As I rolled into Three Sisters Park early morning Thursday, we were met with thin clouds covering the sky. A slight overcast not so different than the faces around me, everyone beaming with excitement underneath his or her small veil of fatigue from the journey. I myself emerged from the car to shake the yawns and embrace what was to be Summer Camp 2013. The usual excitement filled the air as people parked their cars and began hauling their homes for the next three days to the gate. The slight drizzle was going to do nothing to quell the anticipation of the crowd.
Finally the gates opened, and the long journey from car to campsite began. Some traveled by foot, some by festival taxi, but eventually, we all settled in and attempted to plan our next moves. While the line up at Summer Camp was filled with must see music, there was also a variety of musician workshops and group orientated activities that were meant to entertain as well as educate. Also, artist at large, Victor Wooten, would be bouncing from stage to stage. The Soulshine tent was the host of most of these events and they were not to be missed. Summer Camp also held a scavenger hunt and a green raffle, which gave away prizes based on acts of “greenness”. Needless to say there was a plethora of things to do.
The music started strong on Thursday and never let up. Bringing us out of the gates was Zeta June. Their mellow sound was a perfect way to cruise the path to your campsite. After once again becoming familiar with the festival grounds, I settled in for Lake Shore Vibe’s set at the campfire stage. It was great to see a good young band with a fresh sound. This year the Campfire stage was set up in the middle of the festival. This made for the perfect spot to catch up and coming bands and also meet up and head to the next big show. After Lake Shore Vibe finished their set, Cosby Sweater, who were joined by Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee, donned matching sweaters and threw down a stomping dance set. It was a perfect warm up for Family Groove Company, a Chicago based funk quartet featuring the pick pocket grooves of Janis Wallin on bass. After the nearly hour and a half dance party, the Spirit Family Reunion gave a strong, soulful performance that left one with a sense of refreshment. Next scheduled to perform was Chicago favorite Cornmeal. The two sets they had scheduled were set to be something special seeing as it was their beloved fiddler Ally Kralls’ last performances with the band. From the opening note of the set, you knew it was going to be something to remember. Bassist Chris Gangi described the mood perfectly when he proclaimed to the crowd, “the pre-party sure is starting to feel more and more like the party!”
With the night fully settled in the crowd was ready to get rowdy and the bands were ready to deliver. With strong performances by Roster McCabe and Caravan of thieves, the crowd let loose for what was a thumping set by Digital Tape Machine. With the festival in full swing for the “pre-party”, we were left with a late night that featured electronic sets by DJ SOLO, Minnesota, Sun Stereo, and Quixotic. To close up the night, Reverent Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, Dopapod, and Future Rock performed. They sent even the most weathered veteran to their campsite for some rest.
Friday was set up to be a non-stop flow of music, with any wasted time meaning a missed show. Old Shoe started the day followed by day sets by Brainchild, Pimps of Joytime and the Floozies. During the only sunlight of the weekend, the main stage was to feature back to back to back performances by Moe., Medeski Martin and Wood and Yonder Mountain String Band. All three seasoned bands proved again why they over and over they keep audiences dancing and smiling. The Wailers provided some daytime reggae to go with the sunshine and Keller Williams gave us some bounce with his new band, More than A Little. An eclectic transition was made between rock band Bright Light Social Hour and electronic act Zoogma that led right into Papadosio, an electro-funk band who hails from Ohio. Umphrey’s McGee kicked off their first of five sets, which featured set break performances by EOTO and Paper diamond, and night sets with STS9, Dumpstafunk, and Big Gigantic. Friday was, to say the least, was intense. Moe. and Yonder Mountain String Band teamed up for those who made it into the late night barn set, while those who could not, enjoyed Ally Krall and Friends followed by the Wood Brothers outside. The Wood Brothers delivered as especially soulful and crisp performance in the cool air of the impending storm.
Saturday started out a wet day but the rain slowed not a soul. Chicago singer/songwriter powerhouse Chicago Farmer sang the blues and touched home with his profound lyrics and strong acoustic presence. An array of genres and musical styles filled the schedule with performances by reggae band Jon Wayne and the Pain, blues/Americana band Rosco Bandana, soulful South Side Cindy & The Slip-tones, continental bluegrass band Henhouse Prowlers and Nashville based band Swear and Shake. It was a perfect way to spend the Saturday morning. I not only traveled the festival but also the different realms of music. Then was fan favorite Conspirator, who always puts on a wonderful show. This led into what was perhaps my favorite set of the weekend and definitely the most emotional, Cornmeal. Everyone was pulsing with sadness, happiness and a slight sense of excitement for both the futures of Cornmeal and Ally Krall.
Everyone was due for a late night stop at the campsite after the incredible sequence of music that started with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe followed by Thievery Corporation into alternating sets between Umphrey’s McGee and Moe. The rain had come and gone all day but reared its head at the start of Umphrey’s Mcgee. A sense of uncertainty filled the air until Brendan Bayliss declared, “we are not going to let a little cold and rain damper this parade!” And it certainly did not slow them down. The late night duty would be head by STS9 and Big Gigiantic+Griz+Gramatik in the barn and the Ragbirds and Floodwood outside. Despite the rain and cold, dancers were out in full force and the community campfire became the hot spot for more than one reason this year. With muddy shoes and wet clothes, Summer Camp prepared for a wet Sunday.
Sunday was featured warm performances by MathGames!, Umphrey’s McGee, North Mississippi All-stars, Moe., The Coop, Spread, Tar Mahal Trio, Afternoon Moon, Van Ghost and local Chicago favorite Zmick. Lettuce brought their East Coast funk in full force and delivered strong to the sopping crowd. Also performing Sunday was the Joe Marcinek Band, a late addition to the Summer Camp line-up. JMB left the crowd sweaty, loose, and ready for more. If you get a chance to see these guys, take advantage of it. The anticipation, however, was clearly for festival favorite and Phish front man Trey Anastasio and his band. The path to the stage was a wet and dangerous one but the band played rewarded our effort with a strong performance despite the tough weather. Unfortunately due to weather the rest of the out door music was cancelled after the first set of Trey Anastasio Band. Those with late night tickets in the barn for Thievery Corporation and Zeds Dead were still able to enjoy the show but for the rest, that marked the end of music at Summer Camp 2013.
The scene Monday was one that will not soon be forgotten in the minds of Summer Camp goers. Tents submerged in temporary ponds, air mattresses being used as rafts, and 6-inch deep mud around every turn was not enough to hurt the spirits of all. Despite the cold and rain, memories and friends were made, and we were once again reminded the importance of community and friendship. Goodbyes were had and the preparations for Summer Camp 2014 began as we rode away into the Illinois countryside, Chicago bound.