Words by: Pat Knibbs :: Images by: Brett Saul
Summer Camp :: 05.24.07 – 05.27.07 :: Three Sisters Park :: Chillicothe, IL
Last year's Summer Camp promoters nearly lost their unique location due to unforeseen circumstances. It wasn't until after the small host town of Chillicothe fought for the festival and worked with promoters Jay Goldberg Presents and Jam Productions that the site was renewed for the next five years. For many Midwest music fans Summer Camp has been an annual retreat, expanding immensely since its inaugural fest seven years ago.
Summer Camp 2007
This year the fest offered four days of music from over 40 bands on four stages, and welcomed nearly 9,000 people who braved soggy conditions and un-summer like temperatures. Hey, at least there weren't any cicadas!
It was a little surprising to see just how many people showed up for the pre-party celebration. Lines at the entrance were enormous, and both stages were fairly crowded. The majority of the music was provided by a horde of rising Midwestern and regional touring bands.
Groovatron - Summer Camp
The Sunshine Stage highlights included a funky afternoon set from New York's U-Melt, a goofy, humorous set from Indiana's funk-rock stalwarts Groovatron, who were painted head-to-toe in black, and the always entertaining bass master Oteil Burbridge and The Peacemakers.
The Campground Stage featured two impressive back-to-back sets. The first was from Wakarusa-bound The Fuz, who rocked the decent sized crowd just as the sun dipped down. The second was Chicago's answer to the electro-funk craze Future Rock, who ignited a lively dance party in between spurts of rain. There was also late night entertainment provided by Chicago acoustic funksters and all around road warriors 56 Hope Road - whose set was quite solid - as well as San Francisco rockers Tea Leaf Green.
Opening up the main Moonshine Stage was the Chicago's Drop Q. Led by Umphrey's McGee drummer Kris Myers and keyboardist Brian Felix (Om Trio), the quartet blasted through a set of funky instrumentals that combined several genres. The highpoint of the set was a heavy acid-jazz jam that revolved around an Obi-Wan Kenobi sample ("I was once a Jedi knight").
The Wailers - Summer Camp 2007
The fields surrounding both stages were now buzzing with life, and the upbeat melodies emanating from the Campground Stage were infectious. Providing the first dose of reggae for the day, Iowa City's Public Property rolled through their enticing mid-afternoon set with passion. Sure, the group provides eye-candy with their two female singers, Margaret Larson and Mareva Minerbi, but it's their catchy songwriting and just-right blend of reggae, hip-hop, and funk that's made the group popular on the festival circuit.
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band is a spectacle, to say the least. Their down home style of blues has been referred to as "Robert Johnson on crack." So, it's no wonder that the group was asked to be the house band for the Jerry Springer Show. Rev. Peyton, his brother James and his wife "Washboard" Breezy bombarded through their afternoon set on the Sunshine Stage. Asking the swelling crowd for assistance during "Mud," the Rev. remarked, "I'm not asking for five-part harmonies. Just some drunken yelling. I get the feeling that you're not drunk enough. Can we pretend?" Following "Mud," the group played a hilarious song inspired by an impromptu appearance by Breezy's cousin on the TV show Cops called, fittingly, "Your Cousin's On Cops."
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
Next up, seasoned veterans The Wailers worked up a Rastafied frenzy on the Moonshine Stage. Songs like "Natural Mystic," "Keep Me Moving" and "Stir It Up" were well received and provided a perfect soundtrack for the beaming sunshine. The set was heavily nostalgic but their addition to the fest fit nicely into the overall puzzle and gave the line-up a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Summer Camp alum Keller Williams unveiled his new ensemble The WMD shortly after The Wailers. I was curious how Williams, SCI's Keith Moseley (bass), Gibb Droll (guitar), and drummer Jeff Sipe (ARU, Leftover Salmon) would interact together. Midway through the set, Williams appeared to be having a blast and the group sounded tight and full. Renowned for his plethora of quirky covers, Williams pulled Sublime's "Santeria" out of his stash for a rousing audience sing-along. They closed with a loud punk-ish version of "Radio" from Williams' latest release, Dream. The set was a refreshing change of pace as it didn't rely solely on William's one-man-band routine.
Williams & Moseley :: Summer Camp 2007
Though Summer Camp revolves around moe., the current rise of Chicago's Umphrey's McGee has been a critical factor in the festival's growth over the past several years. These Midwestern golden boys have established a dedicated fan base, a vast musical catalogue and the chops to hang with modern rock's elite. The two sets on Friday were a prime example of hard work paying off. Highlights included "The Bottom Half," "Pay the Snucka," an extended "Alex's House" and a special appearance by new Chicago transplant Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio) on vocals for a smooth, funky version of Sade's "No Ordinary Love."
The first of moe.'s five weekend sets featured several Summer Camp classics ("Rebubula," "Not Coming Down," "Wormwood"), a brand new song ("Skrunk") and a full out band switch with Assembly of Dust on Strangefolk's "Westerly," which was a preview of the late night Tag Team event.
