Summer Camp Music Festival returned to Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL over the weekend for its long-awaited 20th-anniversary celebration. After the historic gathering was pushed from 2020 to 2021, then later moved from Memorial Day to mid-August, hordes of eager S’campers were more than ready to enjoy a weekend of fun in the hot Midwestern sun, reveling in the return of live music with headliners moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Billy Strings, Tipper, Ween, and more.
Scroll down to check out a full, day-by-day recap of the festivities and flip through a gallery of photos from Summer Camp Music Festival 2021.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
There’s a travel adage to allow one day for the journey itself before the actual vacation can begin. While this typically applies to air travel, the same can be said about driving to Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe. While the event’s central location provides for modest travel times, getting to the site is only half battle.
The same dog-eat-dog mentality that applies to getting a spot on the rail for a concert can be said of finding tree-lined space in the vast woods—though tarping is much more acceptable in the campgrounds. For those lucky enough to find a spot in the shady grove, the work-hard labors of the day gave way to the play-hard festivities of the night for the Thursday Pre-Party.
The true start of the evening—when most were settled in and ready to kick off the four-day weekend—came as Columbus, OH’s Barefuzz hit the Illumination Stage to a crowd of devoted followers as well as some newly interested parties. The quintet’s midwestern jam vibrations carried well into the Land of Lincoln as Lettuce took to the Sunshine Stage.
The mood of a Lettuce concert can fluctuate highly based on a myriad of factors including set and setting. During the primetime slot on the day-before-opening day, Lettuce went for the in-yo-face-funk as they all invited us to “dance to the music all night long,” though most of us required little to no prodding. At this rate, they may as well have sung “dance to the music all weekend long.”
Sicard Hollow provided a welcome change of pace over on the Campfire Stage with some hearty jamgrass. The Nashville outfit was up against The Floozies over at the Sunshine Stage, offering possibilities on both ends of the musical spectrum. The hooting and hollering hee-hawing of the dirty grass band could not be denied as we all climbed into their musical fifth of Jack and never felt like climbing out again.
The musical potluck that was the Thursday Pre-Party came to a climax with a DJ set from Manic Focus on the Starshine Stage. The uptempo electronic music wove through multiple genres with samples of Rage Against The Machine’s “Testify” in addition to a well-received Phish “Tweezer” sample that ended the set and sent everyone home nice and early at 11 p.m. to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for the real three-day event set to begin bright and early on Friday.
Friday, August 20, 2021
Those who braved the blistering heat on Friday afternoon—the official start of Summer Camp Music Festival—were rewarded with an equally hot set from Karina Rykman. The Marco Benevento bassist took the Starshine Stage to a warmed-up crowd as she cycled through her continuously growing catalog with tracks like her new single “Arbitrary”, “Dirty South”, the delightfully cynical “City Kids”, and more. The set also featured what’s become her festival set calling card of “No Occasion” into Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” into LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”.
Over on the Moonshine Stage, moe. mounted its first performance of the weekend. Just prior to taking the stage, the band had learned that Lettuce would not be able to return for its planned second set of the weekend later that day due to a COVID exposure within the band. The festival host band stepped up to the plate to fill in with a second set later on the same stage—bringing its weekend total to six—but that in no way meant they were going to take it easy in the afternoon set. “Waiting For The Punchline” featured some rollicking, honky-tonk jams from Al Schnier before bassist Rob Derhak took the band east to “New York City”.
The musical stew that is Summer Camp got some fresh, rustic ingredients with a set from jamgrass outfit Kitchen Dwellers, who ignited a fiery “Broken Cage”. A well-received “The Comet” with the lyrics “Before the sun goes down/burn this whole place down” was warmly welcomed by the crowd still baking in the early evening sun.
Getting back to the rockus, Aqueous continued its storied Summer Camp saga that has been building since 2013. The Buffalo-bred quartet dished out some healthy improvisation as guitarist “Uncle” Mike Gantzer informed the crowd that the band no longer writes setlists ahead of time. Thus, the energy of the crowd was the group’s guidepost. Evidently, there was some teenage angst in the audience as Aqueous went into a hard-hitting cover of (Illinois natives) Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock”.
