From the moment the festival was announced and the initial headliners were revealed, Jams Plus Media knew it was a must to cover this event.  When moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Trey Anastasio Band, and The Avett Brothers flashed on the screen, the eyes opened, the smile widened, and the anticipation of greatness was born.  Being a media outlet rooted in the rock/jam band scene, we were smitten with envy, but when factoring in the broad range of music from all over the country that we cover, we could seriously identify with the Summer Camp vibe.  With 75 more acts in the bluegrass, electronic, funk, indie, and reggae fields to be added, Summer Camp was securing its place atop the leader board of interest in summer festivals. 

3 Sisters Park lives thirty minutes north of Peoria, IL along Hwy 29 and Peoria Lake (just a couple of hours southwest of Chicago) in a small town known as Chillicothe, IL.  The park originated as a farm within the Cohen family estate and now plays home to numerous event gatherings like weddings, haunted Halloween exhibits, farming workshops, and, of course, the music festival reveling in its 13th year.  The lay of the land is quite conducive to a gathering of nearly 20,000 people providing ample room for seven open or tent based stages and an octagonal barn with indoor stage.   Food vending gave way to some of the expected and usual fried food offerings but also had many unique and scrumptious selections, many driven by a healthy lifestyle.  Typical festival camping takes place in several tent zones (check out the “Forest” for eye candy), electric and primitive RV camping, a “Quiet” camping zone for families and those of the non-raging variety, a Camp Traction spot for the clean and sober community, and a VIP section complete with their own parking area, food vending, and lounge.  Other than RV camping, all other sites are reached by foot, leaving the vehicles out in a massive parking lot.  This provides its own set of challenges when needing to get an entire four days’ worth of camping and personal gear to a tent site at the end of a 2 mile walk.  Have no fear, Festie Cab is here and for a small fee they were happily running festival goers and their supplies to and from the parking lots. 

Before embracing the music of the weekend, it’s important to acknowledge the community of Summer Camp.  The overall vibe experienced is one of earthly and brotherly love, fun, and open mindedness.  An experienced staff of volunteers; cart runners (volunteers who drive artists to and from stages); Green Team keeping the trash and recyclable waste appropriately placed; a ride share program via www.Rootless.me; a rockin’ official app for smart phones; camp counselors and their blogging fury; generators powered by bio-diesel; a host of non-profits serving the community including Let Buffalo Roam, Camp Traction, Conscious Alliance, Head Count, the Happy Hour Heroes (a group of clean and sober moe. fans offering a hangout spot and meetings), One, Rock The Earth, and many more; daily yoga sessions; and even a treasure hunt help to make this 4 day weekend a complete package of dance, thought, and experience.  Every year, more ideas and organizations show up to take part in the festival and there’s good reason why. 

Keeping in line with the broad range of tunes available for your eyes and ears, Mother Nature was not to be left out.  She made out a stellar set list of rain, sun, cold, warm, thunder, dust, and mud encoring with a repeat of the first and last.  By Sunday night, outdoor shows at the main stages were being cancelled.   Apparently, allowing fans to stand in nearly 3ft of water at the front of several stages is a liability issue and maybe the passing lightning storm played a part in that too, and maybe the 12” trenches of superb Illinois mud making foot travel almost nonexistent had a hand in it as well.  If you were a vendor with ponchos and rain boots, you left the festival a happy camper.  Many surrendered the idea of footwear and took to the mud in bare feet.  Popular overheard conversations included the mentioning of “Dude, it’s Summer Camp.  It’s either hot and dusty or muddy with possible evacuation.  Get over it!”  Other responses included, “Every year, I tell myself I’m getting a hotel or RV next year.”  Tow trucks were eagerly available snatching cars out of the washed out parking lanes at the rate of $20 each.  Again, Summer Camp has numerous ways of positively impacting the local Chillicothe economy. 

