Best. SCamp. Ever. with Camp Counselor Sasha

(images courtesy of Grateful Gypsies)

Wow SCampers, just wow. It’s been a few weeks since we left Three Sisters Park and I’m still reeling from what I’m already calling the best SCamp ever. Cheers to 20 years, indeed! It felt so damn good – dare I say cathartic? – to be back home at Summer Camp with all your smiling faces doing what we do best. Sometimes it’s tough putting the SCamp experience into words, but I’m going to do my best. Without further adieu, here’s my SCamp 20th-anniversary recap.

A Brief SCamp History

First of all, let’s all take a moment to reflect on the impressive growth of this little Midwest festival that could. The first-ever Summer Camp happened on June 23-24, 2001, with moe. headlining alongside acts like ekoostik hookah, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, and JGB. There were just a couple of stages and a few thousand people in attendance.

Summer Camp kept chugging along year after year, adding co-headliners Umphrey’s McGee and several other stages. The lineup became far more diverse year after year, with bluegrass, EDM, and hip-hop all getting some love on the lineup. The ravers even had their own Vibe Tent for a few years (RIP) that morphed into this year’s Illumination Woods, Starshine Stage, and Goodbus trifecta of untz.

Things like the Soulshine Tent and Soulpatch got added, allowing SCampers to take a variety of workshops over the weekend. At Summer Camp these days, you can take a yoga class in the morning, hop into a gardening workshop in the afternoon, and learn how to blow glass in the evening. It’s much more than a music festival now, and that’s pretty awesome.

Music festivals come and go, and I’ve seen a lot disappear over the years (Langerado, Wakarusa, All Good, Gathering of the Vibes… the list goes on and on), but Summer Camp is clearly here to stay. Congratulations to the whole SCamp team for two decades of magic. Here’s to hoping we get to do it 20 more times! Alright, now on with the recap…

Driving to Summer Camp

For the past few years, my wife and I have parachuted into SCamp from our home away from home in Mexico. We would fly into Chicago and have friends arrange all the gear for us, then drive down together. This year we were with my family in Detroit before the festival, so we actually got to pack the car ourselves.

Having an extra few days to prepare as well as access to a kitchen was great. I fixed up a big heaping portion of pasta salad, a breakfast scramble, and some pulled pork & rice, which I loaded into Tupperwares. This is a pro-tip, ya’ll! Just toss it on the grill for a few minutes and voila – you’ve got a tasty, hot meal. Of course, I also still cave in and buy some Super Heady Tacos and Earth ‘N Fire Chorizo Bread over the course of the weekend…

With just the two of us, we had plenty of space to pack all of our gear in. We hit the road on Wednesday and made a few pit stops along the way to visit friends – one in South Bend and one in Bloomington. Our friends who just bought a house there let us stay the night, meaning we only had a 1-hour drive to SCamp on Thursday.

Since we had hardcore friends in line at 4:30 AM drinking mimosas, we were able to sleep in a bit knowing they’d secure a dope spot in the VIP campgrounds. Thanks a lot, guys! Not all heroes wear capes.

We hit up the grocery store and loaded up on supplies, regaling the staff there with tales of Summer Camp. They saw me rocking my hat and wanted to know more about this party in the woods that brings 20,000 people to town!

Thursday

Pulling up to the park, the excitement was palpable. This was my 9th Summer Camp, dating all the way back to 2004 when I skipped my senior prom to attend. It really feels like home these days.

I got my credentials at the staff check-in and drove over to VIP parking. It was definitely a scorcher with it being a mid-August edition. I think I sweat out five pounds just hauling our stuff into the campground. Note to self – finally buy a wagon next year!

By the time we got all set up, it was already after 5. I could hear a band jamming out in VIP and decided to just sit down after a long day, crack a few cold ones, and get ready for the evening.

Since we were pretty spent, we decided to just stick to the offerings in the VIP Lounge for night one. With a 1-2 combination of Umphrey’s McGee and Doom Flamingo, we saw no need to leave. I’m a bit bummed we missed Lettuce since they ended up having to cancel their Friday set, but you can’t see them all in one weekend.

Not surprisingly, the UM-Doom combo blew the roof off the place. It was a hot and sweaty dance party and a great way to kick things off. Highlights included a massive “Ringo” from Umph and a sick cover of “Disco Baby” by Doom.

We were convinced to check out the last few minutes of Marcus Rezak’s Shred is Dead, which wrapped up right at 11. “Shred” is an accurate description of what this band does and I’m looking forward to catching a full set one of these days.

