After over five years of living in Asia, we decided to head home earlier than usual this summer and do what we do best – tramp around the country following our favorite bands. Bali is great and all, but we got a bit sick of listening to reggae cover bands and mediocre DJs while drinking nothing but pilsener. Nine months in paradise was enough for us; we needed to get back to jambands and IPAs. The first stop on our grand summer tour was the Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, IL. Back in 2004, I skipped my senior prom with a few friends to attend what was at the time only my 2nd music festival. It was a mainstay for me and most of my friends for the next four years, but after moving to China in 2008 I was never able to make it back in time for SCamp. With a stacked lineup, plus the fact that we had nothing holding us back, it seemed like the perfect time to finally take Rachel there. In order to save money for the rest of our huge summer, we decided to sign up to volunteer. Here’s a little recap of our awesome weekend down at Three Sisters Park.
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While the festival officially runs from Friday-Sunday, there’s a pre-party on Thursday for those who want to pay an extra $35 for one more day of music. Arriving bright and early around 9AM, we were surprised to see that there were already at least a thousand people in line. Thankfully, as volunteers we were able to breeze right through our own line and snag a much-desired camping spot in the woods. Meanwhile, all the people who bought general admission tickets were stuck inching their gear through a massive line. Suckers.
Exhausted from our long flight home, hauling all of our stuff into the fest, and setting up camp, we spent most of Thursday afternoon lounging at the campsite. Thanks to the lax security check for volunteers, we had plenty of beer and whiskey to keep us occupied. Outside booze isn’t allowed at Summer Camp, but people try all sorts of creative ways to smuggle it in. There are plenty of bars, though, and a general store where you can at least get 12-packs for $25-30. They’re custy prices, sure, but we’ve seen way worse at festivals.
Rage sticks are a big part of the Summer Camp culture, and I didn’t want us to feel left out. As such, I fashioned our mascot – a Chinese superhero named Pooperman who throws his shit at bad guys – into an awesome rage stick. With all the election hoopla going on outside the festival, it was only appropriate that he had a message of “Make ‘Murica Rage Again.” I had fun all weekend being his mouthpiece:
“This country doesn’t rage anymore, but when we win, it’s going to do so much raging, you’ll be sick of raging! You know what we’re gonna do… we’re gonna build a wall of glowsticks, and we’re gonna make those filthy w00ks from String Cheese pay for it!”
We finally headed out that night to catch some music. With my last SCamp coming back in 2007, I was instantly struck by how much the festival had grown. The stages have doubled and so has the crowd since the last time I attended. Thankfully, the festival seems to have had very little growing pains, and has managed to nearly double in size yet retain a small festival vibe. At least compared to the festival giants of Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza, Summer Camp still seems tiny.
Thursday may have just been the pre-party, but it still delivered in terms of the lineup. Despite our late start, we still managed to catch Future Rock, Greensky Bluegrass, and Break Science. The GSBG set was incredible, and it even featured a guest appearance from Umphrey’s McGee’s Joel Cummins on keys. While there was a free late-night in the Red Barn with Lettuce, our jet-lag was too much to overcome and thus we retired to our tent for the night.
Our first shift with the Volunteer Team was from 12-5 on Friday, so we enjoyed sleeping in and making lunch at the camp before checking in. It being our first time volunteering there, we didn’t quite know what to expect. The check-in process for volunteers was smooth and simple, we got a ride in a golf cart, and we got set up in the VIP viewing area of the main stage for the afternoon. Score! Our job was to keep the riff-raff out – “Sorry, spun out w00k, but you clearly don’t have a VIP wristband on.” – and also answer any questions that the special people who paid tons of money for their ticket may have. Best of all, we got to catch all of moe.’s first set, which we thought we were going to miss entirely.
Before things picked up in the VIP area, I managed to sneak off for 15 minutes to check out The Nth Power. I had heard amazing things about them, and for good reasons – these guys really throw it down! As soon as our shift ended, we grabbed a cooler full of beers and headed out to watch the tail-end of TAUK’s set. We had seen these guys for the first time last summer at a Phish after-party and were really impressed, so we wanted to see them in the light of day and in a more sober state.
Next up was Lettuce, who played a super funky set to a packed house at the Sunshine Stage. We finally brought Pooperman out, and he raged hard.
