Summer Camp’s Sweet 16: A Festival Family Affair [recap]
This Memorial Day Weekend, Summer Camp Music Festival had one of the most legendary Sweet 16’s in music festival history. For months, patience had long been dwindling for the arrival of this downright infectious event since the outRAGEous lineup leaked months ago – yet, as is the case with most of our highly-anticipated events, the moment of truth has come and gone in the blink of an eye. On Thursday, May 27th, SCamp opened up their golden gates to swarms of antsy festival-goers and UM-phreaks, all of whom had been giddily awaiting this extra special Memorial Day Weekend and all of the shenanigans in store. As this was my very time attending SCamp, I had only a slight bit of insight from friends as to what to expect. However, I know now that nothing could’ve prepared me for the beautiful, blissful chaos that would ensue over the course of the weekend. There are countless aspects of the festival that had me entirely enamored by the last day, but first and foremost, the crowd was truly the biggest game-changer of all.
We’ve all had those less-than-pleasant run-ins with a bad festy crowd here and there, disrespectful dancers, litterers, the kids who come to the festival just to get messed up and see one DJ, the list goes on. While I’m sure there was a bad egg or two among the attendees at Summer Camp, I have never felt more of a sense of community and togetherness within such a diverse and large gathering of patrons ranging from all ages and tastes in music. The older veterans and jammers were dancing side by side with the headbangers and EDM lovers and vice versa. Everyone was courteous, day in and day out, even during the headlining sets where there were flocks of people packed like sardines. Rather than being barbarians about getting to the ideal viewing spots, everyone made space for one another. Patrons were also far more cautious of one another’s well-being. During a secret set by Dominic Lalli (Big G) and GRiZ, I witnessed roughly 15 people drop everything during this intimate set and go out of their way to retrieve medical attention for a person in need – everyone was truly watching out for one another, like one big family of freaks.
A compliant crowd was the cherry on top of 3 glorious days of moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, headlining sets from Mudcrutch, Big GRiZmatik, STS9, The Roots, Excision and more. After a roughly 21-hour journey from Orlando to Chillicothe, IL, I arrived to 3 Sisters Park, exasperated and slightly delusional from the highway hypnosis that had been plaguing me for the last 500 miles of the road trip. When I finally settled in, there was no time to be wasted. The sun and tunes were ablaze right off the bat, Late Night Radio and Artifakts kicked off the weekend with the perfect chill vibes, serenading the crowds with soulful electronic hip-hop that set the mood for the one-and-only masters of funk, Lettuce. If you’ve seen Lettuce before, you know that the boys never disappoint. If you haven’t…well, do it. The bass was extra funky and the horns were sexier than ever as darkness fell upon the Sunshine Stage. Having only seen Russ Liquid by himself previously, I was ecstatic to have the chance to experience the live band, fully-equipped with fresh strings, percussion, and of course Russell crushing it on the one’s and two’s.
There was something for everybody to love at Summer Camp, including extracurricular activities and workshops for those proactive SCampers out there. Morning meditation, yoga, belly dance classes, garden tours and more were available throughout the weekend, which kept our minds, bodies and souls aligned and rejuvenated during the madness. Fire spinners and various flow arts performers were in full force all weekend long, doing their thing in synchronicity with the music coming from the stages.
Night came on Friday, and Break Science delivered a powerful performance with a guest singer, who catapulted the already live and direct act to another level. Borahm Lee and Adam Deitch were ripping it on stage, alongside soulful vocals and guitar to add the extra special angle. Shortly thereafter, Excision’s headbangers flocked to the Moonshine Stage to witness the Canadian dubstep producer Jeff Abel melt faces with some unforgivably heavy bass heaters, and needless to say, the crowd went bonkers during the debut of the unreleased Excision x Space Laces collab. This set was absolute euphoria to experience, a sensory overload induced by his aggressive and ingenious style of bass music. Abel has continuously been crushing his live productions, including the recent conclusion of his Paradox tour run, furthering his iconic reputation to bring the madness even more.
Fans from all over the states and SCamp veterans were treated to multiple sets of moe. and Umphrey’s McGee throughout the weekend, with the first couple of sets taking place Friday. Jamtronica/funk-fusion band STS9 was another reason that Summer Camp raked in so many patrons – Sound Tribe has gained a solidified fan base over the years with an unquestionably unique sound, courtesy of their ability to improvise on a whim and remain innovative in their genre-blending. The Georgia-based crew stole hearts once again with their set over the weekend, performing tracks such as “Vapors”, “Rent”, and “Looking Back On Earth”, and closing on an emotional note with “When The Dust Settles”.
Late at night in the Vibe Tent we were serenaded by some sexy house tunes from the likes of Sam Feldt, with Louis The Child immersing SCampers in the future-bass feels right before. The headbang was not only enacted at Excision, because rising superstar and OWSLA prodigy NGHTMRE ended things with a bang, packing out the already muddy tent and leaving us wanting more, even at 4 in the morning.
