Photos by: Anthony Verkuilen
Story By: Ellie Salrin
Now that festie season is in full swing, we are all in the thick of it. But every year on Memorial Day weekend, there is a grown up summer camp for crazy, music-loving wayward souls to gather and kick off the season. Some of us have called it home for over a decade, while others a new discovery in the backwoods of Illinois.
Summer Camp Music Festival popped my 2014 festival cherry, thanks to an unbelievable cast of musicians, artists, and down-ass attendees who all came together to craft a euphoric experience for all parties involved. This little writer, reporting for duty, ran all over Three Sisters Park for four days, so I could see as much of the wonderful music as possible. Apologize to my legs for me.
It started off with a bang at their annual Thursday Pre-Party, and so the funkiness began. Family Groove Company brought out Third Coast Horns for a funk session before Cosby Sweater took the reigns with their crispy-clean, upbeat tunes. Nahko and Medicine for the People graced us with their soothing, healing music that made everyone feel connected with their fellow dance tribe. Some Future Rock, Manic Focus, and EOTO of course to round out my evening. I remember feeling deep gratitude for the absolutely perfect weather, and a budding sense that it was only going to keep getting better.
The sun came out and with it, friends, flaming hoops, Fireball, and a frisky ass Friday to deal with. Ah, where to begin? Well, how about with Bones Jugs. Their early set could only be described as a rebellious acoustic dance party. The blood was flowin’ as the day spiraled out of focus into a magnificent blur of music including Matisyahu, Robotic Pirate Monkey, Bro Safari, and Slightly Stoopid. Blues Traveler, who most people our age had never seen live, pulled out an impressive performance. I recall an unexpected Sublime cover to boot. On to a gorgeous Umphrey’s McGee sunset show, the sky shining hot pink as the sun descended over the horizon, and I found myself moving my legs, which already felt like jelly, over to Beats Antique. The spectacle was real. The full-fledged A Thousand Faces show was performed, filled with oddities, costumes, and unbelievable world music. Shit got gloriously strange and I was all in - no going back - for the rest of this Friday evening.
Things got a bit rowdy while en route to Primus - the shining gem of my evening after a ballistic Beats set. With my best friend Bird in tow, we picked up the pace to a sprint as I held up my bottle of Fireball, screaming “PRRRIIIMMMUUUS!” as we tore down the moonlit hillside. The rowdiness and weirdness is exactly what everyone wanted at that point in time. The energy was surreal. Who else to better entertain us for two hours than Sir Claypool himself and that talented group...the Primus Circus as we call it.
After several bonkers classics just bursting with enthusiasm and eccentricity, Claypool began his usual off-kilter banter between songs. A particularly hilarious rant involved talking about attending summer camp as a child. As he babbled onward, the description got stranger and stranger, “you know and then they put hot buttered toast between your butt cheeks.” Then the heaviest bass riff resonated as the entire band joined in and threw down so incredibly hard. You can’t question anything at Primus. Just dance. Wobbly dance. People kept running into each other doing their wobbly dances and I had to remind them…”weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” Never. We hold each other up.
Things took a turn, and I found myself backstage for the remainder of the show. The weirdness only continued as that night got sillier and sillier. I’m talking EOTO straight killin’ it for an hour and a half of sensational improv. Throw in Manic Focus, Wick-It the Instigator, Lotus, and finally a funky late night jam with Colorado’s The Motet. Wanted to see these boys for awhile and was blown away by their set which kicked til 4 a.m. Alas, your storyteller did not make it to Sunrise Kickball with Stasik yet again this year. I blame my friends and the musicians that essentially tugged my puppet strings, forcing me to furiously dance for the entire past two days.