Aqueous – “Cherub Rock” (Smashing Pumpkins) – Chillicothe, IL – 8/20/21
Back at the Moonshine for moe.’s second set, the band opted for an all-covers performance rather than burning out any of the hits likely earmarked for Saturday and Sunday’s evening shows. It was some old-time rock n’ roll with Neil Young’s “Down By The River”, The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, and finally a roaring “Immigrant Song” with Jim Loughlin taking lead vocals.
moe. – “West L.A. Fadeaway” (Grateful Dead) – Chillicothe, IL – 8/20/21
moe. – “Time” (Pink Floyd) – Chillicothe, IL – 8/20/21
moe. – “Ophelia” (The Band) – Chillicothe, IL – 8/20/21
moe. – “Cosmik Debris” (Frank Zappa) – Chillicothe, IL – 8/20/21
As the sun drew down, it came time for what for many saw as the main event of Friday evening: that boy from Michigan, Billy Strings. Following some minor technical delays, the picker and his eponymous quartet eased into things with a traditional “Baby I’m Gone” before moving into “Secrets”. The newly-released single “Fire Line” came next, and with it came the first notable jam of the evening as the ensemble busted out of its cage and gave banjo player Billy Failing some well-deserved time in the spotlight.
The momentum steadily built with a trip down “Ice Bridges” ahead of a “Morning Light” that made one need to hold somebody close. An eerie “Pretty Daughter” led to some dark improvisation before Strings told the crowd something they were already keenly aware of; as he ditched his shirt, he quipped, “it’s hot as a b*tch in this motherf*cker.” The first set highlight came with “Away From The Mire” as the song represented the epitome of lyrical depth in its relation to jam possibilities before “New Country Blues” and “Y’all Come” closed out the first frame.
Those who stuck it out for the hour between Strings’ first and second sets knew they made the right call as the quartet opened with an “All Fall Down” that signaled this second set would not be in the laid-back style of the first. Instead, this would be a jam-heavy run that continued with a “Dust In A Baggie” that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Billy and company gave the audience a breather with “Sorrow Is A Highway” before getting back in gear with “Run Down” and a “Show Me The Door” that once again bread the need for companionship. The sentimentality continued with “Must Be Seven” before the band went deep with an exploratory “Little Maggie”. The ensemble also made sure to pay tribute to Illinois poet laureate John Prine with a quick run through “Sweet Revenge” before a monster “Pyramid Country” went into “Thunder”, the song Billy penned around previously unused Robert Hunter lyrics at the behest of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann.
Though time was up, the crowd simply wouldn’t let the musicians leave as Billy looked to the side of the stage for guidance on a curfew. Evidently, the order came down to let the boys play as they fired off a quick “Long Gone” to wrap the headlining slot.
Those not enticed by the myriad electronic stylings between REZZ or Subtronics found refuge in the similarly futuristic sounds of South Carolina synth-wave outfit Doom Flamingo. The group’s backroom nightclub vibrations gave way to a tasteful cover of ZZ Top’s “Legs” in a fitting tribute to the late Dusty Hill as the group closed out Friday’s programming.
Saturday, August 21, 2021
What were anticipated to be early morning rain showers ultimately gave way to partly cloudy skies, offering a cool reprieve on Saturday as opposed to the sweltering heat on Friday. That breeze blew right through piano man Neal Francis’ afternoon Starshine Stage set, where he invited the crowd to “Take Time” with him and his nostalgic blend of vintage ’70s groove-soul.
For those looking for more of an oomph to start the day, there was SunSquabi over on Sunshine Stage who kicked the afternoon into gear with crunchy instrumental livetronica. The ever-fluctuating mood ebbed once again with the blissed-out funk jams of Twiddle, who told us all of the “Jamflowman” and his many travels.
Those in the know were lucky enough to catch a surprise pop-up acoustic set by Keller Williams over on the VIP Stage. The mic-less nature of the performance bread intimacy as well as an awed hush for the barefoot troubadour, who offered the sage advice that, whenever you can’t remember the words to a song, just sing “watermelon” instead. For good measure, Williams also added “guacamole” to play a sound-alike version of Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” without singing any of the actual words.
Keller Williams – “Watermelon Guacamole” (“Speed of Sound” Parody) – Chillicothe, IL – 8/21/21
Back to the confines of the Soulshine Tent, saxophonist Nicholas Gerlach mounted a solo set as the frontman of an eponymous trio. Gerlach pulled triple duty as he manned his trusty horn, keyboards, and a laptop while leading a drummer and electric guitar player through a set that bridged the gap between electronic and live with a healthy dose of funk mixed in. The resulting grooves were the type of music that DJs themselves would sample.
