Well…it’s Memorial Day, and everybody knows what that means — summer is growing more and more imminent. Of course, this is no guarantee that the weather won’t turn downright nasty at a moment’s notice, but nevertheless Summer Camp 2008 at Three Sister’s Park in Chillicothe, IL rocked on without missing a beat.
Unfortunately for myself, I was unable to attend the pre-party Thursday due to prior obligations. Luckily many of my friends did and they were able to fill me in on what I missed. Several local favorites took the stage to kick off the festival such as Family Groove Company, Zoso and 56 Hope Road. Tea Leaf Green also played the pre-party with their first of a preposterous three sets for the weekend.
Friday — May 23
When my cohorts and I finally arrived, we were quite tired. We showed up around 2 a.m. hoping to catch some people napping and grab a decent camping spot despite not showing up early Thursday morning. To our chagrin, the rains rolled in, further dampening our hopes of getting into the festival early without paying the $30 pre-party ticket price. We argued that we weren’t going to see any music, but the festival guidelines stood. Thus, we spent the first night in our vehicle awaiting entry to the park.
The rain graciously held off between 6 and 7 while we pitched our tents in hopes of getting some more shut-eye before the bands started. I decided to camp right next to the Camping Stage so that I would know exactly when the music started. When I was startled by The Vessel in the Camping Stage, I hopped out of the tent ready for action, but the rain and unseasonably cold weather, dipping near 50 degrees, abruptly waned my enthusiasm.
The Camping Stage set I was most excited for would be played by Urbana’s own jam masters, Zmick. As the time approached 1:30 p.m. Friday the rain had all but died down and people began to stir around their campsites. I was disappointed to hear from people, as I spread word of the show, that moe. and Zmick were conflicting concerts and many people were going to go to see moe.
Disappointment soon gave way for nervous anticipation as the stage was finally set, and more people began to wander about the stage area. Rather than handbill the show, a group of die-hard Zmick fans held an impromptu parade to the show twenty strong from across the campgrounds, complete with homemade flags featuring the Zmick logo and Zmick-decorated clothespins to stick on unsuspecting people.
All these festivities brought a good number of people to the stage to see at least one song. Zmick pleased their fans with the epic sing-a-long “Crad Rock” which seemed to inspire the crowd in some way. To follow it up, they played “Gotta Move” with a ridiculous jam expanding to another original “Cob” and a fiery bass solo. I thought that Zmick handled the set beautifully, and showcased their chops and original songs well.
After Zmick, I caught the tail end of Chicago Afrobeat Project and really enjoyed what I heard. What I was really looking forward to was the upcoming Future Rock set on the same stage. I had heard many good things about Future Rock so I was excited. Overall, I wasn’t blown away by Future Rock, and I shot a bunch of confused looks toward the stage as their songs got crazier by the fill, but the set was a fun time as I got to do a bit more dancing.
The Avett Brothers were able to keep my attention long enough to allow me. I saw them this past semester at Canopy Club, and they are definitely one of the finest bands in America. As usual, Seth and Scott led their songs with such conviction that you couldn’t help but be moved by their most poignant moments. I was almost brought to tears during the heartfelt “Shame,” and the crowd was very excited to hear them perform “Paranoia in Bb Minor.”
After the Avett Brothers, Sound Tribe Sector 9 threw the lid right off of the main stage, and the muddy, damp crowd pulsed and grooved to the beat. The loudest yells of them all just may have come during “Aimlessly” when the sun decided to peek its head out from beneath a gray rain cloud. It was clear that everyone was in dance mode — countless concertgoers barefoot with rolled up pants.
After a quick jog over to the Sunshine Stage, I caught most of the Girl Talk set. A vast array of dance, pop, and hip hop tunes were thrashed together by the mash-up artist from Pittsburgh. I couldn’t stop laughing or dancing as the songs continuously took everyone by surprise.
