Summer Camp Music Festival, Three Sisters Park, Chillicothe, IL – 5/25-26
As my eyes adjusted to the light the distinct pitter patter of rain could be heard falling on my tent. It was one of those cool mornings that make you want to re-wrap yourself in blankets, roll over, and go back to sleep. I fought that urge knowing that music would be starting soon and it was time to get ready for the last day of Summer Camp. After the deluge on Saturday along with rain overnight the mud had finally reached an unimaginable level. The roads became a sloppy consistency that made it hard to differentiate between what was a puddle and what was solid ground. Again I have to give credit to the organizers for continuing the show even though the weather and washed out roads made that much more difficult. After getting ready I sought refuge in the Church and waited for the Pickin’ Party to begin.
This was a bluegrass clusterpluck that included members of Floodwood, all of The Henhouse Prowlers, as well as Allie Kral. What followed was some of the best bluegrass that occurred at Summer Camp 2013. It was a blend of all the things that make string music so great. Allie took the unofficial lead talking about playing acoustically and not needing a PA. Ben from Henhouse said, “These songs are all the same… but seriously they kind of are.” He wasn’t so much belittling bluegrass as much as he was pointing out a fact. Much of what the genre is built on is tradition and even though the music can be incredibly innovative it never wanders too far from its central principles. They ran through a series of songs that was enough to warm the heart of any bluegrass fan.
Next it was time for Umphrey’s last set, which was already underway.
Umphrey’s performs midday on Sundays, which is the cherry on top of their three days at Summer Camp. A two hour set allows them to stretch out a bit before taking their final bow. This show was fairly straight forward with a couple of amazing sit-ins. They opened with Slacker and soon after that the rain again ceased for the remainder for the afternoon. “Tribute To Spinal Shaft,” Umphrey’s prog-funk tune, was pure sickness. The real highlight of the set was the appearance of Taj Mahal and Luther Dickinson on “She Caught The Katy.” This song originally performed by Taj has not been played by UM since Summer Camp in 2011. Luther stayed on for a jam on “Dear Lord.” Jake shredded while Luther slid; it was an awesome sight to behold. They finished their set with a crispy “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.”
As soon as their set was over it was time for moe. on the Starshine stage. This has been their acoustic show for the last few years and it allows for a relaxed vibe to flow out over the crowd. It’s yet another favorite set of mine to see at Summer Camp. After they dialed in their sound moe. opened with “All Roads Lead To Home.”
Stretching just over an hour this seven song romp took the audience through some classic moe. The highlight was the “Sticks and Stones” into “St. Augstine” which featured a great back and forth between Chuck and Al. Jim on vibraphone added a nice touch as well. “Tambourine” took on a completely new feel as Vinnie snapped out the beat on the kit and Rob belted it out for the enthusiastic fans. They closed with another crowd-pleaser, “Four.”
After moe. it was time for another class act, Taj Mahal and his trio. Taj Mahal is blues music and has brought this genre to audiences for nearly 50 years. From his early career with the Rising Sons to his solo work, Taj Mahal has remained a major influence to young and old musicians alike. Taj has also stated he prefers playing outdoor festivals, which is why he seemed right at home at Summer Camp. He played a two-hour set with his band that included Kester Smith on drums and Bill Rich on bass. Taj recently celebrated his seventy-first birthday and he is still going strong. His set at Summer Camp was truly a delight.
John Brown’s Body was up next and these guys are insane. Focusing on a more “spaced-out” sound rooted in the reggae tradition, lead singer Elliot Martin has robust approach to his craft. He moonlights as a dubstep DJ, but JBB is all organic. Their inclusion on the Summer Camp lineup was one more feather in the cap of this festival. They are an energetic face slap that soothes the soul. If you enjoy an innovative approach to roots music check these guys out.
As the Avett Brothers took the stage the skies opened and the rain came down. They started their show with a traditional English folk song, “The Cuckoo Song.”