It was a bit weird having the music be over so early on a Thursday, but it gave us time to explore the grounds and check out the new Illumination Woods. It’s a solid addition to the festival and I hope to see it back next year. With a huge weekend on the horizon, we actually got to bed at a reasonable hour. Rage. Rest. Repeat.

Friday

For once I was feeling spritely on a Friday morning at SCamp. I had my Holy Trinity of beverages – EmergenC, Green Goodness smoothie, and cold brew coffee, and whipped up some breakfast tacos. Then I fixed up a spicy Bloody Mary and hit the ole’ dusty trail to make my morning commute to the Camp Counselor meeting.

Being a Camp Counselor is the best unpaid job ever, and the commute is one reason why. What other job do you get to walk through woods full of hilarious wooks to get to? I met some characters along the way, as one does at SCamp, but still made it up to catch a few tunes from The Jauntee. These guys are high on my list of bands to catch a full show of when I can.

Next up was the Camp Counselor meeting. It was great getting to see everyone after two years apart and welcoming our two newest counselors – Allyce and Sydney. They are already crushing it and we’re so happy to have them on board!

I had to cut out early, as I had plans with my boys in Funk You. We did an interview in their RV and then I got to introduce them for their noon set. A solid crowd turned up to get funky in the mid-day sun.

Us counselors usually introduce moe. for their Friday afternoon set, and that was the plan at the meeting. I had to run through the woods to get there on time, but I only saw one counselor in the backstage area. Turns out the band asked for only one person to come on stage and for that person to get a negative COVID test before doing so. Such are the times we live in.

20 years later, and moe. still graced us with their presence at the Moonshine Stage. It was hotter than two squirrels getting freaky in a wool sock, so we went up the hill to CC Rob’s campsite to watch the set in the shade. They played “New York City,” which has always been one of my faves. Fun fact – moe. was the first jamband I ever saw back on 7/7/2002.

While I missed their set on Sunshine, I managed to catch The Floozies for their emo-hour DJ set in the VIP Tent sucked me in. It was a nice respite from the midday heat and it was a fun set to catch a bit of.

From there I had to boogie backstage for my interview with Here Come the Mummies. These guys are so much fun and we love having them at SCamp. Watch the video they shot with Pigeons at the festival for “King Kong” to see exactly why.

After watching a few of their tunes, my wife and I hit the ground running as the Friday lineup was absolutely stacked. We caught the tail end of the Dizgo show, which was our first time seeing them. Then it was off to Soulshine for the last few tracks of Consider the Source. Be sure to read my interview with them if you missed it.

Completing the trifecta was a walk through the Wookie Woods to Campfire for Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers. He’s a Michigan boy just like me, and his set got me thinking – this year was totally Michigan SCamp. Jake and Ryan from Umph, Griz, Billy Strings, Joe Hertler, Founders Beer – Pure Michigan baby!

We somehow managed to get over to Starshine just in time for the last 10 minutes of Aqueous. These dudes freaking rock and they’re becoming one of my faves. I ran over to catering to grab lunch for us and brought it back to the stage to settle in for sunset and Emancipator. We’ve been listening to him since day one and always love seeing him live.

While that set was very enjoyable, we all know Friday nights are for rock shows. Umphrey’s held it down over at Sunshine, starting with two sets on Friday night. The VIP area at UM is definitely the place to be, but we started meandering to the back towards the end of the set.

I channeled my inner Beavis & Butthead whilst headbanging to “Wizard Burial Ground” before running back over to Moonshine for Billy Strings. Speaking of the moon – how epic was that on Friday night?!

I had been listening to Billy all the time for the last two years and this was my first chance to see him and his band. Needless to say, they lived up to all the expectations and then some. This boy is the future and I hope he plays at Summer Camp every year!

I love his song “Thunder” that Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics for. It says a lot that Bill Kreutzman himself passed those lyrics onto the younger Billy. Of course, “Dust in a Baggie” was tons of fun and fitting as we all kicked up dust.

After the Umphrey’s-Billy-McGee-Strings sandwich, I got ready for a night of shenanigans with CC Rob in the SCamp Cab. We decided to do a Cash Cab-esque show in a festy taxi, complete with lights, GoPros duct-taped to the sides, and a bunch of prizes.

It took us a while to hit our stride and pick up the right people, but we ended up giving away a bunch of stuff and having tons of laughs. One lucky SCamper was even able to answer the grand prize question about a breakfast-related Les Claypool rant, earning him a ticket to SCamp 2022!

Punching out of SCamp Cab just after 2AM, I was dropped off at Doom Flamingo. Someone left an inflatable flamingo there – ground score! – which I named Franny. She had an epic weekend, especially yelling “Smooth drinkin’ beer!” after every Doom song. I see you, Stasik, with your Budweisers.

