Summer Camp Music Festival: Thursday May 25th, 2013

Three Sisters Park
Chillicothe, Illinois

Words & Photos By Kevin Hahn

Southern Illinois. 110 degrees. Midwest throw-down. These are just some of the things I remember distinctively hearing while packing up my car to head to Chillicothe, Illinois for SummerCamp 2013. Living with a SummerCamp veteran I was given tips, tools, advice, guidelines, do, don’ts, bands to catch, and people to see, all while being reminded that Umphrey’s McGee is about to blow my brains out over the next four days. My level of excitement was extremely palpable as the days whisked away leading up to my initial summer road trip and of course my first SummerCamp music festival. Leaving from Michigan we were able to avoid the all-too-noteworthy police presence of the Midwest and landed in the main parking lot of Three Sisters Park around 7:00 AM on Thursday. I believe this is where the initial confusion, chaos, and overall disdain for the organizational aspects of this amazing festival begins… please let me explain:

-Before parking your vehicle a festival volunteer would try to expedite the process by taking tickets and other deliverables to a booth, where they would then run the appropriate wristbands and credentials back to you car. This is a great idea in my opinion as most of us festival patrons love the idea of increased efficiency to start off a day, but the execution is where this idea fell to the wayside.

-Not all volunteers were versed on the appropriate credentials, wristbands, etc…making this process not only slow, but very frustrating.

-Lines of cars stretched all the way to the highway as certain volunteers who seemed to have already started their SummerCamp party bumbled through festival rules and chain-smoked cigarettes as if the world was ending tomorrow.

-After receiving your wristband and parking your car the real waiting game was about to begin, as a large group of festivarian’s had been patiently waiting for the gates to open since 3:00 AM Thursday morning. Talk about commitment!!

-Drinks were flowing, and people were having a great time waiting for the festival to open their gates (did not happen until noon) and then the first rain of the weekend emerged…

-This rain, though not the worst we would see, was just enough to thoroughly soak the dedicated SCampers and make waiting in line to find that special camping spot even more exhausting and for some just downright miserable.

As the gates opened and festival patrons started to pour in, one of my main weekend worries was staring me right in the face. Hearing from numerous past SCampers that security walking in the gates is pretty tough/strict I decided to sit back and watch a few groups go ahead through the checkpoint before entering the gauntlet. To many attendees surprise the 2013 SCamp security was quite lenient, and very courteous. As hoards of music lovers ran towards the woods to look for their home-spot for the next four days, smiles were abundant and the mood was cheerful as many patrons thought they would have much more trouble getting their favorite bloody mary ingredients into the park. I met up with my festival family at our designated home base, and started to get that good-ole music festival happy feeling. People from all over the nation seemed to be camping around us and the diversity of people/culture/music that SummerCamp is, truly started to show its colors.

As vendors started to set-up their respective booths, and SCamp employees rushed around doing their absolute best to finish all preparations before the pre-party began, I took a nice long hike around the festival grounds to see/feel exactly what I was dealing with. Seven stages, four or more camping areas, multiple vendor locations, and a whole lot of music loving wookies were just some of the things easily identified. I noticed very early that the walk from the Soulshine Stage to the Sunshine Stage was a bit of a trek, and that the enormity of the festival grounds would in fact play a key role in the overall experience. I scouted out the most tucked away/hidden porta-johns, found a great spot to take Umphrey’s pictures, and even slapped the bag a few times. I noticed the generosity and care which SCampers seem to embody right away, and this made the large festival much more family-like. (Even though I would personally never bring my kids to a festival) As campsite preparations winded down and people really started to settle in to their surroundings, a couple things became very clear:

-We came prepared for warm weather… all 20,000 of us
-Alcohol consumption was immense, intense, and very binge-like
-Even with the initial confusion/chaos SummerCamp 2013 was ready to rage!

Umphrey's McGee Sound check:

As many festival attendees roamed around the grounds looking for that first real party to get their weekend started off properly, I made my way over to the Sunshine Stage to catch Umphrey McGee’s sound check. With enough people in the crowd to fill most auditoriums around the nation, the UMPH love was in full force even as the band tuned their instruments, played with different pedal effects, and helped the sound guys prepare for the epic weekend ahead. Even with this only being a sound check, the Midwest boys raged through complicated chord changes and gave the crowd a delicious taste of what was to come. As “1348” pleased the thousands of people watching, it was quite evident that the band was having as good of a time as we were. Smiles could be seen all around, and Ryan Stasik looked like a young-child on Christmas morning. Would UMPH rage like this for the entirety of their five festival sets? What rare songs and crazy covers were they going to throw at us? Would there be guest sit-ins?

