Summer Camp Music Festival 5.21 - 5.24.15

Three Sisters Park
Chillicothe, IL

Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)

What began as a glorified beer bash with a few bands in the backwoods of Illinois, has grown over the last decade and a half into the Midwest’s premiere music and cultural experience. Summer Camp 2015 was a year for reflection with many fans heard proclaiming the number of times they made the trek to Chillicothe. For me it was my tenth year and yet another opportunity to work as a Camp Counselor with a whole batch of new recruits ready to hit the ground running. I got in early on Wednesday night so as to avoid the infamous line to get into GA. Fans were already starting to que up when I arrived late in the evening. The pre-party for the pre-party went all night until the gates opened up around noon. The recently re-imagined entryway allowed for smoother access than years past with multiple stations set up for receiving patrons.

Thursday May 21, 2015:

The Thursday Pre-Party has almost become a mandatory component of the Summer Camp experience. Not only does it give fans a chance to nail down a sought-after spot in the woods, the music keeps getting better and better each year. This time around Summer Camp pulled no punches with the lineup. The day got started with the hard-hitting Chicago Funk Mafia on the Starshine Stage. Many of the Summer Camp On The Road Winners were given slots on Thursday, giving them a chance to play and then enjoy the rest of the festival. Two bands from Colorado, Moontang and Hog MaGundy got the day going early. Moontang is an electro-funk rock outfit from Boulder who has a truly engaging sound. Their set drew in curious attendees and some hometown fans as well. Hog MaGundy pulled a bigger audience, with songs like “Sweet Dready Momma” and a ripping version of the Grateful Dead’s “Althea.”

Festival favorite Family Groove Company treated fans to a huge instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to start their hour-long set.

“I heard EOTO was going to play some Dead tunes.” –Random Summer Camper

Family Groove Company invited a horn section, which added an entirely new layer to their typical style. Yojimbo is the next phase for musical novelty, Carly Meyers, and drummer, Adam Gertner. They were both touring relentlessly as part of Mike Dillon’s backing band, formerly known as the Band of Outsiders. At some point they jumped off to start their own project. Dillon’s tutelage can be heard in Yojimbo’s vibrant melodic interplay. Their set fused snappy beats, brass, and the occasional sample. Carly treated fans to an extended trombone solo towards the end of their set. This band is a bucket of energy and so worth checking out. As the sun began to set behind the miles of soybean fields that frame Summer Camp, Floodwood took the stage for the first Grateful Dead themed set of the weekend.

Floodwood is the acoustic Americana outfit that features two members of moe., Al Schnier on guitar and Vinnie Amico on the drums. This band is part of the fabric and history of Summer Camp. They cut their teeth at this festival in 2012 and they have continued to play here every year since. Floodwood and its members primarily reside and play in Upstate New York. So Summer Camp gives them an opportunity to entertain a whole new fan base. Their Thursday night Dead set contained many early acoustic covers including a bouncy “Cumberland Blues” and a stunning “Dire Wolf.” Towards the end Floodwood pulled a classic switcheroo with Vinnie taking the microphone for “Casey Jones.” Al jumped on drums with Nick, Zach and Jason passing their instruments to each other as well. It was an unusual way to close the set, but I support anything that gives Vinnie a minute in the spotlight. They closed with a textbook “Candyman.”

Future Rock played to a sizeable audience next while The Werks got down to an equally impressive crowd at the Campfire stage. Even as the darkness fell over Summer Camp, new arrivals continued to flow into the grounds. By now the massive tractor was making regular trips in and out to help with the schlep. Thursday was also Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference Championship between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks. Summer Camp was nice enough to set up a viewing station in the Soulshine Tent so that hockey fans could keep track of the score. They did the same on Saturday for Game 4. The Nth Power provided us with a soulful funk explosion lead by Nikki Glaspie. I found my way back to the tent as The Infamous Strindusters played into the wee hours of the night.

Friday May 22, 2015:

I found myself in the VIP lounge listening to the docile sounds of Sun Stereo who opened up with their extravagant romp “Fuck em Up.” They performed for about an hour to an enthusiastic audience.

“I have a VIP Tent for you” –Well-wisher to Sax Player in Sun Stereo

I wandered out to catch eclectic acoustic experiment Bone Jugs N’ Harmony before Summer Camp Music Festival got into full swing on Friday with moe. on The Moonshine stage. The rest of the Summer Camp Counselors and I were given the opportunity to introduce the band and let people know about the program. Moe opened with an energetic “Spine Of A Dog” into the always-appreciated “Buster.”

