Chillicothe’s Summer Camp Festival has marked the beginning of the summer festival season, and will be a tough act to follow for upcoming events. Acts like the Roots, the Flaming Lips, Girl Talk, George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkedelic, and the New Pornographers showed up to the middle of nowhere town this year, making it the 8-year-old festival’s most progressive lineup to date. As a local of Peoria, I was ecstatic to see such big acts come so close to home.
Friday-May 23
After arriving at Summer Camp Festival, the weekend’s first challenge quickly presented itself — smuggling booze and any other prohibited substances into the camp grounds. We employed a variety of tactics, including stuffing cans in sleeping bags, boots, and coat pockets. We were lucky enough to make it through untouched, but a security bin full of hard booze and assorted beers showed that others had not been so lucky. Apparently those who got caught were often forced to simply chug their beers before entering the grounds — not such a bad punishment if you ask me.
Girl Talk, or Gregg Gillis, started at 7:00, and we made sure to be front and center for the performance. If you are against mash-up bands, believing that mixing together other artists’ music is thievery rather than art, then you are probably right, but you also probably have not heard Girl Talk. Music from every genre and era is mixed together so surprisingly well that you can’t help but love it. Samples are meshed together from artists like Elton John, Notorious B.I.G., and even Toto. The mashed up tunes transferred surprisingly well into a live setting, and no one seemed to be having more fun than Gillis himself, standing behind his laptop and bobbing his head wildly. As the performance went on the stage gradually filled up with dancers. They weren’t roadies, professionals or VIP ticket holders; they were just regular festival goers that had been allowed on stage. Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips could be seen bobbing his head backstage along with them. The show was about good tunes and being together, and it was a great way to kick off the festival.
Up next was what would be my favorite set of the festival, and essentially the reason I bought my Summer Camp ticket way back in February, a performance from the Flaming Lips. The Lips music is weird and beautiful, and their live shows are even stranger and more stunning still. Many of the crazy activities that take place on stage have become live staples for the band, like when Wayne rolls out onto the crowd inside a giant plastic ball, or when a leaf blower is used to blow a rubber balloon into a million pieces, or when people dancing in big white bunny suits are suddenly drenched in what appears to be blood. Meanwhile lights and a whole lot of confetti envelopes the dancing crowd. Such a display makes it hard to tell if those drugs you just took are starting to come on, or if what you just saw actually happened. Either way you’re having a fantastic time. The set list was excellent, and included a surprise cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same.” Other highlights were “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” in which an acoustic sing along took place before the song blew up into full sound, and the highly danceable “The W.A.N.D.” During the set Coyne got slightly preachy, but it was neither annoying nor overly drawn out. He also expressed hopes that the sound and joy from the show would reverberate in space long enough that it would change the world. As I’m writing this that seems to make little sense, but at the time it made all the sense in the world.
Saturday-May 24
At any festival like Summer Camp, you will notice a plethora of substances being advertised to you almost everywhere you go. Whether you’re on your way to a buddy’s campsite, the next show, or to those filthy porta-potty’s, the words “doses,” “caps,” or my personal favorite “heady nugs,” will almost certainly be muttered into your ears. This started to become a little ridiculous while walking around on the second day of camp, so a friend of mine decided it would be entertaining to walk around advertising more unconventional things, at least to your average festival-goer. The looks on others’ faces were priceless as we walked around muttering “rufies,” “duct-tape,” or just “meth.”
At 3:00 some buddies from school and I headed to see Lotus. Their music was captivating and trippy, combining elements of electronica and jazz. The massive crowd swayed along to the jammed-out tunes in a giant trance. Next was the very funky Groovatron and then off to a performance by Blind Melon, highlighted by 90’s hit “No Rain.”
My hightlight of the day was the 7:00 p.m. performance by the Roots. Simply put they are the definition of hip-hop. Whether it’s quick rhyming, powerful funk, or deep soul they can do it all. And in their hour and 15 minute set they covered all these bases and more. A solo from the renowned ?uestlove as well as a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” stand as high points from the show.
Soon after I was swayed into seeing O.A.R., and for all the hypocritical things I’ve done in my life, this may take the cake. I make fun of everything they stand for and suddenly I’m cheering them on enthusiastically among a crowd of thousands (alcohol may have had something to do with said enthusiasm.) The worst part is I had a great time, although my enjoyment may have been more due to the discovery that cutting open glow-sticks and showering you and your friends in the colorful liquid is really, really fun, and less due to the music that was being played. Either way I’ve got to admit it; O.A.R. shows are a damn good time.
Last on the list of Saturday shows was moe. What I always notice about moe. shows, besides their masterful fusion jam music, funk, and rock is that they have a fantastic light show. If the lips had had moe.’s lighting along with all of their other tricks, I might have just lost my mind. A guest appearance from Umphrey’s McGee’s Jake Cinninger and his stunning guitar work was most welcome.
Midnight marked the end of moe.’s performance and the beginning of Summer Camp’s after hours. The festival becomes a different place late in the night. The shows end and campers take to a variety of different activities. Glow sticks and torches light the wooded paths. A decked out golf-cart covered in lights travels slowly around the campgrounds, playing house music endlessly. Scattered drum circles can be heard here and there. Campers might go back to camp to unwind, warm up at the bonfire, or go have a beer bash at their car in the parking lot. Our personal favorite source of entertainment was a large white tent with a projector screen and fantastic D.J. Campers showed up here to shake anything they had left over from the day’s shows. The music was an irresistible mix of old disco and funk that went on until 3:00 a.m.
Sunday-May 25
After the sun made it impossible to sleep any longer, we ate the remains of our food for breakfast. This consisted mostly of saltines, granola bars, and apples. I’m salivating just thinking about it again.
Hot Buttered Rum was the first show of the day, and their blend of bluegrass and folk helped to shake off our drowsiness from the previous night. Ivan Neville’s Dumpastaphunk was up next. The New Orleans quintet delivered authentic funk and soul that got the crowd on their toes.
Up next was the legendary funk of George Clinton and Parliament Funkedelic. From the moment they began the crowd was dancing along ecstatically. Those who may have thought the p-funks were too old perform would be stunned. Sure George Clinton moved around a little less—or hardly at all—but the songs were performed the same energy. Hits like “We Want the Funk,” “Make My Funk the P-Funk,” and “Up for the Down-Stroke” were sure favorites.
Our final show of the weekend was the New Pornographers. The pop super group paled in comparison to the majority of groups at summer camp. The peppy 2 to 3 minute tunes were quite refreshing after the lengthy jams we had been hearing most of the weekend. Unfortunately the New Porno’s are not your average summer campers cup of tea, but fortunately for us this made it very easy to get up to the front row. “I’m surprised this many people showed up,” singer A.C. Newman joked as he looked out on the crowd of no more than 200. The smaller crowd made the show much more intimate, and up where we were it seemed that everyone was singing along. To us it was ideal.
The theme of Summer Camp was “Together We Can Change The World.” I’m not sure if a music festival like Summer Camp can change the world, but when you’re surrounded by that much energy and comradery, you can’t help but get a feeling that a difference can be made. Maybe Wayne was right, maybe if all that energy and music reverberates around long enough in our world and in outer space than change will have to happen.

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