Summer Camp is a weekend of open-minded music put on by JayTV, the same people who bring us hundreds of shows each year at The Canopy Club. A small campground in Chillicothe was the weekend home to hundreds of raging partiers, and one could spend the whole weekend just digging the people walking by, but not without missing a whole lot of music and dance.
After a light rainfall early Friday evening, Keller Williams’ set on the Main Stage was filled with the full-bodied grooves and energetic playing that his fan base has come to expect. Highlights included tracks from his last studio album, Home, and his own unique covers of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and a special cover that went out “to all the ladies,” No Doubt’s “Just A Girl.” As dusk approached, a performance of his original song “Above the Thunder” (replete with thunder sound effects) teased the crowd with the threatening rain clouds and damp air that had not quite cleared from earlier in the day.
Techno music (performed live with people playing instruments!) from Signal Path on the Sunshine Stage bridged the gap between the end of Keller’s set and the start of moe.’s, keeping the party going for those who were so inclined. Their set included delicate keyboard and guitar counterpoint over a driving beat that was infectiously danceable.
A welcome change of pace from the standard fare of electric jam bands that dominated the weekend included several acoustic (but amplified) sets, particularly acts with bluegrass and country influences. Saturday afternoon included an incredibly virtuosic bluegrass set by the quintet that is the Hot Buttered Rum String Band, playing their own “high-altitude bluegrass” that was a treat for the ear and the dancing foot.
Later that day, taking the same stage, the Hackensaw Boys (a sextet including a percussionist decked out with spoons, forks, and a wearable collection of tin cans and other debris called a “charismo”), with a blend of bluegrass and Americana music-original compositions by members of the band, no less-gave an equally memorable performance.
On the Main Stage on Saturday afternoon, Michael Franti and his band, Spearhead, performed with charisma and spirit, blending reggae, hip-hop and jam music with social commentary and political consciousness.
The rain returned Sunday afternoon, but nobody seemed to mind too much, with acts like DropQ (a side project of Umphrey’s McGee drummer Kris Myers and Brian Felix of Om Trio) playing through the weather to a slightly damp crowd of festival-goers. A bit of drizzling was mild compared to the tornado that confronted last year’s attendees (which caused the end of the festival to be called off for the safety of everyone involved). Felix, on keyboard, took Chick Corea’s angular style of playing to the logical conclusion, and a hand-percussionist on tabla, among other instruments, created a sort of bhangra. Combine that with Myers’ polyrhythms, and the result was deep dance music.
BÇla Fleck and the Flecktones’ saxist Jeff Coffin played straight-ahead jazz on Sunday. Though he did his trademark double-sax routine, his set was built more around southern shuffles. Bassist Alana Rockland, a clear devotee of Marcus Miller, was an impressive and professional performer. Another favorite was the band’s spiritual adagio reading of Coffin’s “Sherpa,” which he wrote for the Flecktones.
Singer-songwriter (and also the only female-led act on the 40-artist festival lineup) Theresa Andersson’s set Sunday afternoon on the Camping Stage took a pleasant, unexpected turn when she invited audience members to get up as close as they wanted. Playing mere inches away from the people who had dropped by to see her, she served up an intimate blend of rock, country and a touch of blues. Her amplified violin-played with a bow and pizzi- cato-and a soulful singing voice that was both feminine and powerful made her hold her own against any of the larger (personnel-wise; she was backed only by a guitarist) groups at the festival, and these sonic qualities also make her an artist to watch in the next few years.
The incredible Victor Wooten put on a show Sunday afternoon on the Main Stage that featured not only his extreme bass-playing but also was quite a showcase for his extensive band. The first song the group performed included no less than six bassists (and two background vocalists and two drummers, including Victor’s brother Futureman on electronic percussion) trading licks and phrases. Standing on the left of the stage was Victor’s older brother Regi, who mostly played guitar. Resembling a younger, more sober George Clinton, he was quiet at the beginning, only to step out to play a medley including Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, absurd guitar solos using hair-bands for capos, and his own break dancing. Earlier that day, Regi taught one of many workshops that weekend, instructing eager students in tapping techniques.
A dance duo performed over an instrumental, Victor showed off his juggling, and he also performed a routine that turned the sound of bass guitars dropped on the stage into music. Out of ATL came MC Divinity, who was a double threat on the mic and bass. Wooten’s upcoming album is titled Soul Circus, and it was an apt description for what was perhaps the sickest performance of the weekend.
The headliner of all three nights was moe., and if not for the myriad cottage industries named after Grateful Dead songs hawking their wares, they would have been the best-represented band at the festival. In a weekend full of dancing, moe. had more fans on their feet and moving than anyone. They may be all about guitar heroics, but moe.’s late ’90s-stylized pop hooks and harmonies were clearly what kept the fans coming back, set after set.
Frankly, there was not one act at the festival that was not thoroughly enjoyable. On top of this, the setting for the festival in Three Sisters Park (outside Chillicothe, Ill.) with sunlight and music filtering through the trees, as well as the throngs of mellow, friendly campers with full-weekend tickets all treating each other with kindness and respect, made the experience unforgettable; you’re advised to check out Summer Camp 2006.