Words by Benji Feldheim :: Images by Brett Saul
Summer Camp 2006 :: 05.25 - 5.28 :: Three Sisters Park :: Chillicothe, IL
After last year's Summer Camp festival I finally understood what a parent might feel when their child returns home after their first long chunk of time away from home; walking in at sunrise with purple hair, metal scattered throughout his or her face, reeking of cigarettes and booze. In 2003, less than three thousand people came to Summer Camp to enjoy the outdoors with a soundtrack. People got wild on drugs, little water and even less sleep, but the incredible music was still the main reason for being there. But in years since, it expanded to three days and more zombified faces walked the grounds as if it was a massive fest like Bonnaroo. In 2005, no tornadoes tore it apart, but the attendees didn't have the spark of years before. It seemed as if this fantastic gathering turned a corner toward the dark side of the scene - the depraved decadent fools who think uninhibited means acting like an asshole. Parents must let their kids go through the rebellious phase, and afterward accept the changes in the child. But the child should learn some balance to the madness and find a way to enjoy the beauty in naturally occurring things. Besides, parents are imperfect people as well. My hypocrisy can only go so far, because this Summer Camp was far and away the best yet.
Summer Camp 2006
Thursday, May 25th
The weekend began with the pulsating rhythms and screaming horns of the Alma Afrobeat Ensemble from Champaign, IL. Many bands claim the Afrobeat title without really coming through with an authentic sound, but this beefy band of five horns, keys, two guitars and three drummers/percussionists tears through real Fela Kuti tunes like a thresher. Family Groove Company from Chicago kept things hot with their precision playing and hard funk on original tunes like "The Charmer" and "Virginia Hill," while leaving a distinct expert mark on tunes like "The Chicken" and "New Speedway Boogie." More on them later, they deserve it.
Andrew Bird :: Summer Camp 2006
The Kilborn Alley Blues Band has been knocking blues fans on their asses in Illinois and beyond for years, and they brought the gritty thunder to Summer Camp. One of the most powerful performances of I've seen them pull off, they tore through a set of wailing soulful shuffles and up-tempo stomp fests. Singer/guitarist Andrew Duncanson was a man possessed. Later, New Monsoon took things to an odd place on the Sunshine Stage with their random blend of sounds from around the globe. The combo of tabla, guitar, drums, conga, bass, keys and didgeridoo sounded like a hootenanny from Calcutta. Their layers worked solidly together without overdoing the sound, and they played a solid set of world-funk. The night moved onward with Groovatron tipping the scales toward scattering, composed rock to close the night. Jake Cinninger (Umphrey's McGee) sat in on the band's "Bone Diggin'." Their weighty set ran a wide gamut of styles merged together for a set that built steam up in the barn.
Friday, May 26th
When the body finally switched to festival mode, it was time to hear some new and old faces strut their stuff. Backyard Tire Fire kicked off the day with their rough blues and rock. BTF is another band bringing a touch of darkness to the fray that is well received because of the reality of their stories. Brainchild from Peoria, IL rocked out the camping stage with their brand of odd-metered funk, raging dual guitar attacks and tight rhythms. Another symbol of bands in the scene leaning toward darker sounds, Brainchild also exemplifies a mindset where shyness in playing is not an option. They rock and are proud of it, and the audience agreed with their screaming cheers. Pnuma Trio followed with their eerie trance stylings. Bringing more rock fury and delving into trance techno were the main themes of the many bands at Summer Camp. Rose Hill Drive showed the campgrounds that the days of nasty, shit-kicking power trios are far from gone. After catching a bit of world funk with Chris Berry and Michael Kang, it was time again for Family Groove Company to show the grounds how it's really done. This Chicago quartet is the best example I've heard of what it means to play as one. Their sensitivity towards each other's sounds is the un-fakeable product of honing a tight technical backbone and then improvising. Yet, unlike many players with high technical prowess, arrogance is totally absent in this band, and it makes it all the more enjoyable. Along with their high-powered rocker "The Charmer" and tight grooves of "Ready Fire Aim" and "Byron's Got the Time," FGC also brought some snaky evil out with "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."
Daniel Sproul - Rose Hill Drive
Summer Camp 2006
Onward to the main stage to experience The Disco Biscuits with not-quite-so-new-anymore drummer Allen Aucoin. TDB seemed to have really settled with the change in line-up and are back to their twisted experiments of lashing rock and creepy trance. Their musicianship was in full swing but still made time to have some fun with Brendan Bayliss from Umphrey's, who came out to sing on "I Got A Feeling." Vince Herman took to his job as emcee, spouting random country tunes off the top of his bearded head and eventually introducing the next band; Umphrey's McGee. The Umph came out for two sets of sheer fury. Highlights were a "Nothing Too Fancy" that returned a few times during the show and a sudden "Ocean Billy" that sprang right out of a hard funk "Jimmy Stewart," which came from their tight reggae groove of "Utopian Fir." Songs from Safety in Numbers such as "Words" and "Intentions Clear" become more comfortable each time they bring them out. Kang came out to add violin to "We're Going To War," followed by a final return of "N2F" to take all the wind out of the main stage area.