Saturday. Hmm...that was a good one, too. It started with one of my favorite shows of the day - Cherub. So much boogie funk that I couldn’t stand still, spilling my mimosa down my arm, which remained sticky the rest of the day. It’s okay, though, I got another one just in time for “Doses and Mimosas.” The sun was shining, my crew was in full force, and the world was our oyster. A bluegrass break for Greensky Bluegrass, then Devil Makes Three, was a jovial, albeit dustry few hours from all the boot stompin’ going on. The Floozies heralded in the evening, throwing down funkalicious tracks old and new. Almost outgrew the stage they played at too, really demonstrating how far they’ve come.
The Untz Challenge winners Filibusta and Ryan Viser represented us proper with their sets, getting the booties shakin’. Catch them at festivals all over the map this summer. heRobust rocked the Vibe tent, followed by a luxurious Lotus set on the main stage, then Break Science, who killed it. They even brought up drummer Adam Deitch’s fellow Lettuce comrade and bass player Jesus (aka Erick Coombs) to make sure the bass blew your face halfway off. From there, I got to check out that real trap shit at UZ, the masked bandit. Rising stars KOAN Sound crafted delightful beats, really helping keep the energy up as the night grew later. A little The M Machine, and it was off to the Red Barn for Gramatik and Lettuce. Gramatik was joined by Cherub, then Gibbz, for a little of that Exmag sexiness. Lettuce finished the evening off by getting us all funked up. This group is one of my favorites to watch...their energy is unbelievable and I threw in the towel after they completely wore me out.
Sunday, bloody Sunday. This was it, folks. We had to finish strong. Some were starting to look a little haggard, or had a more than severe case of wook foot. Some were raring to go like myself. We all rallied, though, and got down like it was our damn job. Ironically, my day began with the group I had ended Saturday with - Lettuce. I wasn’t mad about it. I let them funk me up all over again, round two. A sprinkle of Trey Anastasio, a dash of Wolfgang Gartner, and I was at Exmag. Yes. Give me all of that sexy future funk with a cherry on top please. Super group made up of producers producers Denis Jasarevic (aka Gramatik), Eric Mendelson, Tyler Dondero (aka SuperNicer), Mike Iannatto, and ILLUMNTR, these guys are on a different level and just released a GRiZ remix track. Get to know them if you don’t.
Low and behold it was Bassnectar time at the main stage. Calling all bassheads...all 15,000 of you. The entire hillside packed in for the experience. I was pleased with the set, finding it more melodic than I was expecting. He also incorporated a lot of low end, grime, and hip hop styles, as well as older songs into the mix, along with some fresh tracks. Gramatik raged the Sunshine Stage next. I recall GRiZmatik tracks, some “Bluestep”, and several old favorites. I finished my evening late night bouncing from Umphrey’s in the Red Barn, to the Wood Brothers at the Campfire Stage, to Russ Liquid at the Vibe Tent. Liquid! He makes beatscapes like nothing you’ve ever hear before - soulful, trippy, and glitchy. Coalescing between production and instruments like flute and trumpet, he just does the damn thing. It’s no wonder he’s been scooped up by Gramatik’s Lowtemp label. The last thing I saw music-wise at Summer Camp was Russ playing a flute with what looked like a plastic bag attached to it, some sort of bagpipe he had rigged up that sounded ridiculously sexy. A MacGyver of musical proportions.
Something to note was this year’s Grassroots dome continued to evolve, adding a larger renegade stage with Thaz Dope records. Throughout the weekend, Thaz Dope artists like Alejo, Spankalicious, and Bass Coma rocked the woods out, as well as special appearances by artists like Pleasure and Filibusta.
The reigning theme this year was funk. Whether it’s raw funk like Lettuce or future funk like The Floozies, it is safe to say that we are in a funktastic era. Such a genre has not seen such popularity since the ‘70s, and I welcome it with open arms. Another fantastic year with beautiful weather for probably the first time ever at Summer Camp. Everything was set up and managed to a tee from my perspective, and the vibe was a collective of souls all part of the same caravan. I wandered the festival solo quite a bit this year, and within two minutes I’d have six new friends already. And why wouldn’t it be so? We were all there for the same reason, to collect dripping wet love drops of freaky mind-melting sonic bliss. Mission: Accomplished.
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