The Grateful Dead celebration got into full swing with the star-studded Grateful Grass show featuring Keller Williams and all five of The Infamous Stringdusters. The newly formed super group opened up with a breezy “Eyes Of The World.” The feet began to stomp as this all-string homage to GD50 got started. Keller gave a nod to his backing band by playing the Stringduster’s original “The Place That I Call Home.” The rest of the set save for one detour to the “Port-a-Potty Line” was all classic Grateful Dead tunes. The highlights were a grass-alicious “Bertha,” and a mind-bending “Shakedown Street.”

Keller Williams Live at Summer Camp Music Festival on May 22, 2015

Friday could have easily been known as Umphrey’s McGee day with the boys from Chicago playing three full sets. Smack dab in the middle was the highly anticipated Gene Ween meets Godboner set. This year UM broke with tradition by only playing Summer Camp for two days. Hardcore Umphreaks voiced their concern prior to the festival. However, come show time Umphrey’s delivered five stunning sets of music over Friday and Saturday. Their first set featured a powerful “Mulche’s Odyssey” and a solid “Bad Friday” to close. Set two started as a regular Umph show. After warming up the audience with “Puppet String” into “JaJunk,” the weathered Gene Ween appeared onstage. He has finally found sobriety and despite the lack of a Ween reunion all of the members are playing around the country respectively. Gene has wandered through the valley of addiction and emerged clean, but alone. This was the perfect opportunity for this type of collaboration, which seems to happen time and time again at Summer Camp. At one point during their hour or so together Gene called UM, “pinpoint” in terms of their renditions of his songs. Other than the vocals “The Grobe” sounds so much like an Umphrey’s tune I’m amazed they haven’t covered it previously. “Spinal Meningitis” felt eerie, while “Baby Bitch” became a sing along. “Voodoo Lady” was a huge peak with UM nailing that raw psychedelic sound that made Ween famous. Umphrey’s would come back solo for their third set that included a mesmerizing “Phil’s Farm” into “Upward” back into “Phil’s Farm.” They encored with “Slacker” to end a huge night of music.

Umphreys McGee Live at Summer Camp on May 22, 2015

Let me rewind because going all Umphrey’s there I missed a few sets. Minnesota’s Trampled By Turtles scored a spot on the Moonshine this year. The string band played a smoking “Come Back Home” off their newly released album Wild Animals. They continue to be one of the most enthralling bluegrass groups touring today. After Godboner, I went to check out Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Denson took a break from the Rolling Stones tour to play a set at Summer Camp. Their jazz and funk filled show was all energy. Denson and his Universe brought the heat to the Starshine Stage. It was definitely a night for fans of electronic music. String Cheese side project EOTO played to a massive crowd. While Sound Tribe Sector 9 invited up Victor Wooten for a bass blasted “Gobnugget.” Meanwhile, the rock and roll stylings of Trigger Hippy, featuring the vivacious Joan Osborne, were going full speed at the Campfire Stage. This was their second set of the day. Moe teamed up with The New Deal for Red Barn duties, and Keller Williams played until 4 AM, but I was in bed before that happened. I realize, as I get older if I want to enjoy the festival sometimes I have to call it a night earlier than I’d like.

Saturday May 23, 2015:

As the sun rose on day three at Summer Camp Music Festival, the campground and its inhabitants seemed to be one. A temporary city filled with people from across the planet had assembled throughout the usually quiet Three Sisters Park. Saturday also marks Field Day at Summer Camp. As an original member of the Purple Team I take pride in joining in some of the festivities before hitting the shows. Family Groove Company got the day started around noon and acted as the background music for the tug-o-war. I was again the anchor for the Purple Team and during our match against the Yellow Team we actually snapped the rope. I considered that a personal victory despite loosing the rematch. Ultimately, it would come down to a tight race between the defending champion Red Team and Yellow. Red would again claim the cup, but that was just one of the many sideshows going on all over the grounds this year.

Floodwood again took the stage this time with an original set of music; the eager audience happily welcomed their acoustic dance party. Their set included a sweet “I Know You Rider” and the Summer Camp inspired “Chillicothe Clouds.” Old Shoe finally found their fans at the Campfire stage. The assembled boogied down and the dust began to rise.

