Review: Summer Camp Festival 2011

Cornmeal has made hitting the Thursday pre-party a no-brainer for thousands more with their incredible shows at Summer Camp. The fire and precision that Allie Kral brought to the stage with her fiddle mastery captures many listener’s attention on contact. But as easy as it was to get lost in her brilliance, it was just as much the talent surrounding her that made their set of progressive bluegrass so successful.

Word spread quickly of Umphrey’s soundchecking, seeing as tons of die-hards arrived to take in the dry run. The first treat was a preview of the massive light rig, designed with a “U” over an “M,” that gave master visual artist Jeff Waful at least 20 MAC IIIs to play with. The second was a new tune, Hourglass, featuring poppier hooks that could have more crossover appeal for fans new to the group.

The Red Barn, normally a sweat box, was a welcome break from the unseasonably cold night. Digital Tape Machine, a side project formed by Joel Cummins and Kris Myers from Umphrey’s, warmed the crowd with a tasty serving of electronica. The crowd got down to Myers’ unmatched proficiency as he bounced from e-drums to acoustic, while Joel led the others across industrial and dance house tracks the band has written. Up and coming Papadosio kept the mix of traditional and electric fuel feeding the flame, a solid representation of the evolving jamtronica scene.

Future Rock, like Cornmeal, has become another Thursday staple at Camp because they simply never disappoint. Four of the five tracks on their new EP Nights were played, with Jen Hartswick joining them on Spark as she did in the studio. The Nirvana cover of Breed was a brilliant vehicle to capture the essence of Future Rock’s berserk energy while paying homage to such a classic.

FRIDAY

When moe. took the stage for their day set, the bowl at the Moonshine stage was as packed as a typical headline night show from years past, perhaps even more so. It was fairly uneventful, but finished with some beautiful jamming and segue work coming out of Kyle’s Song and Kids. Brendan from Umphrey’s joined them for The Harder They Come to encore.

A line that wrapped around the Soulshine Tent turned out to be a unique opportunity for Umphrey’s McGee fans to score a “Golden Ticket.” The band sold off 250 boxes of mystery merch, 10 of which had prizes ranging from VIP passes to their next New Years Run, to the ultimate prize of two tickets to every show for a year. Sarah Gewald was the lucky winner, and the band was there to greet all the faithful at the table.

Orgone attracted an eclectic bunch to get down to their uplifting soul-funk revelry. Not seeing Fanny Franklin singing lead was a tough pill, but Sy Smith on vox brought the soul in spades as the band mixed jazz, R&B and Latin influences in a way that kept the funk fresh and vibrant. Their horns took it high while the percussion and guitar dug down heavy into the groove. This nine-piece act from L.A. is a true original in a genre that is often too derivative.

Umphrey’s McGee made a strong entrance with the lights in full effect at dusk, and the theme from Jaws to set the tone. 1348 featured some great improg, followed by a Red Tape that had a soaring jam sandwiched between electronica. Pay the Snucka got the full treatment – all three parts were played – with Funkadelic teases and a serious Bulls on Parade jam for some well-placed Rage. Chick Corea’s Senor Mouse was a welcome treat as it has become a rarity.

A hard choice was made between STS9 and 7 Walkers, but the unique cast of characters coming together for the latter gave a few thousand fans motivation to hit the new group. George Porter Jr. missing was a disappointment, as his work with Bill Kreutzmann brings the magic of the Grateful Dead to full life every time. But even down a Walker, this set led by his fellow New Orleans native Papa Mali exceeded all expectations. By blending the sounds of the godfathers of jam with rich ‘Nawlins funk, 7 Walkers makes a mighty fine gumbo.

Umphrey’s second set of the night featured drummer Kris Myers’ newer song Day Nurse, which holds great promise for how electronic jams can break new ground without simply falling back to the standard untz beats. Hourglass made its official debut, followed by The Floor that had a monstrous build to it. Radiohead’s National Anthem (with Dominic Lalli on sax) was a perfect way to close out the heavy, ferocious set. Triple Wide>1348 for an encore cemented this show’s place as a legendary Summer Camp performance.

The Vibe tent has become a massive stage of its own, with a huge video board behind the stage and room for thousands. DJ Thibault destroyed his set, playing the crowd to a tee as they roared to his Air Jaws. Wyllys and The New York Hustler Ensemble killed there as well, with crisp horns from Hartswick and Natalie Cressman lifting the crowd as the tempo ramped up. Mickey Kellerman joined the ensemble on keys and did excellent work tracking the changes with the ladies as the mix progressed. Cocaine Blues was especially well received during the 3AM set.