The sun was beaming bright and early come Saturday morning at 3 Sisters Park, and festival patrons were moseying around the campsites within the forest, which was a lush, green environment mostly draped in trees and moss. Bloody Mary’s, Mimosas and other various brunch necessities were sold at campsites throughout the main walkway, as well as the artwork of some of the attendees.
Zoogma and Turbo Suit eased the mid-morning hangover blues and reenergized campers by a means of groovy, upbeat tempos that shook up the Starshine Stage well into the afternoon. Michal Menert & The Pretty Fantastics took to the stage in the late afternoon, and the band brought some soothing sounds, including an inspiring performance of the track “Summer Love” by Menert and Derek Vincent Smith. JuBee, a wildly talented rapper and close friend of the band joined the crew on stage to add that extra hip-hop edge to the act.
Exmag has been on their A-game recently, having just concluded their Ultimate Release show series featuring Branx with three Florida stops and one Atlanta show just a few days prior to SCamp. One would assume that the Lowtemp Label crew would be running on E. However, the trio went above and beyond for this special weekend, even bringing out two extra special guests, one of which is another member of the Gramatik Lowtemp Label, vocalist/producer Gibbz brought the attitude live and direct to a rendition of his track with Exmag, “Tilt Mode”.
Summer Camp is notorious for non-compliant weather conditions, yet the weekend was relatively dry, with the exception of a few rainstorms – one of which came at a highly inopportune time during Manic Focus’s set on the Starshine Stage. Borahm Lee and special guests playing guitar and horns joined JMac and Jacob on stage where the crew was “Sowing Their Zone” and hyping up the vibe until the stage was cleared and patrons were advised to seek shelter until the lightning passed. Spirits were slightly stomped and left in the mud, but a gorgeous post-storm sky and rainbow gave us something beautiful to marvel at until the music returned.
Set times were pushed back and distorted a tad to get back on track after the rain, but the boys of Umphrey’s McGee continued on slaying the stage after the storm, performing tracks like “Puppet String”, “Ringo”, and “Nothing Too Fancy”. UM even played a heartfelt cover of “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies on the last day of the festival during their conclusive set, which is a rarity for the band.
If you’ve ever seen Norwegian-American electronic rock band Savoy live, you know that they are no stranger to state-of-the-art lasers. Savoy had us mesmerized in an oblivion of lights, with their signature organic form of dance music leaving us in a trance.
Sunset/melodic house connoisseur SNBRN turned the Vibe Tent into a tropical paradise for the evening, and things got even hotter in the already sauna-like condition of the tent after the LA-based producer dropped some smooth and silky tunes on us. One thing is for sure, we all got a killer workout every time we entered the Vibe Tent, leaving drenched but euphoric after every set. Dirtybird producer Shiba San switched up the tempos with some deep and tech-house, transitioning into some super funky feels as Saturday night came to a close.
Sunday funday got off to a rather lazy start, hammock hangouts and breakfast burritos were in full-force for the first couple hours of the day, but as we all know, missing a Sunday show is a rookie move. UM said their goodbyes after a breezy afternoon set, and we made our way to the Vibe Tent to watch Ontario-based electronic duo The Funk Hunters perform. These guys are incredible, they have perfectly mastered the art of weaving seamlessly in and out of tracks and genres in a cohesive and ingenious manner, all the while mixing in samples and snippets to keep things fresh. TFH even tossed in some funky Drum n’ Bass to up the tempos towards the end of their set, and there was a very special guest appearance by Colorado-based producer/saxophonist SoDown as well.
Lotus performed during the evening at the Moonshine Stage, coinciding harmonically with the sun setting for the evening and creating the most calm and positive environment in a moment’s notice. Nightfall arrived and we transitioned from a tranquil zen-like state to headbanging savages, all thanks to producer and founder of the Wakaan Label, Liquid Stranger. It was beginning to sprinkle, so everyone bombarded the packed-out tent and went in for the entire set. Of course we had to save some energy for the biggest moment of the weekend for myself and many other SCampers out there, Big GRiZmatik. Not only did Dom and Jeremy (Big G), GRiZ and Gramatik take the stage – the quartet was joined by a fifth, Muzzy Bearr, a producer/guitarist and member of All Goods Records who completed the orchestra of funky goodness. The band played an unreleased GRiZmatik track, tossed in some new new from Gramatik’s most recent EP Epigram such as “War of the Currents”, and even had George Clinton himself come out on stage and sing “We Want the Funk” live. A powerful deliverance of “Little Things” ft. Angela McCluskey concluded the headlining sets for the weekend, and I felt the post-festival blues coming on already. (p.s, that laser show was no joke)
Summer camp was never really my thing as a kid, but Summer Camp Music Festival is an interactive, unified festival that brings out the most youthful spirit in all of us – 16 years strong, and here’s to 16 more.