We still had some gas in the tank, so we cruised over to Aqueous for their VIP late-night throwdown to close it out. The decorations in VIP were on point this year! I loved all the trippy tapestries. It’s the perfect place to wind down after a huge day at SCamp.

Saturday

Admittedly, I wasn’t quite so spritely on Saturday morning. With phone and watch both dead, I woke up around noon thanks to a loud soundcheck on Moonshine. After a very rushed breakfast, I basically ran through the woods to get to our meeting. As Brendan Bayliss sings – “So this slacker fumbles through another day.”

It was fun regaling the other counselors with tales of SCamp cab the night before. While it was a good time, I was happy to pass the baton onto Ashlee for Saturday night’s cruise. She ended up getting the legend himself Uncle Randy in her cab, which is pretty awesome.

From the meeting, we took our annual Camp Counselor photo with the amazing Tara Gracer. Check her stuff out if you haven’t already. She does a fantastic job at capturing the SCamp vibe.

(image courtesy of Tara Gracer Foto)

My first music of the day was local funk heroes Steady Flow, who hail from nearby Peoria. These guys definitely know how to get a crowd moving and get the party started. From there I walked back to camp to fire up some breakfast tacos and fix myself a beverage.

I hit the VIP Tent for some fresh ice and to catch the end of Andy Frasco’s World Saving Podcast, which concluded with a take on “We’re an American Band” and lyrics making fun of the guys in UM. Love it.

Even though I’d already seen them twice, I couldn’t resist the urge for some more Doom Flamingo. Their cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” was just what we all needed to hear after a rough year and a half. “We will get by. We will survive.”

As per usual, Saturday was totally stacked. My crew ran over to SunSquabi, but I sat it out to get ready for the rest of the day and catch a bit of the Everyone Orchestra. It’s pretty awesome that a bunch of people from different bands can get together and make music out of thin air.

From there, I caught a massive “Jamflowman” from Twiddle on Moonshine on my way over to the Andy Frasco & the U.N. set. I plopped my chair down and settled in for the inevitable shenanigans that result when Frasco gets on stage.

His set was incredibly entertaining and included a rowdy Limp Bizkit tease, which I got super into having just watched Woodstock ’99. I even made it to the rail to boogie with Dancing Chris for a few tunes. By the end of the set, he had about 18 people on stage, half of them naked. Never a dull moment!

As day turned into night, I geared up for a big one. I started out at Dirty Heads, who I admittedly knew very little of. It didn’t take long for me to get into their surfer rock and I ended up staying way longer than planned.

STS9 has been one of my favorite bands for almost two decades now, so I made sure to get up nice and close for their sunset show. It was their first festival appearance in around two years and they did not disappoint. I stayed for every last minute and had a perma-grin glued to my face afterward.

Saturday night at Summer Camp for me means bouncing back and forth between moe. and Umph. I catch some other stuff here and there, but that one-two combo is the meat & potatoes of SCamp. I’m very fortunate that friends always hold down a spot up front in the VIP section of Sunshine and right of the soundboard at Moonshine, so it’s easy to go between the two.

On the drive to SCamp, we spotted a church with “glory” in the name and a cemetery out front. I called UM doing a “Glory” > “Cemetery Walk” sandwich and I damn near got it, if not for a massive “Bridgeless” in the middle. Hey, fine by me!

Over at moe., I loved the massive “Puebla” > “Brent Black” that closed out their first set. As always, the light show at Moonshine was on point for their Saturday night throe.down.

Back at Sunshine, Team Umph treated us to a tasty second set featuring “Triple Wide” and “Divisions” – two of my favorite songs – plus a rocking cover of “Thunderstruck.” What a fitting way to close out a Saturday night rock show at SCamp!

Since I missed their daytime set, I decided to head into VIP to catch a bit of Sunsquabi. It was my first time seeing them and I definitely see the appeal. It was a dance party with lazers everywhere – exactly the kind I love!

Speaking of lazers, our next stop was the CloZee late-night over at Starshine. There were glow toys everywhere and lazers galore. It’s fun going to a rave while at a hippie jamband festival! I’ll take this moment to pour one out for the Vibe Tent.

For the very late-night festivities, we settled into the Campfire Stage for The Werks. I had seen a bit of them at SCamp before but this was my first full show, and let me tell you something, brother – these guys blew me away. I loved their “Cherub Rock” cover by the Smashing Pumpkins and they absolutely ripped their originals as well.

As it tends to do, 4 AM came way too soon, and I made the long walk back to camp where I fell asleep in the hammock. Props to my wife for getting me up and in the tent!