SATURDAY

moe. shined with a massive light show of their own as they took the stage for their first of four outdoor evening sets Saturday. The lasers they deployed alternated through the color spectrum as they carved out a ceiling above the crowd and lit brilliant patterns across the tree line. Smoke, a new Al song, was complemented by the visual eye candy formed by the fog blasted above the bowl and cross-sectioned by psychedelic laser beams. Their second set started with some trickery that most of the crowd likely missed: all five members played Crab Eyes entirely on iPads! The set was fire from Buster on, with the Skrunk>Lazaurus>McBain showcasing the best of the bands’ organic jams before the always welcome Recreational Chemistry.

SUNDAY

Forecast for Sunday heading in: 85 degrees, nothing but sun. 10AM had rain in store however, and with an estimated 20,000 attendees at this point pumped for bands like Bruce Hornsby and Bassnectar, mud became much more of a nuisance. The highly anticipated Huey Lewis & the rUMors set was pushed back to get the scheduling on track. Before Huey joined, Umphrey’s debuted another track from their Mantis sessions, A Room to Breathe.

Huey took the stage to join his “backup band” the rUMors, all the guys from UM along with Madog’s group on horns and two sensational vocalists, Linda Greenwood and Gail Gardner. The ladies especially soared on Respect Yourself. Huey’s brand of heart and soul was lent to covers of The Band’s Up on Cripple Creek and The Weight, with Brendan clearly enjoying his turns singing with Huey during the latter. The set was a fun novelty as it closed off with I Wanna New Drug, in front of a very full crowd.

Highlights from the day included Skrillex assaulting a large audience with a blitzkrieg of raging beats. Bela Fleck and Jimmy Herring joined Bruce Hornsby for almost half his show and were fantastic. Karl Denson packed his sixty minutes with booty-shaking, triumphant tunes that gave the feel of a Jazzfest late-night show. In contrast, Widespread Panic seemed to go through the motions.

But it was moe. that took the throne once again, with another stellar second set that showed why this band is still a top dog among all the talent they’ve helped bring to Central Illinois. Silver Sun was a gorgeous newer tune, with a heavy Pink Floyd Echoes feel to it. Bela Fleck was a perfect sit-in for Shoot First, and Billy Goat – perhaps the best progressive rock song they’ve written in recent years – was a great choice for closer. Rebubula for an encore was highly anticipated, and thank Rob they delivered.

Thanks Summer Camp for bringing us all together once again, and please, don’t grow too big too fast on us.

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8 Responses

  1. Amazing pictures and and amazing weekend, I just can not for the life of me figure out how the BERZERKERGANG didn’t make the write up…..bizarre as they were easily the best part of the festival. Oh well, maybe next year Glide…maybe next year.

  2. This could all be summed up in one word:

    BERZERKERGANG

    Thanks for the review Ryan, nice shots as always Tammy!

  3. Also Fareed was canceled on Sunday at the sunshine stage with no announcement or rescheduling. This was a horrible way to treat such an accomplished artist.

  4. Wow. What an epic review. Totally made me feel like I didn’t miss the best festival ever! Brillianty written Ryan. Pics are amazing as usually Tammy W!

  5. This was my first Summer Camp Festival and I thought it was absolutely fantastic!! I experienced it to be an amazing merge of my personal tribal cultures. It seems to be the crown jewel for Moe. I could now be a “Moe-ron” as a result of it. I have never experienced Pink Floyd live but I the final Moe set took me to the “Dark Side of the Moon” with the smoke filled lasers melting into the trees. And as a Burner, I was so impressed with how Bassnectar represented. It was almost too powerful to describe with the strobes, Fibonacci spirals, and the other visual effects that helped twist my brain. Way to represent my brother!!! And who knew that I would be merging one of my 80’s pop music icons, Huey Lewis, with the scenes of one my favorite Jam Bands, Umphrey’s Magee. I think this festival was high class but I agree they have to work a lot harder on the impact on the land.

  6. I disagree with Panic going “through the motions.” I admit that I have been somewhat disenchanted with Panic lately, but they totally threw it down during Sunday’s set. If you are a fan of down home Southern rock, you have to admit that Panic came to play and did not disappoint.

  7. i heard about a race in Miami called “The Challenge mud race” apparently there are trying to be a cross between Wipeout and American Ninja Warrior.. anyone doing this race?

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