Vince Herman :: Summer Camp 2006
Next, moe. came on for their headlining spot, hitting the gas right away with a fierce "Rebubula" that would carry on for a few days. Their cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" had the whole grounds singing and swaying. Closing their set with "Brent Black" sandwiched by an explosive "Tailspin" set a high bar for the rest of the weekend. The late night set showed an interesting facet of The Disco Biscuits - their taste for metal. Opening the set with "Sweating Bullets" and moving on through "Magellan" and "Cyclone," they seemed to keep switching their moods around, going from dark to happy in an instant. With plenty of hard drum and bass grooves, they carried into Saturday morning with fury.
moe. :: Summer Camp 2006
Saturday, May 27th
Day two-and-a-half started with the undulating break-beats and ambient howls of Drop Q, a Chicago quartet versed in a furious jazz and techno mindset with enough flow to keep odd meters feeling steady. Alongside the dance and hard rock skills, hanging over the grounds were different takes on the roots of bluegrass. Cornmeal's five-piece balance of old time knowledge and raw electric rock energy made dust rise from stomping feet. The intense picking of Dave Burlingame on banjo and guitarist Kris Nowak, matched with the hard screeches and wails of Allie Kral's violin, hit hard with the booming rhythm of Chris Kangi on bass and drummer JP Morgan. The band's explosive playing lit up the Sunshine Stage. A wave of hard playing with clean tones came out of the woods after Cornmeal. Ernie Hendrickson and the Make Believe is a Chicago group of veritable pros bringing tight syncopation with a pop backbone. They had great energy and clearly have a broad knowledge of music. Tea Leaf Green has been on many taste-maker suggestion lists for the past year. The San Francisco quartet has a strong leaning toward straight-up rock & roll and raises intensity as a group instead of just backing up the soloist.
Cornmeal :: Summer Camp 2006
Rusted Root was a random treat this year. In sticking with an indefinable quality of nearly all bands at this festival, the group took the crowd through a cycle of world sounds rarely thrown together. A band with that much sound can be overdone, yet Rusted Root maintained control over their layered repertoire. At times the crowd jumped, at other times the group swayed, but either way Rusted Root caught the crowd's attention.
Rusted Root :: Summer Camp 2006
With a longer stay on the main stage, moe. played with utmost trickery and sheer force in jams and song arrangements. Hitting hard with "Born to Run," moe. went right for the high energy and never waned. "Big World" into "Bullet" gave a chance for some stretching away from the tunes, only to close out the first set tightly with "The Pit" into "Head." During the second set, the Buffalo five showed their penchant for jam endurance as they brought "Rebubula" back out, which was left unfinished the night before. The long version went way out into bizarre space and all the way back to shredding rock to change into "Buster." A last return to "Rebubula" finished the set, and a mellow "Road" seemed to remind everyone that strength was needed for later.
The Brothers Past and Tea Leaf Green late night hit a tone towards fierce rock in the sweltering Red Barn. The sauna air led way to some sheer rocking out by two bands exemplifying the hard rock sub-theme of Summer Camp. Somehow people stood the steam all night, but your humble narrator needed air.
Sunday, May 28th
The final day began with the clinics, one of the true gems of Summer Camp. Glenn Kotche from Wilco and Vinnie Amico and Jim Loughlin from moe. were on hand to enlighten festival goers on mindset and techniques for drumming. Kotche talked about staying open-minded to ideas since "you never know what'll make sense later." He played a rumbling, melodic drum kit rhythm he wrote with Vinnie and Jim jumping right in to a gypsy-beat. All three agreed on the importance of taking inspiration from other forms of art for music.
Summer Camp 2006
Oteil and the Peacemakers were up next on the main stage. The band continues to push the boundaries of their playing. Their listening capabilities are matched only by how hard they play when each member steps out for a solo. Drummer Chris Fryar and Oteil Burbridge make for a fierce rhythm section, colored by the virtuosic guitar of Mark Kimbrel and Matt Slocum's tight keyboard work. Paul Henson added some southern soul with his vocals on "Check Yourself," and Oteil sang on "My Sweet Lord," delving into the spiritual side of the Peacemakers.