When the SCamp schedule came out, we put a big ole’ star on Friday night. With a lineup that went Greensky > UM > Thievery Corporation > UM > STS9, it was basically a dream festival night for us. GSBG delivered another stellar set, this time on the main stage, and then it was time to turn it up to 11 with the boys from Umphrey’s. Rachel managed to drag me away before they finished (“Nooo! They’re playing Divisions!”), but I’m glad she did. Thievery was probably the best set of the weekend, and it’s not very often that we’re able to see them with the full band. I would have been happy if they just played for two straight days, and they actually have enough material to do so! It had been over four years since our last STS9 show and they’ve been on fire since they came back with their new bassist, so we were really pumped for their set. Unfortunately it fell a little flat – I guess our expectations were just too high for it and the rest of the day was so good that any set was going to be hard to keep it going at that hour. Thankfully we’ll be seeing them twice a Red Rocks in September, where I’m 100% certain we’ll get the Tribe experience we so desperately desire. Without tickets for the late-night, we headed back to camp and crashed after a long, rockin’ day.
With a 4-9 PM shift scheduled for Saturday, we wanted to get out and see some music before work. Zoogma came on at 12, so we went up and caught most of their set. Our “fun” and “rage” signs proved to be a big hit, and when we spotted an older dude wearing a silly hat and a speedo, we knew it was the perfect photo opp.
We were hoping to get put back on our same spot as the day before, but they put us on the neighboring Sunshine Stage instead. The job was exactly the same and just as easy, but unfortunately for us we were stuck listening to the robot farts of EOTO rather than our buddies in Cherub. I have a pretty open mind when it comes to music, but god was their set awful. I don’t think there’s any amount of drugs in the world that would make me enjoy it. Thankfully the Hard Working Americans came on next and kicked off a rockin’ set. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as the storm that had been in the forecast all weekend finally came. After the rain, we were treated to an epic double rainbow (all the way!), which was a beautiful sight.
Saturday night was another big one, as we geared up for the UM > moe. sandwich combo. The first UM set was a heater, and it kicked off my 103rd show with the band. You’d think I’d be getting sick of them by now, but I could see at least 100 more.
moe. packed the main stage for their first nighttime set and delivered a solid show that included tributes to David Bowie and Prince. I used to be really into them but hadn’t seen them in years, so it was nice to enjoy a bit of nostalgia with one of my old jamband standbys.
Since we had late night tickets, we opted to skip moe.’s second set in order to rest up a bit and save some energy. We wandered around the grounds a bit, checking out the cool light-up crystals, the tree branch gate, and the Camping Stage for a nice little duet of “Piano Man.”
Thanks to our old buddy Ryan Hug (who’s actually their tour manager), we got into the totally sold out Cherub show in the red barn. We hadn’t seen them in years, so it was great to catch them play to a packed house and absolutely throw it down. Lotus came up next and didn’t disappoint, either. We made it through most of their set, but thanks to our 8AM wake-up call we had to sneak out a bit early.
It wasn’t much of a Sunday Funday for us, as we had to do our last shift bright and early at 8. With no music on at that time, the only place for them to send us was to the front gate to assist with the wristband check. Time crawled by, but we managed to have some fun with our goofy signs, and I think I gave 500 people a high-five towards the end of the shift.
I headed straight to UM to catch their last set of the weekend, but the heat proved to be too intense and sent me crawling back to the tent a few minutes early to take a much needed nap. Exhaustion finally kicked in, and we spent a majority of the day snoozing away in the tent. We finally made it out to catch Lotus on the main stage as well as moe.’s first set. That was it for us, as we finally had to admit defeat and get a real night’s sleep.
Thanks to our flight delays and subsequent awful jet-lag, the weekend was a bit rough. Our volunteer shifts were easy, and we’re happy we did it to save $400 that will go a long way with the rest of our summer plans, but it was definitely a bit too much. We’re going to be tired for at least another week thanks to that one! If you’ve never been to Summer Camp, we can highly recommend it, though. Too many festivals look exactly the same these days, trying to cater to too many fanbases. Summer Camp still remains true to its roots, with moe. and UM topping the bill every year and mostly jambands and bluegrass bands filling in the rest. Sure, there’s lots of EDM these days, but that seems to be a bit hard to avoid. The kids love the untz, and the kids buy lots of tickets! We’ll also recommend volunteering, but probably not after a 2-day international flight. We leave you with a silly sign we saw somewhere in the campgrounds.