Much of the Avetts’ studio work is melancholy, however their live shows are jam packed with gusto. The rain slammed on the stage as crew members hurriedly changed out guitars and banjos between songs. Alternating between drum backed songs and acoustic stand alones, they blasted their way through their ninety-minute set. They played some of their better known songs including “Down With The Shine,” “Laundry Room,” and “Live and Die.” They seemed as energized by the music as their audience. Kids danced in the mud with a vigor rarely seen throughout the entire weekend. At one point I saw a young man making mud angels for no apparent reason. They closed their watery set with “I And Love And Home” before encoring with their rapid spit-fire tune “Talk Of Indolence.” They were truly a high point for the entire festival and a surprisingly great live show.
We made our way backstage to meet up for the Private Camp Counselor Show, but due to the weather it had been moved to a small trailer behind Mooneshine. Kyle and three of his friends got a special show from moe. and Victor Wooten, but there just wasn’t any room for anyone else. I totally understood and was happy that despite the weather Kyle still got his show which included an acoustic “Kyle’s Song” and “The Weight.”
Finally it was time for Trey Anastasio Band. As lightening flashed all around the festival grounds Big Red came to the stage with his group. They wasted no time by opening with “First Tube.”
Trey and his band consisting of Ray Paczkowski, Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, Russ Lawton, Tony Markellis, and James Casey seemed undaunted by the rain. They pressed on with a show that features a stunning series of guitar solos from Trey. He simply shredded his way through “Cayman Review” and “Last Tube.” “Alaska was a real crowd-pleaser and gave the rest of the band a chance to breathe. “Dark And Down” seemed incredibly appropriate and was the song that featured some the most intrepid jamming of their first set. As lightening continued to flash all around the rain subsided momentarily. “The Land of Nod” was epic, but the set-closing “Push On Til The Day” sent this show over the top.
The setbreak went for about 45 minutes, during which time I am assuming crew debated whether or not to let the band back on. Finally, probably from Trey’s insistence they did return. Trey uttered, “You guys are amazing,” as he came back, and as he did fat drops rained down from the sky. Trey and company went into “Mr. Completely,” as a small boy danced furiously on the other side of the rail. The crowd went nuts as the weather we had feared all weekend was finally hitting us. The small child waving his arms defiantly danced on until finally they finished what would be their only song of the second set. Trey walked up and gave the kid a fist bump before he was signaled to stop. He went to the microphone and informed the crowd that they were making him quit, but that he would be back. The audience slowly dwindled down to a few hundred as the steadfast fans, including my wife and myself stayed to see if the band would return. After about a half hour of the worst rain and lightening we had seen all weekend, Ian Goldberg appeared on the stage. “We know who the hardcore fans are…” He told us that unfortunately the rest of the show would be cancelled, but that he hoped moe. would still play their final set. At that moment I was completely soaked. I could not have been wetter if I had fallen into a pool with all my clothes on. We luckily snagged a golf cart ride back to our camp and got dry knowing there was little chance that moe. would be able to perform.
We got a good night’s sleep and awoke to the aftermath of the storm. Tents and gear were scattered all around the grounds and people were desperately trying to get their cars out of the now rut ridden lot. We loaded up our gear and got on the road back to Chicago. The festival seemed to just fizzle out rather than end with the bang many of us are used to. That being said with that much rain and lightening there is little that can be done, and ultimately the safety of the patrons is paramount to the music. Like I said before, I give credit to the promoters of Summer Camp that really only two sets of music were cancelled all weekend. The fact that we encountered so much rain, it would be easy to understand more shows getting cut. This was not the case, because of a high level of organization and perseverance by the staff. Sure we got some mud, but that was a minor inconvenience compared to all the amazing music I witnessed over the course of four days. Memorial Day Weekend in central Illinois is a crap shoot weather-wise. This year we got rain, last year we got sun, that is part of the overall experience at Summer Camp. However no one can complain about the musical collaboration that took place and the wonderful experiences shared by thousands at a tiny park in the middle of miles and miles of farmland.
Until next year Summer Camp… Cheers.