Old Shoe Live at Summer Camp (Campfire Stage) on May 23, 2015

“The Music Never Stopped” into “Beer” was an obvious highlight from Old Shoe’s set. Summer Camp favorites Caravan Of Thieves also made their appearance on Saturday. Their brand of gypsy jazz is intoxicating. Despite the midday sun Caravan regaled us with a vibrant set of music. Their music is like Django Reinhardt and a bucket-banging busker formed a family band. They went into the “Devil Medley” that featured a mash up of “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Devil Inside,” “Devil Went Down To Georgia” and “Devil’s Haircut.” Yeah… they did that. Victor Wooten hosted his super jam in the VIP Lounge. This has almost become a yearly tradition where Wooten plays bandleader to a ridiculous assemblage of performers. Janis Wallin, Alana Rocklin, members of Brainchild, and more were all on hand to join in the jam. At one point the whole band really gelled on an incredible “One Nation Under A Groove.”

Saturday’s Grateful Dead offering came in the form of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. In a very short time JRAD has become one of the premiere Dead experiences touring today. They opened with a correct “Dancing In The Street,” which seemed to set the mood for the rest of their 90-minute set. JRAD has been playing across the country since last year. They’ve come to Colorado numerous times including a three night run through Denver and Boulder last February. Tommy Hamilton is a guitar robot sent from the future to make sure we are content with our Dead music. The highlight of the show was a transcendental “Throw Stones” that went well over fifteen minutes long. After a fiery “Bertha,” the band called it, but they were wooed back onstage by the enthusiastic audience. Russo informed us the band was a little gun shy because they played over by about four minutes at the previous show and had they had the power shut down just recently. JRAD returned with a sublime “Uncle John’s Band” to close their set.

Joe Russos Almost Dead Live at Summer Camp Music Festival on May 23, 2015

The Motet played Starshine while Sun Stereo brought their style of soulful funky goodness to the Campfire. Next up we got the chance to see the world famous Violent Femmes. After decades of playing together, Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie still have the ability to throw down hard. It was about the fourth song into their set that they chose to play their self-copulation classic “Blister In The Sun.” They appeared to do this to get rid of the tourists. What was left was a hardcore dance party at Summer Camp. “Kiss Off” and “Gone Daddy Gone” were obvious highlights. I really appreciate the inclusion of the Violent Femmes on the lineup. They absolutely killed their set.

And Saturday continued as it usually does with the intertwining moe. and Umphrey’s sets. These two bands are so ingrained into the fabric of this festival that it’s easy to pass on catching every show. That would have been a mistake on this particular night as both bands performed strong sets of music. Highlights from the Umph included a bone-crushing “Pay The Snucka” into “Higgins” which featured The New Deal’s Jamie Shields sitting in on keys. “Divisions” became a theme in the second set as well as the encore. The now somewhat rare Warren G’s “Regulate” was another crowd pleaser. Umprhey’s McGee is still by far one of the most technical bands playing live. Their shows require concentration and deep knowledge. Their five sets at Summer Camp demonstrated that this band is still very much at the top of their game.

Moe is another group that never stops being amazing. In their 25th year as a touring group they are not slowing down. Including the Red Barn show they performed six sets of music over three days. Their first set began with a ridiculous “32 Things” sandwich with “St. Augustine” as the roast beef. The set closing “George” was another high spot. During the second set they invited Marco Benevento up to play a twenty-five minute “Meat.” This was a great way to end my third night at Summer Camp 2015.

Sunday May 24, 2015:

The final day of any festival is always bittersweet. You are thinking about heading back to real life, but damn there is still a ton of music to see. I tried to sleep in a bit, but we were fixed on seeing the final Dead themed set of the weekend. This time it was Bruce Hornsby with moe. as his backing band playing from the Grateful Dead songbook. As we packed up and started to head out a downpour happened. It rained pretty substantially for about twenty minutes. We ducked under a neighbor’s tarp and rode out the storm. We would get some threatening winds later in the evening but this was the only real rain of the entire weekend. To be perfectly honest this was one of the best years for weather I’ve had at Summer Camp in quite some time.