A unique combination of KellerSquabi over at the Starshine Stage saw the acoustic musician join with the ever-rising liquid-funk band for a set that combined the trio’s hard-hitting electro-rockus with Keller’s rich songbook. Given the recent dissolution of EOTO, Keller’s former go-to electronic collaborators—KellerSquabi just may be the new outlet for the singer-songwriter to get his dance music fix.
In a similar vein over on the Starshine Stage, STS9 dished out its own time-tested blend of instrumental dance music. Tribe has mastered the slow-build over nearly quarter-century of relentless touring, and that dynamic sorcery was on display as docile beats gradually gathered steam and developed into all-out onslaughts, throttling from dance-y to headbanging.
On the subject of headbanging, Umphrey’s McGee slipped back into its role as the co-host of the weekend, shelling out its third of five sets of the weekend. A weekend highlight for the fans of the prog-rockers came with a flawlessly executed “Bridgeless” into “Glory” segment, with Jake Cinninger’s instrumental composition saying more than so many words.
Over on the Moonshine Stage, fellow hosts moe. returned for the band second set of the evening, opening up with a defiant “Billy Goat”. This big ole “Billy Goat” stretched out its legs past the well-choreographed instrumental portions before Al Schnier moved to his keyboard to set up the eerie, loping introduction to “The Pit”. Whether or not the audience was ready, moe. took them all down to Hell with the downright wicked rock n’ roll number before easing back on the throttle with “Kids”, making plenty of improvisational detours along the way.
As p.m. turned back into a.m. once again, Ghost-Note kept the party going with its interactive blend of high-energy funk on songs like “Mr. Guru” and “Let The Good Times Roll”. The star-studded ensemble presented funk with a story as Robert “Sput” Searight led what at times felt like an improv comedy troupe through expertly timed compositions such as “Fatback”. And if anyone out there wasn’t having a good enough time, Sput would let you hear about it as he livened up the crowd and even taught us all how to do the Funky Shoulders.
To close out the evening, Dayton, OH’s crown jewel, The Werks, took to the Campfire Stage. Under the glow of a full moon, the band kicked things off with a fitting “Moonset”. The quartet reached back for its most celebrated hit, “Duck Farm”, beckoning us all to gather ’round when the moon shines on the disco ball. The instrumental onslaught of “Flatiron” led into a cover of “Cherub Rock” (the second of the weekend) by newly re-minted bassist Chuckie Love, who just earlier this summer rejoined the band he helped found over 15 years ago following a nearly decade long absence.
With Chuckie back in the fold, the band explored its back catalog with a rare “Rollin’” that led through a Dan Shaw-induced “First Tube” tease, igniting a steaming locomotive that led through an extra fiery “Burnin’ Groove” and back into “Rollin’”. The backroom disco anthem “Stars Collide” kept everyone dancing ahead of old school, hard-hitting Werks jams “O.G.”, the long-awaited “Liqwid” (which has returned to the repertoire along with Chuckie), and an “Onslaught” to send everyone packing back to camp.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
Sunday, the final day of Summer Camp, saw more of the same as S’campers arose to another day of oppressive heat. After two—if not three—days of braving the elements, many were forced to take refuge in shaded campsites for much of the day in an effort to conserve energy for the long evening ahead.
Relief from the heat arrived near 6 p.m., just as Dopapod took to the Starshine Stage while the setting sun became obfuscated by the back of the stage. The genre-bending quartet roared right out of the gate with “Trapper Keeper” for its first of two sets that evening—the other arriving later on the VIP Stage. Dopapod acted as a harbinger of headbanging as the day’s lineup was clearly curated toward a heavier mood. Rob Compa provided the set-closing highlight with his best Alanis Morissette as he took on “You Oughta Know”.
Following minor technical delays, Spafford hit the Starshine Stage by prefacing, “f*ck it, we’re not sure if this thing’s working, but we’re gonna play some sh*t.” With that, Brian Moss launched into the chainsaw riff of “America”, before the band delivered its funky take on Green Day‘s “Longview” to further nurture the theme of rock angst. Meanwhile, Memphis hip-hop hitmakers Three 6 Mafia provided Summer Camp with its obligatory rap fix on the Moonshine Stage.