Sunday

“I woke up late, I had my shoes on my feet and a real bad headache and I don’t know where I’m supposed to be. I made my way real slow out someone else’s tent. I got too f***ed up at Summer Camp last night I know…” More poetry from Brendan Bayliss to sum up that Sunday morning feel at SCamp.

I started my Sunday nice and leisurely, with a breakfast complete with mimosas while The Wood Brothers serenaded us from the VIP Tent. Another perk of VIP camping is being able to hear all the sets perfectly clear from your campsite.

Other Camp Counselors and Illinois friends had been telling me to listen to Chicago Farmer for a while. I finally did just before SCamp and made sure I got my ass over to his noon set on Starshine. I can particularly relate to his song bemoaning $13 beers after going to a bunch of Phish shows this summer.

As is tradition, I made my way to Sunshine for the afternoon rock service from UM. I missed a few songs to catch Chicago Farmer but that’s fine. I think I’m at 127 for my Umph show count after this year’s SCamp. It was a hot one out there and the band also brought the heat with monster songs like “Phil’s Farm” and “40’s Theme.”

That punishing Midwest sun plus a few beers took me down a notch, I’m not gonna lie. We boogied over to catering to grab some lunch and found some shade in which to enjoy it. From there we caught a few tracks from Aaron Kaam & The One Drops. These guys are solid and I hope they come back next year so I can catch some more of their tunes.

I had every intention of rallying for Yonder Mountain String Band, but I melted into the hammock for an afternoon snooze. Summer Camp can be a tiring affair, folks…

I woke up to the sounds of Three Six Mafia in the distance, and still couldn’t believe they were actually at SCamp. We peeled ourselves out of the hammocks, fixed some drinks, and joined the throngs of people at Moonshine. It was pretty wild watching a bunch of hippies and wooks singing along to “Sippin’ on Some Syrup.”

My crew wanted to stay til the end, but I bowed out early to catch some sunset Spafford. Their set included a cover of Green Day’s “Longview.” Between that and Frasco’s foray into Limp Bizkit, this 90s kid was loving it.

Next up it was time to get brown with the one and only Ween. I’ve been a huge fan of theirs for many years now and have seen them live a few times. It’s crazy how one band can sound like so many different bands in just one 2-hour set. They really take you on a musical roller coaster and it was a treat having them at SCamp.

It was tough to pull myself away, but our squad made the decision to wade through the masses over to the VIP area of Moonshine to catch some of Tipper. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people in a crowd at Summer Camp. I got down to the wubz and had my mind properly blown by the visuals for a few tracks, then did the same thing in reverse and got back for the end of Ween.

After that insane combo, we had to pick our collective brains off the ground and head back to camp to regroup. After a wardrobe change and a cooler re-fill, we made our way back to Moonshine for some moe. I loved the “St. Augustine” > “32 Things” segment to end their first set.

I’m not exactly a huge EDM guy, but GRiZ was the #1 act on the SCamp app. Plus, I gotta support a fellow Detroiter. I went into the set expecting to leave after a couple of tracks and ended up staying for most of it. Hell, I even got up on the ADA ramp by soundboard to snap some pics and videos and watch all the inflatable things fly through the crowd. That dude can play a mean sax and he puts on one helluva show!

I ended up losing my crew in the melee and figured I’d just find them at moe. Well turns out they were all still at GRiZ and my wife had my cooler. I patiently waited for them to arrive with a cold one, which was much needed after all that running around and dancing.

While I had every intention of going to check out Death Kings, my legs said no. I logged 37 miles over the four days at Summer Camp and was running on fumes. Plus, that 2nd set of moe. was the stuff dreams are made of, complete with some goofy projections of the band on the stage. They closed out their set with “Rebubula,” which is always my favorite way to finish the festival.

Some late-night campsite shenanigans ensued with friends as we all soaked up the last few hours together. I may or may not have stayed up way too late and slept right until noon when we were supposed to be out of the festival. Whoops. Mother Nature gave us a free shower as we tore down camp and hauled everything back to the car.

Until Next Year

After going to nine editions of the festival over the year, I can confidently say that this – Best. SCamp. Ever. It was such a magical weekend and I can’t wait to do it again. The good news is that this will be the shortest time between Summer Camps ever!

We’ll get that first round of artists in a few months and before you know it, we’ll all be packing up the cars and headed to Three Sisters Park again. It was cool having SCamp in August this year, but I think we’ll all be happy for the day after the festival to be a national holiday again.

See you all next May as SCamp reaches the legal drinking age. Something tells me it’ll be a wild one. Until next year, SCampers.

-Camp Counselor Sasha