Saturday began with Nashville indie-roots band The Apache Relay. While they lack a large jam or live experimentation element and this show held the potential for a letdown given the previous day’s underwhelming set from fellow indie rock band Maps & Atlases, Apache Relay did not disappoint, managing to translate their soulful and earnest footstompery to the stage in a way that properly fulfilled the expectations of a live show at Summer Camp, in that the music felt like a genuinely living organism. While, thanks to the rain that was slowly turning the festival grounds to muddy slop, attendance at the show was poor, the band still brought a high level of energy and an endearing amount of honest humility, repeatedly thanking the audience for sticking with them through the rain, turning their set from a performance into an almost collaborative effort between audience and band to enjoy the music to its fullest extent.
We stayed on the Starshine Stage to catch Tea Leaf Green, a psychedelic rock band that struck some sort of harmony between country twang and that sweet, jammy shreddery that comes with prog-rock. The undeniable standout musician in
this band is bassist Reed Mathis, who we’d been exposed to when, while charging phones and cameras in the press area that morning, we had the happy accident of witnessing a clinic featuring him and legendary artist-at-large, bassist Victor Wooten. Mathis is a visionary bassist, coming from a family of classical musicians and also citing bands like Led Zeppelin as influences. When the two artists, who had never met previously, jammed that morning, a listener with their eyes closed would have been hard-pressed to say that there were only two musicians at work and that they were both playing four string bass. It was a rare and transcendental experience. While Mathis’ early and intimate performance in the church that morning would stand out as maybe the most magical moment of our festival, his set with Tea Leaf Green was a rare and musically incredible display of technical skill combined with an intrinsically creative understanding of what fun and soulful rock and roll should sound like. It is this approach to music that allowed Tea Leaf Green to dazzle without creating an esoteric barrier between their performance and the audience.
Leaving Tea Leaf Green proved to be physical challenge, as the constant rain, was reducing the field to bog conditions. But trudge we did, slopping our way across the fields to Cornmeal, Chicago’s own bluegrass jam band. While Cornmeal has frequented both Champaign-Urbana and Summer Camp over the years, this performance had a special quality to it, as it was announced just prior to the festival that Allie Kral, the band’s fiddler, would be leaving the act after their Saturday performance. Despite this, Cornmeal’s set did not stand out particularly among the other bands at the festival. Maybe this was in part due to the fact that we were still recovering from the mind-boggling virtuosity of Victor Wooten’s playing earlier in the day, but either way Cornmeal’s set did not leave a noticeable impression.
Next on our agenda was Los Angeles-based, globe trotting, gold-certified international party starter Diplo. This set at the Moonshine Stage brought a certain degree of trepidation. When an artist has a reputation as massive as Diplo’s, it is almost impossible to conceive of witnessing a show that can actually justify the hype.
Diplo met and then very quickly exceeded these expectations. Switching from one mix to the next at breakneck pace and with ineffable accuracy, the man picked up the crowd and turned their ears inside out, experimenting wildly without letting the energy flag for a single second. Most EDM artists today make their money on the road, churning out cookie cutter performances designed for a stadium crowd. Alternatively, Diplo earns every cent. While this was one of our favorite sets of the festival we regret that we cannot write more on the subject, having been stripped of our profane vocabulary by the editors and common standards of journalistic decency.
In line with the previous night’s performance by Big Gigantic, Gramatik’s set at the Starshine Stage on Saturday night brought elements of jam rock as well as EDM to the stage, combined with an unreal light show. While this is something that is being done by other artists and even other artists at Summer Camp, Gramatik’s set still stood out in its own right, due in no small part to the aid he received from frequent collaborator Griz, who played the previous set at the same venue and retook the stage to join forces with Gramatik under the portmanteau “Grizmatik” and elevate the crowd to even greater levels of face-melting glory.
From this we struggled through the deepening mud to the nearby Vibe Tent, where a storm of a different kind was brewing. Chalice Dubs Masquerade, the monthly rager put on at the Canopy Club in Urbana, Illinois had packed its bags and migrated north to bring a five hour set including seven semi-regional DJ acts to the wanting crowd amassing in the tent. The ensuing circus was a muddy, sweaty, gloriously weird affair.
Bringing top notch disc jockeys on a stage accented by bright lights and the mystifying costumed sex appeal of numerous onstage performers, the masquerade left us tired, confused, and ready for another damp night in the tent.
Cowritten with Kirby Jayes
All photography by Kirby Jayes