Moving onward, we approach the music portion of this guided tour.  Of course, moe. and Umphrey’s McGee crafted legendary scores of play.   We’ll get to them in a minute.  Let’s talk about acts that not everyone knows.  The Campfire Stage was blessed with greatness all weekend but on the opening day of Thursday, a trio of bands got the party started right.  Cosby Sweater (Indianapolis, IN) brought their electronics, saxophone, and drums threesome to lay down some really fun hip shaking.  Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s joined in with his board of keys to make a great show.  Next up was New York City’s foot stompin’ love affair with Spirit Family Reunion.  Call it “down home” or “Appalachian” or whatever you want.  Bottom Line:  This group of six throws down with banjos, fiddles, washboards, a stand-up bass, and a snare drum.  From electronic to folkgrass, Summer Camp was letting us know what kind of weekend it would be.  And, just to mix things up a bit, the gypsy funk folk and swing rock of Caravan of Thieves would take the stage next.  A fiddle, guitar, stand up bass, and guitarist/beat maker lead by a wife/husband combo came out and thoroughly wow’d the crowd. 

While this greatness was occurring, other stages were simultaneously keeping the crowd happy with Family Groove Company, Digital Tape Machine, and Roster McCabeCornmeal also started the fest off with a Thursday night primetime set that held a strong crowd.  With the news coming out that the fiddle player, Allie Kral, would be leaving the band after the festival, an emotional and supportive gathering of fans showed up to witness as much as they could.  The real heat came later on Thursday night when Cornmeal held their “Summer Camp Ramble”, a mash up  of jams with members of Floodwood (Bluegrass band started by Al and Vinnie of moe.), and Caravan of Thieves.  The blend and fire of this fine combo of musical talent was pure genius that led on into the late night (Chillicothe law said the main stages had to be sound free by 1am but the tent and Barn shows could rage as late as they wanted).  If this wasn’t enough to send you back to camp for a night’s sleep, Ultraviolet Hippo, Dopapod, Rev. Payton’s Big Damn Band, Future Rock, and Quixotic all played real late night sets for the troopers and warriors. 

Friday morning was cold.  Like 36 degrees cold.  Coffee was gold and sunshine was platinum.  Finding both labeled you a Master and if you also made it to the 10 am Yoga class, you were a king.  Those who didn’t relied on Chicago’s Old Shoe and Keller Williams to get the body moving.  By 2pm the sun was shining and many a woman would be topless and sporting body paint.  Perhaps this was the perfect welcoming to moe. who would be making the first of 3 scheduled appearances of the weekend.  Suddenly, you’re reminded of why you came to Summer Camp in the first place.     A short, seven song set encoring with “Okay Alright” on Moonshine Stage was like an appetizer but well received.  Fusion jazz masters, MMW (Medeski, Martin, and Wood); bluegrass ragers, Yonder Mountain String Band; eye catching electronic, Zoogma; and more electronic flare from Papadosio all made appearances on Friday, leading up to Umphrey’s McGee’s first of several performances. 

UM took the Sunshine Stage and embraced a large, dense, smiling crowd of glow sticks, bright colors, thick smoke, and the ever annoying “rage sticks”.  The jury’s out and it’s been decided:  Ban Them from Festivals.  Yes, we understand that in the midst of chemical induced mind travel, you thought it was a grand idea to attach a plastic gorilla to a worn out umbrella, adorn it with all things bright and flashy, accessorize it with a Simpsons doll, and fix it atop a 12ft. pole and march arrogantly through the crowd to the front like you own the place but…it’s not cool.  Enough about these entertainment-blocking, feel sorry for the crowd behind them atrocities, Umphrey’s was onstage and ready to kill it.  Being a Midwest festival, one should expect this band to command large energy and feed off of it they did.  The crowd was given a “There’s No Crying in Mexico” opener, a not-so-often played “Eat” (15 times since 2010), and a second set “Puppet String” sandwich that fostered a “Plunger” sandwich and “All in Time” reprise within it.  “Bright Lights Big City” featured a certain Dominic Lalli on saxophone. 

If Umphrey’s wasn’t your flare, the Moonshine stage was hosting an EOTO performance followed by a set of STS9.  The Starshine stage welcomed the double bass New Orleans seasoned Dumpstaphunk, lead by a pair of Neville’s that know late night funk better than most.  All was level 10 and grooving till that crazy Victor Wooten walked onstage, adding yet another bass guitar on the platform, and the level of ridiculousness escalated to the point of actually melting or overheating an amplifier.  When Ivan Neville stepped out from behind the keys and grabbed a guitar himself to join the other 4 stringed warriors, a sense of experiencing something truly special was present.  The Vibe tent kept a steady supply of electronica with the likes of Beat Machine, Team Bayside High, Protohype, and Milk and Cookies and the Campfire stage welcomed Allie Kral and Friends followed by a real late (early??) Wood Brothers set to feed those needing to take it a little further.  The extra cost Red Barn shows on late Friday night included another stellar performance by moe. and Yonder Mountain String Band

