Take me back….Summer Camp Music Festival

The words “summer camp” have alway had deep nostalgic meaning in my heart. I grew up getting through the school year by looking forward to the summer, which would reach pinnacle excitement when I got to go to summer camp for a few weeks.

I eventually grew too old to attend as a camper and then too old to live off of the meager $100 per week for 6 weeks as a counselor. Luckily, I discovered music festivals just in time to spend my early adult life constantly looking forward to the few weekends each year I get to dance around with new and old friends! So, basically…I knew a festival called Summer Camp Music Festival would be special for me.

So special.

I actually played double duty and worked for a cool company called Solar-Go Productions, while getting the chance to explore an awesome new (well, new to me) festival! I worked during the day time and got to play at night, which worked perfectly because most of the music I was interested in was at night.

Summer Camp is a unique festival in the US because you get to camp INSIDE the actual venue grounds. The only separation from the brave souls at the edge of the ‘camp grounds’ and the Sunshine Stage was a row of vendors. There are fields and forests open for camping. It’s all first come, first stake. You have to drag all of your camp gear into the festival. So, I would definitely advise using some sort of wagon. The lines can get pretty long to get in. Security goes through all of your stuff. The main thing they are looking for is ANY ALCOHOL. Zero outside alcohol is permitted in Summer Camp, which is kind of a pain. They do sell 12 packs for $30….so yeah, you’re going to want to find a way to get your own stuff in. Once we got in, we set up camp right in the middle of a big open field, which seemed like it was pretty much right in the middle of the whole venue. It was a prime spot for sure.

Before this goes any further….I have to talk about the DUST! This festival has been labeled Dust Bowl 2014. The weather was great; highs of 80 during the day, lows of upper 50’s at night, and not a drop of rain all weekend! However, these were the perfect conditions for a good ole’ midwest dust haze. Which is exactly what happened. Once there were thousands of people walking and dancing along the loose dirt trails, dust floated into the air where it stayed for days. Here’s where my first major point of advice comes in….if there doesn’t appear to be rain in the forecast for any festival, BRING BANDANAS to cut down on how much organic matter you will breathe in. Dealing with the dust wasn’t so bad though. If you were lucky enough to take a shower, you pretty much felt like a dust magnet and were dirty within 15 minutes of being clean. I did feel bad for the pour souls who set up camp along the edges of walkways. Their tents were a uniform brown color by Sunday. But hey, at least we weren’t having to deal with a foot of mud everywhere!

Besides the dust, there is only one other source of complaint….the port-a-potty situation. Apparently, the organizers decided to go a new route this year and opted for using trailers instead of the typical rows of individual potties. The trailers housed 6 stalls on the women’s side and I’m assuming some sort of urinals and stall combo on the men’s side. It was better than port-a-potties for a while but as more and more people filed through the festival entrance, it became clear that there weren’t nearly enough trailers. I honestly could only count like 15 of them in the whole festival. A row of them at the central camp zone (which meant there were none in the woods for the forest people) 2 at a couple of the stages and one at a couple of the stages. They were cleaned relatively regularly…except for Monday morning, which was a struggle. But it really could have been a lot worse. You just had to plan ahead, if you were going to be at a stage without a trailer for a while.

A couple of precautions about Summer Camp in general:
The level of local security is increased exponentially along the roads as you drive to the entrance. Drive with caution and don’t do anything dumb. Not that there’s any reason to be worried about getting pulled over by the police…but it will cost you lots of time and stress. So, just be smart! Since you cannot lock up any valuables in your car next to your camp site, either do a good job hiding them within your tent or just leave them back at your car. Theft is kind of high at Summer Camp. Again, just be smart and plan ahead.

Let’s move on from that and talk about what everyone was really there for…the music! It was nothing short of stellar. My mind is still blown by the diversity Summer Camp brought. So many different types of fans converged in Chillicothe, Illinois! It’s always nice to see Umphreaks, Bassheads, Phans and the random people yelling “Primus sucks” all get down to some Blues Traveler or EOTO. There’s always the threat of schedule conflicts during these festivals with huge lineups. Summer Camp did a good job keeping the stages within close enough distance that you could catch multiple bands even if their set times overlapped. The stages were set up really well in general. The Moonshine stage was my favorite because it was like a giant natural amphitheater surrounded by trees! During some of the bigger acts, it was like you were part of a big sea of people. You could also have a great view from any spot.

My favorite sets of the weekend: EOTO on the Sunshine Stage, Gramatik in the Red Barn, The Manhattan Project in the Campsite Stage, Umphrey’s McGee on any stage at any time, Blues Traveler on the Moonshine Stage, Nahko and Medicine for the People on the Starshine Stage, Russ Liquid in the Vibe Tent and of course….Primus and Bassnectar both ruled the Moonshine Stage (separately, of course).

On the real, Summer Camp was special for me because I gained so much from it. I went in with zero expectations and zero friends. I came out with new friends and memories to cherish and build on in the future! It was a special festival that made those things happen. I don’t know what’s next for Summer Camp…I did hear a rumor that they were going to move it to a new location. Either way, I will try my hardest to make to the next one!

Thank you to the creators and supporters of Summer Camp Music Festival! And thank you to all of the lovely people that made it such a wonderful experience. Next up…..BONNAROOOOOO!!!!