Originally published in Through the Lens Magazine on June 2, 2016
Article and photos by Melodie Yvonne Ramey
CHILLICOTHE, IL – Music festivals are amazing for so many different reasons. One of the reasons is definitely that they are in essence these fantastic little pop up communities where everyone just automatically gets along. Love your neighbor is just an automatic part of everyday life. These communities travel from place to place, country to country, but no matter where they are the love is always prevalent and it’s also always REAL. The people that create and fill these adlib cities are close kin often traveling together, spending the holidays together, and sharing in life’s biggest moments together. This special group of people is thick as thieves and closer than blood because what they are a part of is bigger than that. They are a family, and together they help make up the orchestrated madness of Summer Camp Music Festival.
The festival originally began as a smaller event in 2001 created by the genius of Jay Goldberg Events and Entertainment to carry on the jam band tradition. What started as a 1000 patron, 15 band event has now blossomed into more than 20,000 attendees and 100 bands on seven stages over three days at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL. Fans travel from all over the country to attend Summer Camp. Some of them journey for the love of the festival life, but for some it’s for the love of a few men in particular. The amazing men that garner so much devotion make up the bands moe. and Umphrey’s McGee.
The love centered around moe. and Umphrey’s McGee is every bit as robust as the love that followed the great Jerry Garcia everywhere he went. The guys are superhuman in the eyes of their fans, but they still somehow remain completely friendly and chill in their endeavors. More often than not the fans will follow the guys from place to place and show to show. Some, however, are tied to the shackles of everyday life, and Summer Camp is their only reprieve. This makes these men not just musicians to their fans. They are prodigies with their instruments saving their fans from the deafening silence that can eat souls. They are knights in shining armor riding in to save them when they are in need, whether it be a huge gesture, or just something little like caring enough to bring water to a hot and tired crowd stuck in line. Most of all these men have helped to create a famoe.ly that gathers around to support each other, and sometimes save them from themselves.
Of course, moe. and Umphrey’s McGee dominated the festival with multiple crowd pleasing performances throughout the weekend, but there were also many stand out performances from other major and local bands that graced the many stages over the weekend. SpaceWords, one of the best local acts, came all the way from Lafayette, Indiana to rock the pre-party day on Thursday after winning their spot to perform by vying for a chance in the Summer Camp on the Road competitions at the Lafayette Theater. It seems that the very same town that gave the world greats like Axl Rose and Shannon Hoon has now given the world another force to be reckoned with in the form of these Space Dudes.
Friday afternoon a great flock of fans formed to see Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds in front of the Sunshine Stage, and they were every bit as eager to see them as if they were headliners. Their set was phenomenal, and just as it ended a multitude of fans converged on the Moonshine Stage to experience the first of many phenomenal sets that Moe. would dish out over the weekend. The crowd stayed glued to the stage as Moe. was followed up by the great Keller Williams. His skills are always that of pure awe and amazement, and his performance at Summer Camp was no different. Greensky Bluegrass followed Keller Williams with an astonishing set that had the crowd more than revved up for the short jaunt across the park to catch another festival staple and favorite, Umphrey’s McGee. The band played two fantastic performances before turning the crowd over to the rest of the long night ahead.
The celebration continued on into the night even breaking into dawn for some lucky folk who had already managed to set their inner clocks to festival time. It would be a Fishbone breakfast for the lot of them that morning, though, with waves of fantastic otherworldly energy flowing off the Sunshine Stage being stronger than any coffee would dare to go. The Wailers set the campers back on simmer a little later in the day with beautifully haunting melodies that carry an inner light just as bright as the beautiful members of the band. The Roots came on later in the evening with a groove more powerful than the storm that threatened to rain all over their parade. The true spirit of family was ever-present even in these fierce men, however, as they bent their wills and paused their funktastic fierceness for the safety of the fans to allow the storm to pass. Then just like out of a fairy tale the clouds parted for a rainbow that spilled out of the sky carrying with it the only thing better than a pot of gold which was a return to that funkaliscious music. Umphrey’s McGee and Moe. cradled the guests for the rest of the evening and on into the night with alternating double sets lasting until the wee hours of the morn’.
Sunday afternoon beckoned the late partying campers out of bed with a fresh set from Umphrey’s McGee followed by the beautiful and talented Ani DiFranco. Her demeanor remains perpetually adorable to her fans, and as always her passionate playing and vocals had them mesmerized throughout her set. The crowd slowly meandered back toward the Moonshine Stage where The Motet had them instantly ensnared anew, and writhing right along with every note they played. The Motet was followed by the legendary George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Lotus, and then another dose of moe. Across the grounds Yonder Mountain String Band kept some of the campers mesmerized at the Sunshine Stage followed by Jason Isbell, and then an astounding performance by Mudcrutch. It was obvious that the presence of Tom Petty on the grounds Sunday had swelled the park to capacity, but the calm, cool, and collected staff prevailed, and there was not an unhappy weekend or day camper in sight.
The music was definitely a priority all weekend, but there were many other attractions as well that make Summer Camp one of the top destinations in the world. Nonprofit organizations rallied for their causes right along with the vendors. Carnival rides were set up, yoga classes were attended, and there was a little something for people of all ages. Every single person on the grounds from festival organizer to volunteer to camper had a genuine kindness and caring for one another. The caring did not stop with mankind either. Not only did every single attendee love their neighbor they also made sure to love the environment. Each and every individual took the time to take part in the sustainability initiatives which helped the entire grounds remain amazingly clean for having such a continuous whirlwind of action around the clock. Even on those late night occasions when guests might be a little too impaired to remember their part in leaving no trace the grounds remained teeming with volunteers prepared to take action to help.
Unfortunately, as is with all good things, the weekend came to a close all too soon. Just as quickly as the beautiful community had materialized it was suddenly gone. The campers were all packed up and headed home, gone without a trace except the remnants of a soft song on the air. The real world and work called them all back just as it has its way of doing, and the long weekend is just a memory used to help combat those universal after holiday blues. It seems like the sadness digs just a little deeper into the souls of the many that attended Summer Camp, though. That slightly delayed case of the Mondays is made far worse for them by also having to part ways from their famoe.ly, and knowing that next time is a whole year way. Fortunately, moe. and many of the other outstanding SCamp musicians will have tours through some camper’s hometowns towns sooner than later to try to help keep the sadness at bay during this next year’s countdown. In the meantime there there will always be an escape in the closest pair of headphones, and all one has to do is turn up the jams, close their eyes, and they’re already on the doorstep waiting to get right back into Summer Camp Music Festival 2017.
View all of Melodie’s work at melodieyvonne.com/category/melodie-yvonne