[Review] Summer Camp Music Festival 2014
The 14th annual Summer Camp Music Festival returned to the idyllic Chillicothe, Il this past Memorial Day Weekend, drawing avid music fans from across the country. The festival itself implemented significant improvements. All vibes were good vibes, and after last year’s torrential downpour on Sunday night, tens of thousands of SCampers were more than ready to make the most of the beautiful weather.
This year’s lineup covered a rich and diverse musical spectrum with countless genres and styles represented, plus many homages and sources of nostalgia seen and heard. In addition to unforgettable performances by Summer Camp homecomers Umphrey’s McGee and moe., Scamp were poised to bring their A-game with their highly eclectic lineup. Acts ranged from country music heroes Zac Brown Band to funk masters Lettuce, adventures in Primusville to KOAN Sound’s filthy glitch hop, and top notch jams from Greensky Bluegrass to hot new hip hop from ProbCause. The talent bookers for Summer Camp really know how to accomplish what should be the main goals of any music festival: exposing people to new and different sights and sounds. There is no better way to unify the human race.
However, large gatherings of music lovers aren’t always about hearing new things. They can also about re-contextualization and paying homage to musical history, encouraging fans to remember and appreciate origins. Over the course of 4 days, I noticed a particular abundance of classic covers. The producers behind Summer Camp recognize that we wouldn’t be here had it not been for greats that came before us, and the Soulshine Tent was largely devoted to cover and tribute bands of all kinds. Before I get into my favorite Summer Camp sets, here are a few of the best covers and tributes that occurred over the weekend.
1. The Victor Wooten Band busted out some amazing covers during their afternoon set on Friday. The Grammy-winning virtuoso lent his incredible electric bass skills to Bob Marley’s Get “Up, Stand Up,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Wooten executed these classic songs and others with powerful emotion and the sporadic slap bass
2. Country music maverick Zac Brown Band is one of the more odd Summer Camp lineup additions in recent memory. They clearly know their audience; their impressive set was devoted to classic covers and surprise sit ins. My highlight would have to be the heart-wrenching rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” with Jake Cinniger of Umphrey’s McGee or Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” performed with moe..
3. We all know of the success Cosby Sweater enjoyed at Summer Camp this year. They’re also an act who’s not afraid to show people exactly where their inspiration comes from. After a funky version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” with Joel Cummins on Thursday, the Sweater whipped out three The New Deal covers, (“VL Tone,” “Glide,” and “Techno Beam”) on Friday night. The meeting of those proggy keyboard melodies and Nicholas Gerlach’s speedy EWI shreddery was a penetrating sonic experience. It was a special treat to hear those memorable sounds with so much excitement surrounding the return of the godfathers of livetronica. The musical styles of Cosby Sweater and The New Deal go together like chocolate chips and pancakes.
As if that wasn’t enough, North American Scum, an LCD Soundsystem tribute band comprised of Joel Cummins and members of Cosby Sweater and Digital Tape Machine, made its premiere at this year’s Summer Camp. There has never been a better time for gifted musicians trained in the art of mixing rock and electronic music to revamp LCD’s aged but highly influential discography.
4. A particularly nostalgic moment at this year’s Summer Camp wasn’t a tribute to any musician or band. As I made the trek from a sensational Lotus set at the Moonshine Stage to more Umphrey’s at the Sunshine Stage, I was lucky enough to stop by the Soulshine Tent to hear whysowhite resurrect the “All That” theme song. That’s right – the Nickelodeon TV show with Amanda Bynes and Keenan Thompson that only ’90s kids can remember. Although portrayed through a different medium, that tune is as symbolic of many childhoods as music. (whysowhite is an incredibly fun band from Chicago; check them out).
It’s hard to dedicate a mere section of an article to Umphrey’s McGee. There are so many dimensions of musical prowess to be observed and appreciated. From their amazing covers and inventive tangling of songs to their brilliant Jimmy Stewart style improv, I’ve been a big fan of Umphrey’s for approximately 3 years, and I still have SO much to learn. I cannot see any possible future where UM shows are underwhelming or predictable. The only thing you can expect is in fact, the unexpected.
What do you do after 15+ years of extraordinary boundary pushing? You start a set on top of the soundboard, surrounded by your fans on all sides. This was a sight to behold, and a memory that I will definitely cherish.
The best UM moments would have to include Friday night’s “Hurt Bird Bath,” an incredible performance of one of my favorite Umphrey’s songs. Saturday night saw an equally epic segment: “Plunger” > “The Linear” > “Plunger” and then “Mulche’s Odyssey.” My absolute favorite moment would probably be Funkadelic’s “Hit it and Quit It,” performed with sax-virtuoso Bill Evans. See the fill setlists here.
Umphrey’s also kept the Scamp family vibes alive. The annual 5am kickball game involved UM bassist Ryan Stasik buddying up with Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits, who was there to play a special VIP set. Sunday night Umphrey’s joined moe. on stage for a full-on superjam, which satisfied my last Umphrey’s withdrawal as Summer Camp came to an end.
If you saw Primus at Summer Camp, chances are you either laughed your ass off, or stood there confused as fuck as to what was happening and why so many people were shouting “Primus Sucks!”.
The venerable Les Claypool brought Primus to Summer Camp for the 2nd time after their debut in 2012. Extended ramblings, distant doodling, abrupt guitar solos, and ironic humor permeated through an hour and a half of one of the trippiest and most surreal, yet unforgettable shows I’ve seen. If you’re familiar with the Primus phenomenon, you know how original and distinctive they are, and although I’d hesitate to say this was an “accessible” show for those who had no idea who Primus was, it’s evident that Claypool’s niche fanbase is alive and well, and still loyal to his fascinatingly idiosyncratic antics. Highlights include the eerie “Southbound Pachyderm,” the crowd churning “Over the Falls,” and a familiar treat- “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver.”
Friday night was becoming legendary, but nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed at EOTO.
EOTO first hooked me two years ago at Summer Camp as they blew up the Starshine Stage. They had no visual set up at that point, but the next year, it became evident that EOTO’s style and mission was starting to coalesce into something daringly grandiose. They brought their video projection mapping lotus stage and were doing things with lasers I didn’t know were possible – pretty innovative stuff. This started a repetitive trend of EOTO defying my expectations every time I saw them. This year, I was aware that they had a new set up, but what I witnessed Friday night went far beyond what I had imagined. After a few minutes of experiencing one of the most thrilling audiovisual productions I’ve seen, I realized just what EOTO is up to.
EOTO has found an undeniable groove with all aspects of both their improvisational techniques and visual production. It’s hard to put into words, but if I had to, I’d say that show had a lot to do with inverted time warps, and pyschadelic star fighter battles. Instead of just shooting lasers out at the crowd, gyro-scoping lasers forming shapes and designs were projected towards a large screen on stage – the fusion of laser and video projection mapping. Michael Travis and Jason Hann’s fearless innovation is unrivaled, and their rapid growth and mastery over this endeavor is sending a message throughout the electronic music universe.
Although it’s been commercialized and has more than quadrupled in size since its inception in 2001, 15 years later, Summer Camp Music Festival retains its familial aura. Better production and incredible performances aside, what really makes the festival experience so great is the people. Check out more photos from Summer Camp below and “like” photographer Patrick Hughes’ Faces of Festivals for a stream of HD snapshots of the colorful world of festival-goers.
Patrick Hughes – Faces of Festivals