While waiting for Flaming Lips to take the stage, it became obvious that the UFO was not with them, but their usual stage antics were indeed in full swing, with gobs of confetti, orange amplifiers/equipment, and the amazing balloon popped by a leaf blower (filled with confetti, naturally). A somewhat stagnant set was highlighted by a roaring rendition of Led Zeppelin’s classis “The Song Remains The Same.” Wayne smirked and said that he hoped this song wouldn’t possess everyone to run around naked. Of course, during the song, a gang of women, fully in the buff, and started dancing along stage with the band and costumed dancers. It was in a word – spectacular.
Umphrey’s McGee closed out the night with a much better set than the one they threw down at Canopy Club this past April. They played a solid version of “Divisions,” one of my personal favorites. The encore was shocking for most people as the first long chord rolled in. Shortly after the slow guitar riff let everybody know that they were playing “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
Because I did not get into any of the late night shows in the barn, which require an extra ticket, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I sat down near the campfire stage to listen in on some bluegrass. Although the fuzziest of memories have prevailed from these early morning hoe-downs, I do remember Chicago Farmer playing a great traditional ode to the great state of Illinois. Hot Buttered Rum played a fun set Saturday, and Cornmeal went until late Sunday.
Saturday — May 24
Saturday was a busy day, starting off with Chicago’s own Family Groove Company playing their groovy tunes for the midday sun-soaked festival goers. Later it was time to go to the Moonshine stage to catch Cornmeal. A lot of people at this festival were diggin’ the bluegrass and really appreciated Ally tearing up the fiddle for most of the festival.
My favorite set of the day came from Lotus. Playing a similar style to STS9, but with more guitar than synthesizer, they really got the crowd bumping to their beats. The music was expansive and never repetitive — a very exciting set. After the show they were very gracious for all the applause and mentioned that they intend to tour the Midwest hard in the upcoming months.
Later in the night, glow sticks abound as moe. finally took the stage at the headlining slot. I missed their daytime set Saturday, but was very impressed with bassist/vocalist Rob Derhak.
Sunday — May 25
Sunday was a very interesting day. I actually slept through a band playing several yards away from me, Spare Parts, but I woke up in time to catch the amazing jams of The Hue. I caught The Hue earlier in the year at Canopy Club, and I was very excited to see them again. They played a couple of new numbers, which I found very impressive. I hope to see these guys make it big someday.
After that set, I walked down the wooded paths over to the main stage to see Hot Buttered Rum, where they played the bluegrass staple “Possum” and their original “Busted In Utah” among others to more of the many grass faithful. Unfortunately, I felt obliged to leave early to catch Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, who played in the barn during HBR’s late night set, so I found it to be a justifiable trade.
Dumpstaphunk threw it down, and really set the stage well for George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic who followed on the same stage. Composed of two bass players who sing (soulfully, I should add), a guitarist, a drummer and a keyboardist, Dumpstaphunk proved too funky to handle.
Anybody who saw P-funk at Urbana’s Beer and Chili Cook-off this past year, shouldn’t be too disappointed you missed them at Summer Camp, unless of course you wanted a first hand look at the man himself George Clinton! Being fashionably late to the stage, Clinton eventually arrived on stage to make our funks into P-funks for the third song. It was nice to see the band sew the ends of songs together to make some nice jams, with Clinton even improvising vocal jams with the band, my favorite being, “Shit, Goddamn, / Get offa that ass and jam!”
Before heading off to moe. for the final time, I was able to experience my favorite moment of the festival. I went over to the Conscious Experience tent where Hot Buttered Rum was answering questions concerning environmental issues and taking requests. It was amazing so see the very same people I had just watched tear it up on the main stage earlier in the afternoon, speak from the heart about the planet that they call home. Together with members of the audience, Nat, Zach, Aaron, and Eric shared ideas relevant to the matter at hand. I was pumped to hear them play “Less Guns, More Butter,” the bluegrass staple with is one source for their namesake.
After the final moe. and Cornmeal sets, it was back to our tents. Little did we know that upon reclining we would be woken up by emergency sirens for a severe weather warning. So we ended up right where we started, sleeping in our cars waiting for the morning to come so we could get moving. Summer Camp was, like I said, not for the faint of heart!

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