Next, Umphrey's came on for a short day set with a few new tunes and some trusted older nuggets. "Eat" showed the band's composing skills, and "Der Bluten Kat" ran the gamut of Umphrey's tricks, from tight, odd-metered syncopation, hard rock and tender melody. On the Sunshine Stage lurked a snaky sound from deep on the Bayou. Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band will not be matched anytime soon. The Reverend leads the way on shouted preaching vocals and acoustic guitar or Dobro. His wife Breezy keeps the tempo sharp on washboard, and brother Jayme Peyton maintains a steady backbone on a small drum set. It's called the Big Damn Band because of the thick sound emanating from the three players, it's like a blues jam from hell. Closing their set with the up-tempo "The Train Song," the band showed their ability to engage the audience with a massive call-response blow out; a Big Damn Band indeed.
Umphrey's McGee :: Summer Camp 2006
Back to the main stage for Yonder Mountain String Band. To some purists, YMSB is blasphemy. While keeping one foot in the strong tradition of Appalachian music, they have also embraced amplified tones to their instruments and modern songwriting sensibilities. When it comes to any form of art, the usual result of forward-thinking is simply blending the roots with new thoughts. One doesn't exist well without the other. Their set ran a broad spectrum of sounds from earthy funk to sped-up foot-stompers. Al Schnier (moe.) added some guitar-picking to the band's rich tone on "Crow Black Chicken," as Yonder showed a lot of skill during their set. Walking back to camp, I caught the last bit of The Lee Boys tearing through "Purple Haze" to close their set.
Jeff Austin - YMSB :: Summer Camp 2006
moe. took their final spot as a chance to pull out as many stops left in their arsenal as possible. The first set opened with "Seat of My Pants," and the energy stayed strong throughout "Happy Hour Hero" and "Sensory Deprivation Bank" which led to the first break in music after a return to "Seat." The band's songwriting skills sometimes get overshadowed by their endurance jams, yet on this night they balanced these facets delicately. The second set was the best I've seen from moe. in a while, starting with "Bear Song," which soon became "Timmy Tucker," sending the audience into a frenzy. "Dr. Graffenberg" had a section of The Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." The set closed with an epic "Plane Crash," and the band encored with a mellow "Be Gone" and a rocking "Spine of a Dog."
Al Schnier - moe. :: Summer Camp 2006
Split Squad Late Nite
The prospect of moe. and Umphrey's taking their stage-sharing to a new level by splitting up the bands and reassembling them for a one-time late night to close the fest had many possibilities. But it couldn't be perfect, as it's hard to play a whole set with people who rarely jam together. The first Split Squad consisted of Cinninger (guitar), Ryan Stasik (bass), Joel Cummins (keys) and Andy Farag (percussion) from Umphrey's along with Chuck Garvey (guitar) and Vinnie (drums) from moe. Highlights from this set included "Achilles Last Stand" and the ripping funk of "In the Ghetto" by Donnie Hathaway, which went right into UM's "Syncopated Strangers." moe.'s "Shoot First" brought out a rumba feel, and things got weird on Zappa's "Po-jama People." It seemed the band was trying to stick to the songs instead of being more spontaneous, but it was a superb start to the night. The music may have been great, but the heat in the barn was enough make people very sick. The promoters really must make a new arrangement for the late night sets or at least make that sauna more ventilated. Not only was it uncomfortable, it seemed to interfere with the bands' music and sound engineering.
Split Squad I :: Summer Camp 2006
The second Split Squad featured Brendan Bayliss (guitar) and Kris Myers (drums) from Umphrey's, along with Al Schnier (guitar), Rob Derhak (bass) and Jim Loughlin (percussion) from moe. The band opened up with moe.'s "Moth," followed by Loughlin taking lead screaming vocals for Iron Maiden's "The Trooper." In the running for best song of the whole fest was "All in Time" into "Bring You Down" back into "All in Time." The organic way the group blended the two groups' songs seemed more rehearsed than possible, and they were even able to work some "Fire on the Mountain" into the jam. "Shook Me All Night Long" and an explosive "Havah Nagilah" done in true traditional style brought the party out for a crazy rendition of "Life During Wartime." Kris and Jim brought seriously ferocious drumming, switching between percussion and drum kit. By then the heat felt almost normal... almost. Split Squad Two ended with "Farmer Ben" and "Moth." Schnier brought everyone outside away from the heat for the two full bands to end the festival with acoustic renditions of "The Weight" and "Night Moves," featuring a weary, drenched audience singing along as steam went up all around. An amazing festival on many levels for bands and fans new and old, Summer Camp brought it solid this year.
Split Squad II :: Summer Camp 2006
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