We started Sunday in classic Summer Camp fashion, attending Umphrey’s McGee’s last set of the festival. Umphrey’s is a unique band, sounding something like what would have happened if the Grateful Dead had come into being in a world that had already seen the rise of metal. Alternating between wicked riffage and soaring, spacey guitar jams reminiscent of David Gilmour if David Gilmour was happy, the band powered through their fifth and final appearance, earning every bit of the crowd’s respect and justifying their fanatical following. Towards the middle of their performance they were joined by blues legend Taj Mahal, who was slated to appear next on the same stage, and guitarist Luther Dickinson, of The North Mississippi All Stars and formerly of the Black Crowes. As they adapted their sound to these new players, each of whom possess their own musical signature, Umphrey’s demonstrated beyond all doubt their versatility as well as their near-unparalleled musicianship and once again turning a muddy suckhole of a venue into an uninhibited dance floor for the beleaguered but ecstatic campers.
Next we caught Champaign-Urbana’s Abnormous, who secured their afternoon performance slot in the Vibe Tent through a battle of the bands victory this spring. Their crowd was small (due in no small part to the simultaneous Umphrey’s set) but into the groovy, funk driven sound this outfit was pumping out in abundance. This seven-member, soulful act is definitely one to keep an eye on about town.
Moe’s set, which would turn out to be their last of the festival, as increasingly nasty weather forced a cancellation of their planned Sunday night performance, was notable, much like the Umphrey’s shows, for the passion and dedication of the fans. From the photo pit, it was possible to hear the dialogue between the hardcore fans in the front and Frank the guitar tech, with whom they are apparently on first name basis. The band appeared and played an acoustic set which had a warm and familiar feeling to it, a gift to the deep-digging fans, but leaving those of a more casual interest with the feeling that they were holding back for their never to come final set.
The Giving Tree Band is an act to keep an eye out for, and one that will likely be dominating festivals like Summer Camp in years to come. A seven-member bluegrass, rock and roots band from Yorkville, Illinois, this beardy and passionate group brings a raw energy to the stage that is not always seen in more established acts, while maintaining a sonic professionalism that held its own against most of the other bands at the festival. The best place to see this group, we can say from previous experience, is in a dark and sweaty bar with a low ceiling and even lower standards for decency, but they handled the smaller Camping Stage with an impeccably harmonized vengeance and wowed listeners with their unique but comfortable rock & roll sound, and proved the perfect appetizer for the Avett Brothers’ subsequent performance.
There are few words acceptable in polite company which can accurately describe The Avett Brothers’ late afternoon set at the Sunshine Stage. Known for gentle and folky hits like “I and Love and You” and “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” the band in the live element transforms into a six-headed, festival-destroying, rock and roll superbeast. That is not to say that they completely forsook their known sound,but rather that they took what they are known for and made it come completely alive. The hour and a half performance was a beautifully strained, foot-stomping,
living thing which shaped and reshaped itself as the band moved from high-energy songs like “Kick Drum Heart,” and softer songs like the aforementioned “I and Love and You,” which had nearly everyone in the audience singing the chorus. Managing to simultaneously throw down as a bluegrass act thanks to the banjo work of Scott Avett and expose their punk roots by way of a feedback-driven guitar solos courtesy of his brother Seth, the more rocking portions of the set brought out the hoedown in everyone. Closing the set with a preposterously energetic encore of “Talk on Indolence,” the Avett Brothers left the crowd muddy, exhausted, and somehow still desperate for more. A set which was both truly intimate and incredibly exciting, it definitely turned out to be one of the defining performances of our weekend at Three Sisters Park.
As the sky darkened further and our phones began to buzz with flash flood warnings, the jam rock legend Trey Anastasio, famous primarily for his work with Phish, took the stage. Leading an ace band through its paces in front of a field that was incredibly full, considering the imminent and violent storm, Anastasio’s unbelievable talent was on full display. He is a man who completely understands the guitar and its potential, and it was this deep knowledge that was in complete evidence on Sunday night as lightning began
to flash in the sky above the Sunshine Stage. While the set was not as energetic as the Avett Brothers before him, the Trey Anastasio Band was an unbelievable treat for the true jam disciples in the audience and a beautiful glimpse into another musical universe for the rest of us. Like so many other acts before him at Summer Camp, Anastasio’s music is best heard live, dirty and tired in a field full of people just as exhausted and just as overjoyed to be there as you are. Summer Camp, especially in such adverse conditions, is a festival that is truly about the experience of live music and there may be no more perfect act than Trey Anastasio, a man whose performances are the stuff of legend, to bring our weekend in Chillicothe to a close.
What we saw this past weekend was an uncanny meshing of two worlds which appear, on the surface, to be at odds. Given a closer listen, and the opportunity to hear the best each scene has to offer, it becomes unavoidably apparent that these two worlds share an epicenter. The greatest jam bands are also some of the greatest party bands that the world has ever seen. Similarly, the greats of the EDM world, a genre often dismissed as “just party music,” lacking the creative spark of “real art,” are artists who create something completely new on the fly, in front of a live audience, experimenting just as wildly as their jam band counterparts. So what does this all mean? We’re not sure, but what we do know is that Summer Camp is a festival dedicated to putting together some of the most talented and innovative live acts in the world for a single, weather-battling weekend in Three Sisters Park. We’ll see you there next year.
Cowritten with Kirby Jayes
All photography by Kirby Jayes