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Friday, June 3

Review and Photos: Summer Camp Music Festival 2011

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Three Sisters Park – Chillicothe, IL
May 27-29, 2011
Words and Photos: Adam Parker
Freedom was most definitely in the air in Chillicothe, Illinois this Memorial Day weekend as the farmland known as Three Sisters Park hosted the 11th annual Summer Camp Music Festival. The festival welcomed its largest crowd to date with well over 20,000 beautiful people and had no shortage of ways to entertain.
This years Summer Camp featured over 70 bands on 7 different stages including 5 sets each by hosts/headliners moe. and Umphrey’s McGee. The music lineup was as diversified as anyone could have asked for featuring big names in virtually every genre from Bluegrass to Techno to Rap. Notable newcomers this year were Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, Wiz Khalifa, Huey Lewis, and festival headliner, Widespread Panic. Also new to the scene was the 312 Vibe Tent where you could join a team and play games like ping-pong and dodgeball, sample tasty beverages by the Goose Island Brewing Company, and, of course, check out more great music.
As we were setting up our campsite Friday morning the notes of moe.’s “Akimbo” clearly drifted over the trees letting all know that the party had officially started. After ending the set with a great “Kyle’s Song” > “Kids”, they encored with the classic, “The Harder They Come” joined by Umphrey’s guitarist, Brendan Bayliss. Chasing out the daylight Friday evening were great acts like Cornmeal, De La Soul and Yonder Mountain String Band. The night time brought a hectic schedule that led to a lot of back and forth from stage to stage. It started with a high-energy Tea Leaf Green set with an incredible sit in by Cornmeal’s fiddle-extraordinaire, Allie Kral, followed directly by a ridiculous Umphrey’s McGee first set that opened with “Prowler>1348>Jimmy Stewart>Red Tape>Jimmy Stewart>Red Tape”. We also got treated to a great “Pay the Snucka” that included a Rage Against the Machine “Bulls on Parade” jam. Next up was 7 Walkers featuring Grateful Dead drummer, Bill Kreutzmann, and bass-virtuoso, Reed Mathis. Umphrey’s second set of the night got real crazy with a “Preamble>Miss Tinkle’s Overture>Higgins>Miss Tinkle’s Overture>Higgins” and they debuted a brand new song, “Hourglass”.
Saturday started off funky with a great Family Groove Company set after lunch that included a rendition of the Grateful Dead classic “New Speedway Boogie”. We listened to Slightly Stoopid on the main stage a little later from the comfort of our camp. Girl Talk was up next and was definitely one of the standout acts of the weekend. His sound of electronic dance beats mixed with samples of popular songs that everyone knows led to a nonstop, hour long dance party. The stage was packed full with dancing bodies and one man controlling it all with his only instrument, a laptop. The party was so fun that the infamous “Green Man” even made an appearance. Back at the main stage Keller Williams, wait, I’m sorry, Kdubalicious played an impressive set packed with Keller originals and Grateful Dead classics.
Next it was time for the tiring Umphrey’s, moe., Umphrey’s, moe alternating sets from 8pm until 1am. Umphrey’s first set of the night brought about another “Jimmy Stewart” jam and another new song, “Puppet Strings”, while back on the main stage moe. was ready to up the ante. The first moe. set that night dove right into their album “The Conch” opening with “Wind It Up, Tubing the River Styx>The Pit”. They also broke out a great, new Al Schnier original “Smoke”. On paper it may not look like anything special but I must point out that the ending to the set was explosive. After possibly the best “Sensory Deprivation Bank” I have heard they ended with a juicy “Waiting for the Punchline>Haze”. The next Umphrey’s set was steady rocking and unleashed yet another new song “Forks”, but it was the encore that was one of the delights of the weekend. With Mad Dog’s Filthy Little Secret horns on stage the band busted into the mellow groove of “Booth Love”. They could have easily have ended their night there with no complaints from the crowd but instead tore into the Paul McCartney classic “Live and Let Die”. It was truly an unforgettable Umphrey’s McGee Summer Camp moment.
The second moe. set was not only one of the best sets at Summer Camp, but quite possibly one of the best sets I’ve ever seen, period. The boys opened with their oldie “Crab Eyes”, only there were no instruments being used. The whole band played the song on ipads! A stunt that will surely be talked about for years to come. An energetic “Buster” set it off, then moe. did what they do best; jam. “Skrunk>Lazarus>McBain>Recreational Chemistry” finished their set and my mind for the night.
Sunday started off similar to the previous two days; not too hot, not too cold, and a slight hangover. After breakfast some of our camping neighbors told us about a local band we had to check out called Brainchild. So, of course, we did. Playing at the smaller Campfire Stage, Brainchild pleased their local fans and impressed first-timers like myself. About halfway through their shredding set the wind quickly picked up and dark ominous-looking clouds rolled in. We realized that our campsite was not at all ready for rain so decided to head back. We did not make it far when it hit. The sky turned completely dark gray with even darker clouds floating about. The wind started hurling tents and gazebos as the rain went straight from a 1 to a 9. After a long, scary hour of huddling under and holding down our one remaining canopy, it abruptly stopped and people slowly started to emerge to check out the damage.
Umphrey’s McGee’s set had to be pushed back due to the weather which actually worked out because it gave me a chance to check out the extremely talented Bela Fleck & the Flecktones on the main stage. It was so muddy that barefoot was the only way to go for this show. Later, Umphrey's again showed that they’ve been working hard, opening with “All In Time” and then pulled another new one out of the hat “Room to Breathe.” They then brought on the rock & roll legend, Huey Lewis in a collaboration; calling themselves Huey Lewis & the rUMors. This set was as excellent as you could imagine playing an eclectic mix of Huey Lewis originals, rock classics, and a few Umphrey’s McGee favorites. The most important part of the festival to me was seeing the sun creep out as Huey Lewis & the rUMors covered The Band classic “Up On Cripple Creek” as people danced, smiled, and some played in the mud.
The Avett Brothers were next on the main stage and were absolutely as good as advertised with their high-energy brand of folk. Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers made a big splash at their first Summer Camp by having Jimmy Herring and Bela Fleck sit in with them. In moe.’s first set of the night they invited beer brewer/String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth to appropriately sit in on “Happy Hour Hero”. The band also played another new, Al Schnier original that already sounds polished called “Rain Shine”. The guys also knocked the dust off of their catalogue by treating us with the rare “Farmer Ben”.
Then it was time for the big guns. Southern rock legends Widespread Panic drew probably
the biggest crowd of the festival. As they are celebrating their 25th Anniversary this year and through their energy and the way they played you can tell it is special to them.
We headed back to the campsite to regroup and prepare for the last moe. set of Summer Camp 2011. From there we were again able to perfectly hear the main stage which was the ‘wah-wah’ of Bassnectar. Later moe. opened their last set of the festival with a filthy “Plane Crash” and then had Bela Fleck join them for “Shoot First”. The encore of “Rebubula” seemed to sum up how most people felt after the long weekend, “Rip off all my limbs/Poke out both my eyes/Pull out my swollen tongue/Wear a thin disguise/And then the sirens’ song/Sweetly sucks me down/Into the ocean blue/I’ll find my way back to you”. I’ll find my way back to you next year, Summer Camp.
This was by far the most successful Summer Camp yet, and to all of us that were there, there is no question why. The incredible music, all of the extracurricular activities, and the overall energy and vibe make Summer Camp one of the best, and still lesser known festivals in the country. I, for one, am already counting down the days till next years event!