Saturday seemed to start off a little slow but had an odd placed Conspirator set at 2pm.  By 8pm, one could have jammed another Cornmeal offering, hooked up with Karl Denson, had their mind completely opened up by Thievery Corporation or Mike Dillon, and had their face melted off by The Werks.  If one was lucky enough to make it over to the Vibe tent, they got down with a beats producer by the name of J-Mac spinning under Manic Focus.  Starting at 8pm, Umphrey’s and moe. would each play one hour sets that were offset by each other by one hour, theoretically allowing fans to run back and forth to catch both bands’ full shows.  This proved to be better on paper than in reality as the jaunt through the crowd was slow moving and a decent distance to traverse.   This lasted till 1am and then gave the fans the choice of catching The Ragbirds > Floodwood at the Campfire stage, or a slew of DJ’s performing 30 and 60 minute sets at the Vibe tent, a STS9 > Big Gigantic, Griz, and Gramatik throw down at the Red Barn (if you were lucky enough to get in), or Here Comes The Sun Stereo, a Beatles cover band, at the Soulshine Tent. 

Sunday morning it was wet.  Sunday noon it was wet.  And, Sunday evening it was wet.  Granted, Summer Camp would cover their road ways with either paved asphalt (big upgrade) or mulch, helping to eliminate the dust that can be quite atrocious.  However, this is only helpful when it’s dry and 100 degrees like previous years.  When it dumps 4”-6” of rain in a couple of days and thousands of people and tractors and golf carts hit the path, the roadways turned into a system of canals. 

Umphrey’s, moe., Taj Mahal, Avett Brothers, Lettuce, North Mississippi Allstars, Big Boi, Future Rock, a great up and coming band out of New York called Tauk, and a host of electronic outfits would all get their sets in before a long awaited and highly anticipated Trey Anastasio Band appearance would attempt to unfold on the “Lack of Sunshine Stage”.   Trey made it through a whole first set with classic TAB selections such as “First Tube”, “Cayman Review”, “Push On Till The Day”, and “Pigtail”.  Opening the second set was a rash of lightning, high winds, and torrential down pour to accompany “Mr. Completely”.  This would be the end of TAB at this year’s Summer Camp as rest of the show was immediately cancelled, along with all other outdoor stage events.

While moe. sat patiently backstage at the Moonshine Stage, mingling so graciously with those sporting a Level 3 all access VIP badge, the screeching EDM specialists, Zed’s Dead, would haphazardly bring their set to an early finish.  Within an hour, the “amphitheatre” stage would have three feet of water in front of it, barely tapering off all the way back to the soundboard.  While we’re on the subject, points awarded with hat tips for the members of moe. and their great attitude and interaction with their fans while their supposed-to-be-epic closing of Summer Camp set was cancelled. 

The Red Barn would carry on business as usual Sunday night.  A soon to be legendary performance known as the Everyone Orchestra featuring Victor Wooten, Al Schnier, Joel Cummins, Vinnie Amico, Allie Kral, Mike Dillon, Roosevelt Collier, and conductor Matt Butler would prove to be the cat’s meow of Sunday evening.  With relatively low attendance due to special ticket status and the weather, look for some recordings of this show to cause big hype when surfacing.  Thievery Corporation and Zed’s Dead would also lay it down in the ‘Barn till the early hours of Monday morning turning this shindig into a five day event. 

Honorable Mention goes out to the workshops held at The Church, home of all press, media, and camp counselor activity.  During the festival, keyboard workshops with Joel Cummins, Ivan Neville, and Joe Hettinga; bass workshops with Reed Mathis and Victor Wooten; and string workshops with Allie Kral, the Henhouse Prowlers, and Floodwood all provided a very intimate, realistic point of view of what it takes to create music on the fly and to watch musicians interact with old and new friends. 

Recommending a visit to Summer Camp based on our experience goes without mentioning.  Bottom Line:  Jay Goldberg and family and their team of right hand and left hand women and men do a superb job of providing incredible entertainment in a comfortable atmosphere and Jams Plus Media is grateful to have been a part of the experience.               


 Written By: Roger Patteson

Photos By: Keith Griner ~ Phierce Photography

Edited By: Rosemary A.W. Roberts


Copyright 2013 Jamsplus.com.  All Rights Reserved