The pinnacle of hard rock fury came with the highly anticipated headlining set by Ween, marking just the band’s second show in 18 months. Every festival inevitably sees scheduling conflicts, but none divided the Summer Camp crowd quite like Ween going up against Tipper. The two headlining sets were the great dividing rod of the weekend, splitting up campsites, friends, and even couples.
Emerging to thunderous applause, Dean and Gene Ween—born Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, respectively—eased the band and the crowd into things with the Pink Floyd-esque intro to “Did You See Me?” Things were off and running as Gene stepped to the mic for “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)”, igniting the two-hour setlist that would weave through 24 songs at breakneck pace. The mood of the set varied wildly as hard-hitting tracks like “Transdermal Celebration”, “With My Own Bare Hands”, and “Object” were interspersed with less aggressive songs like “Happy Colored Marbles”, “Mister Richard Smoker”, and “Exactly Where I’m At” as all roads leading to Three Sisters Park were re-directed to Brown Town.
Ween – “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)” – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
[Video: The Stallion Mang]
Ween – “My Own Bare Hands” – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
[Video: The Stallion Mang]
Ween – “The Grobe” – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
[Video: The Stallion Mang]
Ween – “Object” – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
[Video: The Stallion Mang]
Ween – “Buckingham Green” – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
[Video: The Stallion Mang]
Ween – “Roses Are Free” – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
[Video: The Stallion Mang]
Ween – “The Mollusk” – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
[Video: The Stallion Mang]
Ween – Summer Camp Music Festival – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21 – Full Set
The two frontmen kept a lighthearted nature throughout the evening, with Gene cutting “The Stallion pt 3” short by skipping a verse, only for Deaner to implore them to start it back up midway through and move into “The Stallion pt 5”. Ween’s set came to a fitting conclusion with the polite thank you note that is “Your Party”.
Something was in the air that final night of Summer Camp that flowed through power chords across the Park as moe. lit the fuse on its second-to-last set of the weekend with an incendiary “Seat Of My Pants”. Those who wandered over from Ween were laid down easy by the hard-hitting jam that led into “Sensory Deprivation Tank” and “Dangerous Game” before traveling to the lighter side with the spiritual “St. Augustine”.
Over on the Campfire Stage, headbangers got no rest as lespecial took to the stage with its progressive blend of metal jams and electronic tendencies. Sensing the vibrations still permeating from the presence of the almighty Boognish in the air, the Connecticut trio covered Limp Bizkit‘s “Break Stuff”, making them the second act to do so that weekend after Andy Frasco & The U.N. played the song on Saturday.
With one last time slot for the festival, fans were left to choose between the final moe. set, GriZ, or the world debut of Death Kings. Those who were still itching for more tinnitus courtesy of overdrive-laden metal anxiously entered the Soulshine Tent for the first-ever concert by the power trio of Mike Gantzer (Aqueous), Ryan Stasik (Umphrey’s McGee), and Mikey Carubba (Turkuaz).
Though they had released their debut single only a week prior, Death Kings were slotted for a 90-minute performance. Following Stasik’s repeated commands to “open up the f*cking pit,” Death Kings made a defiant opening statement with Nirvana‘s “Breed” and later welcomed up lespecial’s Luke Bemand to scream out RATM’s “Freedom”. Early on, it became apparent that Death Kings bore some striking resemblance to Gantzer and Stasik’s previous collaboration in Dookie, where they paid tribute to the music of Green Day and others from the era of the band’s 1994 album.
While time was ticking on the final hour of Summer Camp, Stasik had no room for excuses of weariness as he proclaimed “it’s Friday again” as the band debuted their lone single “March Of The Kings”. The set saw more covers including CKY‘s “96 Quite Bitter Beings”, Harvey Danger‘s “I’m Not Sick But I’m Not Well”, and even Ween’s hard-hitting “It’s Gonna Be A Long Night”.
Death Kings – “96 Quite Bitter Beings” (CKY) – Chillicothe, IL – 8/22/21
With a crowd of jam band kids doing their best to mosh pit in the front row, Death Kings turned up the heat as Gantzer and Stasik shed their shirts to perform another original, “Fight“. Though the crowd clamored for more, even Stasik—whose band co-hosts the festival—was not immune to the 2 a.m. curfew as Death Kings put an emphatic exclamation point on Summer Camp Music Festival.
Scroll down to see a gallery of images from throughout the weekend at Summer Camp Music Festival 2021 courtesy of photographer Keith Griner.