As the rains stopped we made a b-line for the Moonshine stage where they were sweeping off the water and setting back up. The delay was fairly minor here, but Sunshine ended up being pushed a little behind. Bruce Hornsby emerged and took a seat at the Grand Piano on stage right followed by his backing band, 5 guys named moe. This set was very special. Obviously the proximity to Chicago and the Dead50 Celebration was enough for Summer Camp to create a musical thread for the weekend. However, to bring a participant (Hornsby) and have him jam with the headliners (moe.) who will also be in Chicago on 4th of July weekend is just above and beyond in my humble opinion. The misty weather continued, but by the end of the set the sun would be shining on us all. They opened with a piano-infused “New York City” before getting into the nitty-gritty of the set. Serious highlights included a flawless “Loser” and an amazing “Franklin’s Tower.” This set is probably partially responsible for the wife and I buying tickets to Santa Clara.

Summer Camper #1:“Who is playing bag pipes?”
Summer Camper #2: “Dude it’s Summer Camp someone is always playing bagpipes.”

Venturing over to the Sunshine Stage it became obvious that those bagpipes were coming form Gaelic Storm and this show was running late. The rains hit Sunshine hardest putting them a good 30 minutes behind schedule. The nice thing about it was the opportunity to catch a bit of Gaelic Storm who put on an incredibly interesting performance inspired by their native music in Ireland. Eventually Yonder Mountain String Band emerged and the day continued as planned. While we lost a little time with YMSB they made up for it by showcasing one of their newest members Allie Kral. Allie has a long history with Summer Camp; it’s where she played her last show with Cornmeal. Having her come back with Yonder felt like a homecoming and a truly triumphant return. She sang a tight version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and a beautiful interpretation of Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man.” They also got the chance to play a couple of songs off the new album including the title track “Black Sheep.” Yonder 2.0 is sounding like they are a new band with a new firm footing looking towards a bright future. This band has a softer edge; it’s not just the addition of Allie and Jake, but also the departure of Jeff. What they lost in intensity they got back in gracefulness. Hornsby continued the day with the Noisemakers while John Butler Trio wowed a huge crowd with his unbelievable guitar riffs.

Steve Miller Band is an American legend and we didn’t miss the opportunity to see him perform. His set went quite as expected, but I was impressed with his energy and vocals given his age. SMB gave us all of the classics including “Jungle Love” and “Take The Money And Run,” but the thing is they are all classics. His set felt like going to a BBQ in someone’s backyard on the West Coast circa 1977. Eventually he got into “Joker,” which became a massive sing-along. This was a great addition to Summer Camp 2015. Widespread Panic made it back to Chillicothe for the first time since 2011. They performed two full sets at the Sunshine Stage. This was classic WSP with no funny business. During the first set we were treated to a rowdy “Tall Boy” and a perfect “Travelin’ Light” to close. During the second, Panic found their flow with some seriously tight transitions and huge solos. “Dyin’ Man” was just sick, but the encore “Imitation Leather Shoes” blew the non-existent roof off the place.

In between WSP sets we checked out the petrified human remains turned dirty funk band, Here Come The Mummies. Apparently, this band has been around for a while, but this was my first chance to see them live. Each member decked out head to toe as a mummy complete with tattered rags and rotting flesh. They danced around the stage singing songs with double entendres and carnal references. This band was pure entertainment, and their hour-long set definitely made an impression on Summer Camp as a whole. They would go on to sit in with moe. during their last set on “Do Or Die.” The Motet would end up sitting in with Big Gigantic to one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. I took a little break with Greensky Bluegrass who was shredding it on the Starshine Stage. They always sound amazing and this set was no different. moe. took the honors of closing down the Moonshine Stage on Sunday. Their set went until 2 AM and included the Mummies sit in, and an “Opium” into “Brent Black” that was monumental. As we wandered back to our camp in the darkness the feeling of another Summer Camp gone washed over us. This was my tenth and the festival’s fifteenth. Where has the time gone? At the first Summer Camp I was a spry college student full of wonder for the scene that I had found through bands like Phish and moe. Now a decade and a half later, I am more connected with that music and that world than I could have ever imagined. A lot of that is thanks to Summer Camp. Because of their innovative ideas, a couple dozen others and myself have gotten the chance to be true ambassadors for Summer Camp. In doing so, we’ve gotten a behind the scenes experience that continues year after year. That gives us the opportunity to share a unique perspective with the other attendees and hopefully give them some insight as to how it all went down. So again, thanks Summer Camp for a glorious fifteenth year, let’s do another fifteen.

Nick’s Photo Gallery


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