Summer Camp Music Festival, Three Sisters Park, Chillicothe, IL – 5/25-26
After a brilliantly beautiful day a Summer Camp we woke up to overcast skies and a light drizzle. That sporadic rain would continue on and off throughout the day culminating with an absolute downpour during Umphrey’s first set. We’ll get to that. I began the day by stopping by the partner-hooping workshop put on by the Masquerade Tribe. This is just one of the many things happening all weekend long. From yoga to music and educational clinics so much is happening. In the nooks and crannies of this festival hides some the most amazing opportunities and experiences. Another such event is Field Day.
Field Day is an all out color war on the grounds of Three Sisters Park. Members of the Purple, Blue, Yellow, and Red team compete in a variety of activities including a Spelling Bee, Tug-O-War, Dodge Ball, a Photo Scavenger Hunt, and a Pizza Eating Contest. It’s a chance to blow off some steam and share some camaraderie with fellow scampers. Field day is competitive to say the least, but it’s all in good fun. This year the Red Team was victorious by one point with the rest of the teams tied in second place. Their name will again grace the Summer Camp Cup and their flag will fly high over the festival.
The bass workshop began in the Church around 12:30 PM featuring Victor Wooten and Reed Mathis. They began with a back and forth jam before answering questions from the attendees. These workshops often take the form dictated by their audience. It’s really a chance to pick the brains of some tremendous artists in a way that both musicians and fans can truly appreciate.
The rain continued to sprinkle so I sought shelter with Floodwood in the VIP Lounge. Last year’s unannounced set in there was a highlight for me, so honestly I wouldn’t have missed it. Floodwood is marketed as a moe. side project, however they are actually an Americana powerhouse in their own right. The band features Vinnie Amico and Al Schnier and truly these guys deserve their own headlining nationwide tour. This was the first of three sets Floodwood performed on Saturday at Summer Camp including a late night show at the Campfire Stage that went until around 5 AM. The most intriguing member is violinist Nick Piccininni who is pretty much self-taught and cleanly rips it up. They opened with “Stomp It,” which as its name would insinuate was a rowdy call to action for the crowd who was just beginning to dry out. They also played a wonderfully Appalachian tinged tune entitled “North Country Wind.” They are one of my favorite new bands and I’m just waiting for them to come west of the Mississippi to my home state Colorado. They played for about an hour in the VIP, which with utter flawlessness.
On the Camping Stage was Chicago’s own Henhouse Prowlers, who have been spreading their variety of string music far and wide. The rain continued on and as this superb quartet played to the rain soaked crowd. The Henhouse Prowlers have toured relentlessly over the past few years and despite some lineup changes they have maintained their high level of performances. They are another not-so hidden gem at Summer Camp; making a strong impression on anyone who catches them live. If you are a fan of real bluegrass I would recommend checking these guys out.
Tea Leaf Green was getting started on the Starshine Stage. I have to give credit to the festival organizers for persevering through the weather and making sure that the music continued. The drizzle is enough to wreak havoc on monitors and the PA, but they pushed ahead skillfully. In fact right after they dialed in the sound, Reed Mathis exclaimed that it had finally stopped raining. The overcast sky loomed, but for the moment the clouds had ceased leaking. They opened with “Germinatin’ Seed.”
Tea Leaf Green is one of the most underrated bands in the scene today. They continue to tour across the country and put on stellar shows, but despite their efforts they seem to only to make a minor splash. They sounded incredibly tight. Reed has now been with TLG for a couple of years and he finally sounds in synch with the rest of the band. They are dialed in and firing on all cylinders. They have a deep understanding of groove-oriented jam and they are worth catching whenever possible. I was able to take a few pictures and catch the beginning of their set however just across the road something very special was happening and I had to ramble.
At Sunshine it was Cornmeal performing their last show with fiddler Allie Kral. It was bittersweet to say the least, and I know she will be sorely missed. She is moving on with her life after touring with Cornmeal for over a decade. The band did little to convey the gravity of the situation other than a distinct heaviness in the air. Fans seemed entranced with the music slurping up each note like a desert flower after a rare storm. Newcomers Scott Tipping and Drew Littell added vibrancy to their sound, but they mostly toed the line during this set. “River Gap” was a definite peak and seemed to reference Allie’s years on the road with Cornmeal. Before their last song band mate Chris Gangi gave a heartfelt goodbye.
“We’ve fought like sisters, but we played music like brothers…”
They closed with another appropriate road song “Hillbilly Ride.” There was many teary eyes in the crowd as Allie made her final bow with a band she has become synonymous with for the last ten years. I wish her the best.