Questions swirled around my music-obsessed brain, but as I walked away from the Sunshine Stage I knew that the weekend ahead of me was going to rage… HARD!

Set: 1348 > Roulette

Cosby Sweater feat. Joel Cummins:

Side projects are always interesting and unique, because sometimes even the artist doesn’t know exactly what is going to happen. Cosby Sweater is a perfect example of this. A newly founded electronic trio, Cosby Sweater combines funky drum beats and intense tenor saxophone solos with a DJ mixing in samples and other sounds, which reminds me of what Big Gigantic used to do. For their Thursday set Cosby Sweater was joined by the UMPH piano-guru Joel Cummins and his love for the up-and-coming electronic/dance scene. In my opinion, Joel should have stayed in his trailer and prepared for the upcoming UMPH shows. Watching him try to play his keyboard over the immense sounds of the on-stage DJ was a train-wreck, and even Joel seemed confused at times with what he was supposed to do. The sax player and drummer were quite talented, but completely overshadowed by the ridiculousness exuding from the man pushing buttons and turning knobs. There were moments of musical greatness though, as the on-stage producer/DJ would take a break from time to time and allow the actual instruments on stage to come through in their full musical ability. Joel’s continued mastery of the keys shined through during these brief moments, and was truly a delight to see/hear. (It is quite hard to hear him in UMPH sometimes, so this was a great opportunity to experience his full repertoire.) In my opinion, if the trio consisted of Joel, tenor sax, and a drummer, this could quite possibly be one hell of a side-project… but until then, I highly recommend you wait for Cosby to try on another sweater.

Cornmeal’s Summer Camp Ramble:

With SummerCamp 2013 being the last shows of the amazing fiddle playing goddess Allie Kral’s Cornmeal career, expectations were high for all of their sets. I was fortunate enough to catch their annual Summer Camp Ramble this year and they did not disappoint. Emotions were high, as everyone in attendance knew Ms. Kral would be departing the band at the end of the festival, but this did not reduce the enthusiasm and energy felt throughout the entire set. Cornmeal brought up friends such as Al Schnier from moe, a few members of Floodwood, and Allie’s new band members from the Portland based Giraffe Dodgers. The ramble raged on with the beautiful sounds of strings being plucked, solos being taken, and the warm/fuzzy feeling I get when good music is on never faded away.

SCampers have become accustomed to Thursday being a sort-of Cornmeal day, and now with Allie departing the band, who knows what next year will bring. One thing is clear, Ms. Kral is an immensely talented musician and whomever she joins will be extremely lucky to have her. By the looks of the other performers on stage, this ramble was a true success and came to a rocking end with a beautiful rendition of “I Know You Rider”. Cornmeal and Allie still had much more music to play throughout the weekend, but their ramble was a true highlight and joy to be a part of.

Ultraviolet Hippopotamus:

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that Ultraviolet Hippopotamus was the absolute shit, well I would be a very rich man. I have never in my life heard so many good things about a “small-ish” jamband, which I have not had the pleasure of seeing myself. Well, I made sure that changed on Thursday night as I caught UV Hippo’s late-night set in the Vibe Tent. WOW, were all those people correct. UV Hippo is an in-your-face progressive jamband, who does not seem to fit in any one particular musical category or genre. Hailing from Michigan, these new scenesters are gobbling up huge groups of fans nationwide with their fast chord changes, improvisational beauty, and overall ability to make the crowd have a great fucking time. I was thoroughly impressed with each song they tackled (Even though I didn’t know any of them) and could not find a weak spot in this 5-piece group. “Ultraviolet Hippopotamus mixes tight, funky jams with new dance beats, heartfelt lyrics, compelling composition, eccentric effects and a vibrant light show for an incredible, one-of-a-kind musical experience.” Taken directly from the SCamp website, this description of UV Hippo is spot on and I couldn’t agree more with the one-of-a-kind experience notion.

I have been fortunate enough to see a plethora of music over the last couple of years, but not many bands get me truly “excited” anymore. UV Hippo is one of those special bands. The camaraderie on stage can be felt in the crowd, and the love their fans have for them is almost unmatched. I truly cannot believe I have not been exposed to the rays of these Hippo freaks before, as they embody everything I like in a musical group: great lyrics, intense musical styles, and the ability to make a crowd dance/rage no matter the circumstance. I highly recommend you jump on the Hippo train, as it is quickly picking up steam around the world. I for sure will be catching them the next time they come around the Denver area, which I truly hope is sooner rather than later.

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