When I attended my first Summer Camp in 2012, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been to a camping festival before, never been to an outdoor event of that magnitude, and hadn’t heard of most of the bands other than a passing reference here and there. What I thought would be a one-time experience ended up becoming a major part of my life, and one of my most looked-forward-to weekends every year. With Summer Camp 2017 just around the corner, I thought I’d shed some light on why it means so much to so many people and why they keep coming back year after year to Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe.
First and foremost, the music. Aside from annual headliners moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, the music sprawls in every conceivable direction, from folk and bluegrass to high-octane jazz fusion and jamtronica, from blistering hip hop to instrumental jams, reggae and roots rock to high-flying psychedelia, and everything in between.
Some hotly anticipated shows this year include Primus, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, The Disco Biscuits, Gramatik, Railroad Earth, Chicago Farmer, Old Shoe, White Denim, Organ Freeman, Zeds Dead, Trouble Chasin’, Gov’t Mule, Pretty Lights Live, Twiddle, Liquid Stranger, Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phish with their respective solo bands, Spafford, Turkuaz, TAUK, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, The Hip Abduction, and so much more. For the full lineup, please visit http://summercampfestival.com/lineup/ or look to your immediate right.
The music, while certainly the most high-profile facet of the festival, is by no means all there is to take in over the four-day event. Once you get past the line, get your tent set up, feel the heat and crack a cold one, it’s time to start exploring. The arts and craft vendors offer a wide range of wares, from posters, tapestries, and blankets to instruments, apparel, glass artwork, and more. Add in some quality food (teriyaki chicken bowls, Manolo’s pizza, homemade peach ice cream, and smoked gouda cheese are just a few options) and cold beer and there isn’t really too much else to ask for.
In addition to everything mentioned already, there are numerous workshops in the Soulshine Tent: daily yoga wake-up calls, seminars on sustainable energy and waste reduction, instrument workshops with musicians performing at the festival, secret shows, and gardening instruction. The Soulshine Tent is a great way to learn something at the fest while making new friends and interacting with musicians, festival promoters, and artisans all at once.
However, through all of this, there is one aspect that really makes Summer Camp so special, and that is the people. Without them, none of this exists. The people are the ones making the arts and crafts, cooking the food, presenting the workshops, recording the weekend for posterity, and playing the music onstage! The Summer Camp crowd is so much more than a giant group of friends; it really is more like a family. Some of the kindest behavior I’ve seen in humans has been at Summer Camp; the people just take care of each other. They’re all there for the same reason, and they’re all in it together.
I’ve covered Summer Camp for the last five years, and I can’t wait to make this year my sixth. It’s not just a festival really. People often compare Summer Camp to going home, and once you’ve been there, you understand what they mean. The feeling once you see the parking lot is just electric, and you know somewhere out there in Three Sisters your friends are waiting, the air is crackling, and everyone is smiling, wild-eyed with glee and anticipation of the weekend before them.
The Red Barn looms over the line on the way in, and after you break through that last checkpoint all bets are off. Impatient friends urge each other on, and it’s a madcap rush to find some prime real estate, get camp set up, and get the party started! Whatever floats your boat, whether it’s a weekend of extra-crispy music, unwinding with old friends, making new ones while you dance the night away, or something else entirely, Summer Camp is there for you. If you’ve never been, it’s something else, and I hope this has shown you why people keep coming back year after year.
For tickets and all other festival information, please visit the website
Summer Camp 2017 takes place May 26-28 in Chillicothe, Illinois.