Umphrey's McGee - Summer Camp
The Red Barn (Summer Camp's spot for late night shows) provided some of the most noteworthy performances of the weekend. Friday's Tag Team set, started with Umphrey's McGee alone then morphed into a "Super Jam" that featured just about everyone of note taking the stage. It also provided a couple of weird, creepy wardrobe choices from UM guitarist Brendan Bayliss and bassist Ryan Stasik. Bayliss, who claimed to have lost a bet, was wearing a short black cocktail dress with a pink feathered boa and make-up (yikes!), and Stasik sported a red spandex bodysuit (that flaunted a little too much info for me) with devil horns and mustache. Musical highlights included a rowdy version of Van Halen's "Running With the Devil" featuring UM drummer Myers on lead vocals, Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" with Bayliss on vocals, and an earsplitting version of Metallica's "Enter Sandman."
The rain started early Saturday and never really let up. I could see the dark storm clouds looming on the horizon as I approached the Sunshine Stage for the Pnuma Trio. Their instrumental electro-funk and stellar improvisational skills make the group one hell of a live act, and their early afternoon dance party provided a necessary jolt of energy moments before the impending storm.
Summer Camp 2007
I had to bail on several bands due to the rain, but was fortunate to catch a couple of impressive sets at the Campground Stage. Both Detroit's Bump and Chicago's Make Believe ripped through their sets seemingly unfazed by the rain.
As the rain dissipated briefly, I trekked down the muddy path for Summer Camp virgin Les Claypool. His characteristic brand of bass-driven evil funk-rock blasted the soaked crowd, who refused to let the rain ruin their day. Armed with an arsenal of basses and creepy masks, Claypool steered his Fancy Band into several intense improv-heavy jams. The interaction between Gabby La La, Skerik and Les was entertaining to say the least.
Gabby & Claypool :: Summer Camp
By the time moe. took the stage again the rain had stopped, but the temperature had dropped considerably, too. Thankfully moe. brought the heat. Before a blistering rendition "Bearsong," guitarist Al Schnier pointed out, "This song is a direct result of listening to too much Primus." During the second set, the quintet welcomed out Allie Kral (Cornmeal) for some fiddle assistance during a marathon "McBain" > "George" > "McBain." Kral sawed her fiddle viciously for nearly 20 minutes as the band jumped up and down scales, teasing the Talking Heads' "Crosseyed and Painless" before diving headfirst into "Lazarus." These two sets were a great example of why moe. is so popular in Central Illinois despite their Northeastern beginnings.
Medeski Martin & Wood returned to Summer Camp after a three year absence, and their late night set Saturday was a last minute fill-in for the ailing Claypool. Following a short set by The Wood Brothers, MMW played a set of improvisational jazz that showcased their virtuosic skills. John Medeski's percussive style on organ blends incredibly with the backbone of Billy Martin and Chris Wood constantly leaving fans awe. The trio rode the wave of energy from the late night crowd 'til the wee hours.
Billy Martin :: Summer Camp 2007
Finally sunshine! After four long days I was thrilled by the presence of the sun, which made the afternoon sets much more enjoyable. Bouncing around between the three stages, I caught the tail ends of Brothers Past, New Monsoon and 56 Hope Road before taking a breather with The Wood Brothers mid-afternoon set. Laughing as the two brothers talked about their "pigmentally challenged" skin and the importance of a strong sun block, I hung around long enough to hear a swinging version of the Beatles' "Fixing a Hole."
Near the Sunshine Stage was the Guitar Hero II RV, where campers could challenge their friends to guitar duels on multiple screens and win prizes. I guess there was a tournament running throughout the weekend, but I opted to watch the real guitar heroes instead.
Ben Ellman - Galactic
Back at the Campground Stage, Treologic, Chicago's organic hip-hop quintet, blew things up. MC Billa Camp's slick lyrical attack over the melodic wizardry of guitarist Connor Grant and keys-bassist LaeLo shined bright and pulled the crowd towards the stage.
Galactic and MMW, who were back-to-back on the Moonshine Stage, both played solid jazz-funk but couldn't match the energy of their late night sets (Galactic did the Sunday late night). So, I ventured back towards the Sunshine Stage to catch its closer, Backyard Tire Fire. Their raunchy guitar-driven rock was a nice treat, and their set closing "Sweet Home Chicago" got me thinking about my comfy bed!
moe. closed the weekend on a high note, and even brought out a couple of guests to help. On "Yodelittle," Macpodz trumpet player Ross Huff spiced up the mix. Schnier again thanked everyone for a great weekend, and urged folks to assist with the cleanup efforts. Following moe.'s set was Galactic in the Barn, where they closed off a great weekend with a couple of lively covers including, Hendrix's "Manic Depression" and Zep's "The Immigrant Song."
moe. :: Summer Camp 2007
This year's festival was the most diverse Summer Camp to date. The addition of Les Claypool and The Wailers, not to mention the return of Galactic and MMW, ensured an abundance of quality music. The staff was helpful and friendly, and even though the weather wasn't too cooperative at least there weren't any cicadas!
JamBase | Illinois
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