I can honestly credit Summer Camp Music Festival with my coming of age as a music journalist. They have truly embraced my work and given me countless opportunities to hone my craft. So the trip back to Chillicothe this year was like a big homecoming for me. Amy and I flew into Chicago Wednesday afternoon and spent the evening eating Nigerian food and relaxing with friends before the making the trek down south. We got caught in traffic but eventually made our way into the loving arms of Three Sisters Park around 12:30 PM. We parked in VIP and were immediately attended to by the staff. I have to say the festival really stepped up their game with the VIP treatment this year. We were taken by golf cart down to the box office to get our passes and even got a ride to our campsite with all of our camping gear. It was a nice start to the weekend. Winds whipped through the grounds as we got our tent set up. I made my way up to the Church, which was home base for all of the counselors as well as press. Holly was there and she gave me my press pass and I was set for the weekend. I went back and collected Amy as we were both ready to catch some early afternoon jams.
The Thursday Pre-Party has morphed into an all out extravaganza with some not-to-be-missed concerts. It really sets the tone for the entire weekend and for any future Summer Camp attendees I would highly recommend it as an integral part of the overall experience. The entire layout of Summer Camp just felt bigger this year. Expanded stages and the movement of the Sunshine Stage pushed this fest into the major category in both execution and feel. The lineup was just packed and I would argue that it was the best assemblage of music for the entire summer festival season. We found ourselves at Caravan of Thieves at the Camping Stage. A prefect blend of gypsy and jam, this folk flavored ensemble brought an intense energy to their performance. The highlight of their set was a swing mash up of “I Will Survive” and “Staying Alive.” Their sound could easily be from the era of Django Reinhardt, but their take on the style is absolutely current. Caravan of Thieves was a bouncy and fun way to get the musical juices flowing at Summer Camp 2012.
We headed back to camp and on the way caught the end of moe.’s sound check at The Moonshine stage. We were greeted with a solid version of “Haze,” but it only succeeded in wetting our appetites for a weekend with one of my favorite bands. We stopped by the VIP bar and noticed that they were equipped with a much better stage than last year, leading us to believe that there would be some impromptu performances. We were not disappointed. We headed back to the Starshine Stage for some good ol’ Family Groove Company.
SET I: Trying to Live Up> Time To Tell Me, She Might Get Warm, Professionals Here, Byron’s Got The Time, Bennie and the Jets*> West Egg Party*, Falling Off The Fence
*w/ Allie Kral on Fiddle
Family Groove Company has become another one of those Chicago bands that are a big part of the Summer Camp Family. They are always going to be there and their Thursday set was most definitely well attended. Janis Wallin drives the bus leading her band into a roundhouse kick of jam straight to the face of all those in the crowd. Musically they were incredibly tight, and I honestly believe that if they toured a bit more they could really draw a national fan base. As it stands they are one of Chicago’s tastiest treats. Obviously the highlight of the set was the Allie sit-in on the Elton John cover into FGC’s “West Egg Party,” which featured some intrepid key work from Jordan Willow. It was the first sit in we saw but it would not be the last by a long shot.
We quickly headed over to the Camping Stage for Colorado’s own Elephant Revival. Elephant Revival is a very much a part of the Front Range scene and it was nice to see them on the lineup of Summer Camp. Nothing like traveling a thousand miles to see a band you can see on a regular basis around their hometown of Nederland. They are a delicate journey into an acoustic world. For those that have never seen them the first thing that strikes you is their positive energy wafting off the stage. They have an infectious sound that draws you in like a moth to a porch light. Bonnie Paine has a beautiful voice that blends with guitarist Sage Cook’s vocals like a well-concocted smoothie. They were a great way to watch the sun begin to set over the first night of Summer Camp.
After Elephant Revival it was back to Starshine to watch the end of Digital Tape Machine, which is Joel Cummins’ and Kris Myers’ side project with members of Strange Arrangement, Liquid Soul, Land of Atlantis, and Hue. It’s an electronic explosion of video game music and I found it to be both interesting and engaging. As many of my readers know I’m not a huge fan of electronic music, but I found Digital Tape Machine to be very good at blending analog and computer-driven effects. The result was a plinky, Mario Brothers type sound. Thursday has become an opportunity for many of the larger bands on the bill to showcase their other projects. It’s a great way to see what some of my favorite musicians are pursuing on the side.
Now it was time for another Summer Camp stalwart Cornmeal. They have become an integral part of the lineup and for good reason. Watching this band evolve into an amazing jamgrass powerhouse has been a beautiful experience.
SET I: Troubles Gonna Find Me Tonight> Comin’ Back Home Again, Stuck In The Mud, Sun Is Shinning Down, Better Off This Way> Track Six?, Lookin’ At You, Rise About, Run Away and Hide> Stranglehold> Run Away and Hide
This set is available on archive at – http://archive.org/details/cornmeal2012-05-24.mk4_24bit, thanks to tonedeaf for posting.
This was another high-energy bluegrass boogie for the all those in attendance. The song choices contained obvious Summer Camp themes, like sun, mud, and home. Allie just shredded the violin, as she always seems to do, with Kris belting out some powerful vocals throughout the set. As the stage lights flashed over the crowd, who happily bounced to the bluegrass rhythms, it felt good to be back at Summer Camp. The winds died down the night warmed, and I knew we were in for another stellar weekend in the Midwest.
We ended our night with moe. side project Floodwood. They were on my list to see so I was stoked they were on the Camping Stage on Thursday. Al is a helluva guitarist and moe., has recently been doing more acoustic sets as well as an acoustic version of What Happened To The La Las, so it’s great to see Vinnie and Al in a full-blown bluegrass band.
You can listen to this set on Archive – http://archive.org/details/floodwood2012-05-24.mk4_24bit, again thanks to tonedeaf for posting.
Floodwood was a bucket of fun, and the band showed some incredible prowess on the strings. Backed by Vinnie’s potent drumming, they were a breath of fresh air. Thursday seemed to showcase the bluegrass music, which was absolutely fine with me. Rob and Chuck sat in on “Blue Eyed Son.” However it was both Chuck and Jim on the “Waiting For The Punchline” hoedown that was truly a spectacle. They ended their set with a smoking version of “The Hobo Song.” We opted to miss the Stringdusters as it was getting late and I wanted to be fresh for Friday, which would go late given the fact that Ha Ha The Moose was playing until 4:30 AM. So I hiked the trail through the woods and back to my tent for a good nights sleep before the fest began in earnest.