A Very Heady Summer Camp
- Written by Jessica Sommers
- June 7, 2012
It all started very early on a Thursday morning, more like the time of the night when you’re feasting on burritos and guacamole, after too much dancing to Dr. Dre on a sticky floor, after a bottle of wine and way too much whiskey. My festival people and I hit the road at 4:30 in the morning, only to find out that the one girl we were picking up slept through her alarm. Dozens of phone calls later, she woke up shocked and confused. Half-asleep, we hurriedly packed up five days worth of her food and clothes in 15 minutes; a proud accomplishment considering the circumstances. You can’t let the little bumps in the road get you down, or else you’d never make it.
The trip from Chicago to Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois was short and sweet, passing by the sprawling city skyline at dawn through the endless fields of Midwestern bliss. We had one goal in mind for arriving to the festival early, and that was to ensure a good camping spot. Flocks of dirty hippies who had arrived the night before were already meandering around, buzzed on sunshine, anticipation, and their first doses of fun from the night before. Technically one can’t bring alcohol into the festival, but one can drink in the parking lot, and though the festival organizers don’t “encourage” binge-drinking, they’d hate to see one’s booze get thrown out at the gate. Commence bottle popping! Waiting in line for the gates to open was the calm before the storm, though the calm was less of a slight wind and more of a blistering sun on a raging party with hundreds of anxious campers clad in tie-dye. When we finally got inside the grounds we picked the ideal camping spot, a secluded, shaded nook in middle of the woods off the beaten path. Within an hour dozens of other campers had joined us.
After spending the majority of Thursday partying and getting acquainted with our surroundings, Friday started as fresh-eyed as one can get from sleeping in a tent. We started our day with plenty of drinks and making friends with our neighbors. One such memorable character was Andy, a 29-year-old free spirit from the middle of Missouri. Andy’s long, blonde locks and missing front tooth became a familiar face around our parts and his stories, though not always desired on a groggy morning, were endlessly upbeat and compelling. In the late-afternoon we checked out BoomBox, a funky electronic duo from Alabama. BoomBox kept it mild and moody but with enough bump to be worth it, and their easy bass lines were pleasant and fun for when that big ball of fire was still blazing in our faces. BoomBox is a far cry from the in-your-face electronic music that’s become popular lately, and they showed that you don’t need to rely on dirty bass drops to have great, interesting music.
The vendors that get to make their living traveling from festival to festival are always intriguing, so Saturday a few of us made the rounds to check out all the original art (a whole lot of bongs and bracelets) and clothing (flowing fabrics for days and plenty of hemp) Summer Camp had to offer. Saturday saw the temperature hovering around 90 degrees all day, so incredible heat and mass dehydration were in full force. The dust in the gigantic field that housed the majority of the campers, vendors and stages was finally starting to take its toll. Saturday featured mouths caked in dust and-- little did I realize-- it would stay that way until Monday. But another minor mishap wasn’t going to negatively affect my experience, and the conditions were nothing a $3 shower and a whole bunch of free water couldn’t fix.
Saturday yielded a majority of the headliners. Being a Saturday, it was also the biggest day to party at a festival where every day is a big day party. European DJ Gramatik played right as it was getting dark, turning out to be one of the best sets of the festival. His refreshingly slow beats eased us into the night and his perfectly-executed bass drops reminded us that we’re still there to party. Gramatik played in the only closed-in tent at the festival, so the combination of hundreds of bodies plus all the suffocating heat made for a hot and sticky situation. Furry-booted girls and shirtless bros spraying water on the appreciative crowd helped a bit, but leaving the tent I wasn’t sure if I was soaked head to toe in water or sweat. It was likely a healthy combination of both. Saturday night was also time for headliner Umphrey’s McGee to play their nearly three-hour long set. Knowing virtually nothing about the popular band, I had to see what it was all about. I’ve casually heard jam-bands in the past and wrote them off, but after seeing Umphrey’s live I can appreciate how much heavier they were than I expected -- more like 60s rock and less like a bunch of banjos. Beside the music, the light show was most impressive. Umphrey’s rocked out a good thirty-minutes after their set was scheduled to finish, sporting some cool Star Wars masks, and all the diehard fans jizzed simultaneously.
Saturday being the biggest day to party, hitting the hay with the sun coming up only felt right. After barely four hours of sleep, the crowd was roused to their feet by the dubstep still blaring from the Grassroots tent with birds chirping to the bass line. Sunday morning arrived with thick, humid air, dust permanently settled on everything, kids with dinner-plate eyes wandering around not wanting the party to stop. Everyone in our camp was a bit slow-moving, to no surprise, and a few of us splurged on ice coffees, a delicacy out in the middle of nowhere. Sunday’s forecast was sunny with no chance of rain, high of 100 degrees, but I wasn’t going to let that stand in the way of seeing one of my favorite acts. AraabMuzik, a talented DJ and producer from Rhode Island, threw down a unique mixture of hip-hop and techno, always keeping it upbeat with original tunes and infectious beats. His non-stop jamming on his signature MPC sampler warranted a much deserved intermission during his hour-long set, even though his hype man’s energy didn’t seem to waver, which only added to the already impressive set.
Just as with any much-anticipated event, Summer Camp ended as quickly as a passed around water bottle during an EDM dance party. I left with no cash and a mouthful of dirt, anxious to wash my hands in a real sink and to sleep on a non-deflated mattress. But the hurdles and mishaps of camping for five days is what makes the raging for four nights all the more worthwhile, and all part of the encompassing Summer Camp experience. You leave a festival feeling utterly exhausted but entirely fulfilled, ready for all the new bumps in the road towards the next festival where you can feel like yourself again.
Big thanks to Eric Rademacher (Rad Photo) for all the awesome pics!