Summer Camp Music Festival, Three Sisters Park, Chillicothe, IL – 5/23-24
When archeologists dig up the site formerly known as Three Sisters Park in 2000 years they will find cell phones, bottle caps, tent stakes, and much more. It’s the amazing experiences had by thousands on the backdrop of stunning musical collaboration that will be hard to discern from the artifacts they find. Summer Camp in its thirteenth year continues their tradition of having a diverse lineup with wide appeal as well as providing fans with numerous other possibilities for fun and engagement. Thursday has historically been labeled the “Pre-Party” however veterans of this festival know it’s become an essential part of the experience. Primarily they save the heavy hitters for the actual three-day calander, but Summer Camp stalwarts like Cornmeal and Family Groove Company have gotten the party started for the past few years.
Early arrivers on Thursday were met with the typical lines and a sporadic drizzle. Weather would play a large part in this year’s Summer Camp, but on Thursday it was barely a side note to the experience. Gates opened around 11 AM and fans hustled in to mark off their territory. The woods filled up quickly as others opted to find their place in the fields that bordered the Sunshine Stage. We found a spot in the woods of VIP. They redesigned the campsite this year, making the old VIP path part of General Admission camping, and clearing more of the woods across from the VIP Lounge for tent construction. All in all it was a good move that made for easier mobility for everyone at the festival.
After setup I wandered up to the Camping Stage for Zeta June who officially opened up Summer Camp 2013. They focused on a heavy, rocking, groove oriented sound that was reminiscent of moe. in their younger days. They managed to inject a little funk and they were a proper way to get the party started.
After meeting up with this year’s crop of CITs and the new Camp Counselor Kyle Hess, I headed over to see Stone Sugar Shakedown. This was my second time on Thursday seeing a band I have never caught live before, and I have to say I was impressed. This is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of going to any festival. If you have an open mind, it’s easy to get turned on to all manner of live music that you may have otherwise never encountered. SSS was a funk party lead by Nick Elwood and Tracy Gladden. They blend blues and jam to round out their sound in a way that is engaging and enjoyable. The dynamic between Nick’s deep vocals and searing guitar work with the delicate approach of Gladden made for a very pleasant set.
Heading over to the Starshine Stage I ran into Family Groove Company bassist Janis Wallin who had nothing but good things to say about Sun Stereo who was up next.
“They are a mix of David Byrne and The Beatles.” – Janis
This is quite the endorsement and I have to say she wasn’t too far off. Sun Stereo is all energy. They are basically a three-piece core band with a sprawling horn section which put a heavy emphasis on adding a jazziness to their straight groove. Sun Stereo is lead by keyboardist and vocalist Kelly McMorris who tosses in a bit of the theatrical to their performance. He is truly a powerhouse of a musician. The horns filled out their sound nicely as Kelly kicked back his stool and let it all out for the crowd. If given the chance check out Sun Stereo, they are one to watch.
Family Groove Company took the stage next and opened with a track from their newest album.
Playing new material, it really felt like Family Groove Company was truly revitalized and ready to rage. This is their tenth year performing at Summer Camp and they truly looked comfortable up on the stage in front of a large crowd. The highlight of the set was Allie’s sit in which has almost become a ritual for their pre-party set. They closed with Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
Cornmeal took the stage at 8 PM and although the day had blossomed into a beautiful afternoon, we were hit with an unseasonably cold evening. Fans bundled up and put on their dancing shoes for what would be the beginning of Allie’s last run with Cornmeal. With the departure of the Nowaks, Cornmeal now performs with Scott Tipping on guitar and new drummer as well. Their performance on Thursday night would not leave any doubt that even through this transition Cornmeal still has what it takes to melt faces and make the crowd boogie. It was a moving hour long set that really felt like a celebration of how far this jamgrass band has come. Cornmeal also played a stellar version of “Dear Prudence” that seemed highly appropriate.
Caravan Of Thieves was over at the Campfire Stage warming hearts and minds with their brand of gypsy folk. These guys are just incredible, and it blows my mind that they are not getting more traction and playing to larger audiences. Talk about fun in a bottle, Caravan Of Thieves pulls no punches when it comes to their creation of music and sound onstage. With their new album “Bouquet” this band, evocative of the type of swing folk that made Django Reinhardt famous, continues to plow ahead and tour relentlessly. Fuzz, their guitarist, who sort of looks like Harpo Marx on speed, will often drop his instrument, pick up egg beaters, and pound out a rhythm on buckets strategically placed around the stage. This craziness is juxtaposed against the soft beauty of their other guitarist Carrie and her silky voice. Caravan Of Thieves is never dull and always intriguing to say the least.
We ended our Thursday with Cornmeal’s Midnight Ramble in the Soulshine Tent. This show was based on their loosely formatted residencies in Chicago. They would invite friends and basically just have a good time playing music. They invited Al from moe. up to the stage for a few songs and really kicked it up a notch playing well into the darkness. With three days of music ahead of us, I called it a night and hit the hay. As Bayliss has put it many times, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” So with that in mind I crawled into my tent with visions of moe. and Umphrey’s dancing in my head.