After Cornmeal I raced back to the VIP Lounge to catch Victor Wooten and Friends. Before the set even started Victor addressed the band saying, “We have nothing to prove to each other,” before telling they crowd they were just going to have a jam session. What followed was a musical journey that focused on the funky side. The band consisted of Victor, Jordan Wilkow, Janis Wallin, Roosevelt Collier, Roy Ponce, and more. They just played, passing around solos and generally shared in the musical dance. Victor referred to Janis more than once as the, “Mistress of Groove.” They were impressive and yet another reason why VIP was worth the money this year.
Karl Denson took the same stage after a quick changeover. Few bands have the ability to break out the dirty funk like Mr. Denson and his Tiny Universe. Incorporating tight jazz riffs to fill out their sound, this group is something to behold. A Greyboy Allstars alumnus, Karl Denson leads his own group comprised of powerfully funky musicians. Utilizing elements of afrobeat and rock as well, KDTU is another fully capable band that really pleases the crowd. They played for just over an hour to a packed field.
On my way back to camp I checked out a bit of Thievery Corporation on Moonshine. There is so much going on in their live performance that it is almost difficult to break it all down. Formed by the DJ duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton they have an assemblage of incredible musicians that add an organic flavor to their electronic edge. It’s safe to say there is almost a softness to their sound, which is why I wandered over like a moth to a flame. They integrate elements of Middle Eastern, Indian, acid jazz, reggae, dub, and Brazilian into one substantial melting pot of sound. They are high energy without being abrasive to the ears. I really enjoyed catching part of their set at the festival.
Finally it was time for the moe. and Umphrey’s leap frog extravaganza that has been a tradition on Saturdays at Summer Camp for a number of years now. Let’s begin with the Umphs. They launched off with a colossal “Depth Charge” into “Hurt Bird Bath.”
“How you doing out there?… Round 2” – Bayliss
Umphrey’s McGee is perhaps the most technical and progressive band in jam today. They are also the last “jam” band. Their live performances are a sensory overload. Jefferson Waful operating the light board paints incredible mosaics of radiance that really boggle the mind. Their output of music over two sets was close to three hours total with lots of twists and turns. They brought out Mad Dog & His Filthy Little Horns for “Booth Love,” “I Got Love,” and “Andy’s Last Beer.” Michael “Mad Dog” Mavridoglou has a history with Umphrey’s having played on their album Local Band Does Ok, and appearing with them onstage numerous times with his full horn section. They sounded incredible and prior to “I Got Love,” Bayliss commented on the fact that they have never played this particular song with a horn section before. It turned out nicely with The Fitly Little Horns accenting the flow well. They closed the first set with a crunchy “Wizard Burial Ground.”
Their second set was equally full of classics and beefy rage rock. They started with a fourteen-minute “Wappy Sprayberry” before segueing into an even bigger “Ocean Billy.” This two-song section saw some of the most extended jamming of the entire weekend. Umphrey’s McGee is so polished that it’s nice to see them actually play for a little while. No band in the scene is tighter so when they go with the flow it can be very impressive. They brought back Mad Dog and His Filthy Little Horns for “Utopian Fir.” However the highlight of the show was their version of Beck’s “Debrah” with Bayliss on vocals. Taking an almost Prince-esque approach, this cover was a lot of fun for the entire crowd. Umphrey’s closed with a very nice “Der Bluten” sandwich. They brought the horns back again for their “Bridgeless” encore. UM just sounds so good, they keep adding to their repertoire and always tightening up. They are vying to become the top band in jam with each show.
moe. played an equally sick concert on Saturday as well. They know that fans travel from across the country to see them throw down a Summer Camp, which is one of three festivals they host throughout the year. They made a statement by opening up with “Bullet” into “Rise.”
“Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes” is a new song written by Rob about his daughter. Summer Camp has historically been a place for the band to try out new tunes and this one was very sweet. “The Faker” is a favorite of mine and it was executed wonderfully. moe. just does not disappoint at Summer Camp, they have a mission and that mission is to rock. Their set ending “Plane Crash” was one of the most incredible versions I’ve seen them play. They invited Allie out for the violin intro that is featured on Tin Cans and Car Tires. It was absolutely overwhelming and another reminder of how versatile Allie is as a musician.
Their second set on Saturday was just as uncompromising as the first. Although the “Rainshine” opener felt a little strained while “Silver Sun” seemed optimistic given the weather we had already experienced. Of course the band was just playing with their set lists, showing us a little bit of tongue-in-cheek amusement on their part. “Happy Hour Hero” was a nice breather, but what followed was some of the best moe. of the weekend. The massive “McBain” bookend jam featured a sick “Spine Of A Dog” with a “Buster” thrown in for good measure. In refrence to the previous night’s antics with Umphrey’s they performed “In The Kitchen.” It felt a little more drum heavy and had a different flow than the original, but it was a perfect way to end the show.
We called it a night after moe. With one more day of Summer Camp looming on the horizon it was time to rest up and get ready. Sunday is famously jam packed with music for all of the people that opt in for single day tickets and this Sunday would be no different. Well… in retrospect, it would be a little different.