A Letter from Camp: Summer Camp Music Festival, May 24-26 in Chillicothe, Illinois Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Matt Erickson   
Monday, 20 May 2013 10:01

A participant in an open-mic session at Summer Camp 2012. Photo by Matt Erickson (MRE-Photography.com).Seeking a reprieve from the unyielding noon sun at the 2012 Summer Camp Music Festival, I head to the Soulshine Tent for a bit of shade and cold drink. Upon entering the tent, I see festival musician Jaik Willis and a camper wrapping up a music jam together. I take a seat, and Jaik invites a young woman to the stage who is next on the open-mic list. With her cowboy hat pulled down tight and a with slow foot tap; she starts her a cappella version of “Me & Bobby McGee.” Within moments you can hear the rasp build in her voice as she works her way toward the chorus. Her brow wrinkles, and – as if she were kicked in the stomach – she buckles over and unleashes her vocal wail. She tears through ’til the end and quietly passes the mic back while the small group of observers erupts into cheers, and I think to myself: “This is Summer Camp. Expect the unexpected.” I don’t remember the young woman’s name, but her passionate one-off performance was unforgettable.

Top-tier musicians and fans will be descending on the 13th Annual Summer Camp Music Festival from May 24 through 26 at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, Illinois – a drive of less than two hours from the Quad Cities. The festival has a diverse and exciting lineup along with camping on festival grounds. One hundred thirty different acts will bring everything including blues, rock, bluegrass, dubstep, and hip hop to one of seven stages.

Umphrey's McGee at Summer Camp 2012. Photo by Matt Erickson (MRE-Photography.com).

The event is once again headlined by festival originators moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, both of which will perform their rock-based jams numerous times throughout Summer Camp. The main acts for this year also include two full sets of the Trey Anastasio Band; Summer Camp is the sole Midwest performance for the band of the Phish frontman.

The Avett Brothers at Summer Camp 2011. Photo by Matt Erickson (MRE-Photography.com).

The Avett Brothers make a return to Summer Camp riding their recent success of being featured on Crossroads with Randy Travis and releasing their latest album The Carpenter. The band performed at Summer Camp in 2011, and they are not to be missed, bringing energy and urgency in the strained vocal work and a foot-stomping attitude that is rarely matched.

Victor Wooten at the Redstone Room. Photo by Matt Erickson (MRE-Photography.com).Victor Wooten will also be making his Summer Camp return after playing his sold-out workshop and show at the Redstone Room in April. The five-time Grammy winner is a consummate student – always developing his style – and he surrounds himself with some of the best musicians around, having worked with Steve Bailey and Béla Fleck.

Other big names include Big Boi, Taj Mahal, and STS9, but Summer Camp also offers a great chance to discover lesser-known acts such as Maps & Atlases, Apache Relay, and EOTO.

More than a dozen of the artists on the lineup have played Quad Cities shows at the Redstone Room, RIBCO, or Rozz-Tox this year, but Summer Camp offers the opportunity to catch them shine on the big stage. The high-energy bluegrass band Cornmeal will be kicking off the pre-Summer Camp festivities Thursday night, and this will be the last opportunity to see Allie Kral showcase her fiery fiddle skills, as she is set to leave the band to pursue other ventures after the festival.

Cornmeal's Allie Kral at Summer Camp 2012. Photo by Matt Erickson (MRE-Photography.com).Following Cornmeal’s set will be The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The group lays down some great Delta blues and will be promoting its latest album, which debuted atop iTunes’ blues-album charts. If you like loud, raucous, in-your-face blues, this is the band to check out.

Summer Camp offers something for both the avid and casual music lover to see and experience. You’ll be able to kick back on the lawn and enjoy a band while tossing a Frisbee or hula-hooping, or get into the energetic crowd up front to get a close look at all the stage action. After the sets, many of the artists make themselves available to talk about the show and the festival. If one of the acts isn’t holding your interest, it’s just a short walk to the next stage to discover that weekend’s hidden gem. Festival newcomers Soap, Old Shoe, and Cosby Sweater featuring Joel Cummins (of Umphrey’s McGee) should be on the short list to see.

Outside of live music, there are music and art workshops and exhibits, most held in the Soulshine Tent. The artwork ranges from screen prints of music playbills to painting to concert photography.

The Soulshine Tent also offers the opportunity for campers to get up and perform, and the open mics are sometimes on a par with the best acts at the festival. In the past, they have also offered the opportunity for fans to collaborate and jam with festival musicians. There are many talented campers who are just waiting for that one opportunity, and this allows them to show their best.

EOTO at the Redstone Room. Photo by Matt Erickson (MRE-Photography.com).

The Summer Camp Music Festival offers a three-day pass or a Sunday-only pass. If you’re not up for camping the whole weekend, you can catch all the big acts – Umphrey’s McGee, moe., the Trey Anastasio Band, the Avett Brothers, the Taj Mahal Trio, and Big Boi – with the Sunday pass, which will give you a taste of what Summer Camp has to offer.

A word of caution about the weather: It can range from severe thunderstorms to sweltering heat, so be prepared. Regardless of the weather, you’ll be guaranteed an unforgettable experience.

For more information about the Summer Camp Music Festival, visit SummerCampFestival.com.

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