in order to have a nonprofit, you had to commit to having it open until 6pm each night, except for Sunday (which I’ll explain in a bit). We had to have the booth open at 3pm on Thursday and then at 10am on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This was my primary responsibility and I had to make sure that I was available during these times and committed to doing the work, but it also meant that after 6pm I was free to do what I wanted, which included a lot of music.
On Friday, after the thunderstorms cleared, I got to do one of the coolest experiences of my life. As a nonprofit, we were asked if we would like to make an announcement from the stage and when you would like to. As a huge Phish fan, I picked going after Mike Gordon’s set, which was supposed to end at 6pm on Friday. However, due to the thunderstorms, everything got pushed back. I was able to stand backstage for about 20 mins and watch Mike Gordon and his band play while waiting. Then, after he left the stage, I got to walk up to a mic and talk about Here/Hear. It was really incredible and a highlight for sure. We heard from a number of people that they heard us on the stage and that it was really cool.
Saturday brought a lot of the same for our booth. We put our canvases up, put our blackboards up, and tried to engage people as much as we could. About 1:45, though, I turned to my co-workers, wished them well, and headed to the Soulshine Tent. This was because I was able to lead a seminar on mindfulness at Summer Camp. The only problem was that they did not really have a space for my seminar, there was a bar right next to where I led the seminar, and then there was loud music in the tent while I was trying to lead a seminar. And, if you do not know, mindfulness is a form of meditation, so there were a lot of distractions while we were doing the seminar. And it was hard to hear, both for myself hearing the participants and for the participants trying to hear me. But, we got through and it was really incredible. I engaged multiple people afterwards about ways in which mindfulness can be used to help those with mental illness, as well as the ways it helps everyday people in their everyday life. It was a very great experience that was topped off when one of the participants came to our booth and told me about the things he was going through in his life and how the seminar really helped him and gave him a way to deal.
Sunday was mostly uneventful, just a time to wind up the weekend. We finished painting the canvases and gave them away, while also doing what we could to make an impact where we could. But, on Sunday, one of the best things Summer Camp does happened. As we arrived on Sunday morning, we were given bracelets for the Everyone Orchestra performance in the Red Barn. The only way to get these tickets was to volunteer at Summer Camp or to be a nonprofit. And the event started at 5pm, which meant we closed down our booth at 5pm and made our way to the Red Barn. And Everyone Orchestra gave one of the coolest performances of the weekend. The “orchestra” included members of moe., The Floozies, Turkuaz, and Disco Biscuits, among others. It was truly a celebration and did a great job of “rewarding” all the people who took time to work Summer Camp and make it a great event.
Overall, Summer Camp Music Festival was worth it for our organization. It was our first year and included a lot of work, but it was truly fulfilling and was made easier through the work of the nonprofit coordinator Cassie Carroll. She did a great job of helping us and everyone else, getting us from place to place, and of being our advocate.
Now, with that said, I will not say that Summer Camp was perfect for nonprofits. There were issues, from the fact that we were not really in a high traffic area to the fact that Summer Camp was not really concerned with us being stuck in a mud pit. Cassie Carroll was our advocate though and did a great job of making sure that we were taken care of. I wish Summer Camp would, in a larger capacity, treat the nonprofits in a way that was similar to other vendors. But, in the scheme of things, it was a great experience and we look forward to going back in 2018.