As a child, nothing compares to the excitement of getting ready to go to summer camp. The prospect of making new friends and reuniting with old ones while basking in the summer sun and enjoying a myriad of activities defined the carefree summers of youth.
While many of us were forced to grow up and enter into the humdrum world of adulthood, some of us still get the yearly opportunity to relieve our youthful escapades. For the last two decades in the Midwest, that opportunity has even carried the same name: Summer Camp.
In August, Summer Camp Music Festival will celebrate 20 years of annual gatherings at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL. Though the pandemic derailed last year’s celebration, the rescheduled 2021 gathering on August 20th–22nd promises to make up for lost time.
With headliners Billy Strings, Ween, STS9, Tipper, Griz, and more in addition to three days of host bands moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, Summer Camp 2021 will bridge the festival’s storied history with the future of live music. In anticipation of Summer Camp Music Festival next month, we decided to look back at some of our favorite moments from years past.
Tickets for Summer Camp Music Festival 2021 on August 20th, 21st, and 22nd are available here.
The Hosts with The moe.sts
Ever since Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment launched Summer Camp all the way back in 2001, the festival has acted as a home-away-from-home for moe. While the band occasionally throws its own dedicated moe.down in Turin, NY, Summer Camp has provided a consistent destination for moe. year after year, and also affords the band members the opportunity to get together with their musical compatriots from across the country.
Accordingly, Summer Camp Music Festival has played host to some memorable moe.ments in the band’s history, often involving a rotating roster of special guests. One famous moment that lives in Summer Camp lore didn’t happen at the Sunshine, Starshine, or even Moonshine stages. In 2012, members of moe., alongside Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass, surprised some lucky fans with an impromptu set at their campsite.
moe. w/ Paul Hoffman, Anders Beck – “Okayalright” – Chillicothe, IL – 2012
moe. w/ Paul Hoffman, Anders Beck – “Up On Cripple Creek” (The Band) – Chillicothe, IL – 2012
moe. isn’t the only band that finds a regular home in Summer Camp, as Umphrey’s McGee has graced the festival every year since 2003. With two heavy hitters at the helm of the festival, there was bound to be some cross-pollination, but none like in 2013 when Umphrey’s McGee covered the classic moe. jam “Rebubla” and moe. returned the favor by covering the Umphrey’s McGee singalong “In The Kitchen” on the same night.
Umphrey’s McGee – “Rebubula” (moe.) – Chillicothe, IL – 5/24/13
[Video: Umphrey’s McGee]
moe. – “In The Kitchen” (Umphrey’s McGee) – Chillicothe, IL – 5/24/13
Every now and then, however, tensions boiled over between these two alpha male acts. One such occasion occurred in 2014 when brothers of the low-end Rob Derhak and Ryan Stasik came to blows in a heated backstage moment that was miraculously caught on camera. The two musicians have since patched things up and are friends again—at least until the next time breakaway bottles are involved.
moe. vs Umphrey’s McGee – Rob Derhak & Ryan Stasik Fight at Summer Camp 2014
The spirit of musical collaboration floats through the air at Summer Camp, as some of the biggest names in live music are able to cross paths across a multitude of stages. Few bands have thrown themselves behind this collaborative spirit as much as Umphrey’s McGee, which has played host to numerous collaborative sets over the years.
Back in 2011, the South Bend, IN-bred prog-rockers served as the house band for ’80s hitmaker Huey Lewis. Though this may have seemed a bit out of left field, Lewis and Umphrey’s have a history together dating back 15 years to when the band was still rising up through the improvisational ranks.
Lewis appeared on the group’s 2006 studio album, Safety In Numbers, and would go on to join the band onstage on 5/18/06 for a medley of his hits. Huey Lewis and Umphrey’s McGee kept in contact throughout the years, and UM eventually invited Lewis to sit in with them for most of the band’s 5/29/11 Summer Camp set, with Lewis joining in on UM originals, hits from his own catalog, and some well-chosen covers.
Huey Lewis & The rUMors – Summer Camp Music Festival – Chillicothe, IL – 5/29/11
Another full-fledged Umphrey’s collaborative set came four years later with the premiere of Godboner featuring Gene Ween. The set came at an exciting time for all those who hail the mighty Boognish, as less than six months after this May 22nd, 2015 show, the genre-bending New Hope, PA act would announce its reunion after breaking up in early 2011.
At the helm of Godboner was none other than Aaron Freeman—a.k.a. Gene Ween. After stepping away from Ween in 2011 to confront his substance abuse issues, Freeman began gradually poking his head back out musically with solo gigs as well as several well-received shows as a Billy Joel impersonator.
At Summer Camp 2015, fans were greeted with a happy, healthy Gene Ween once again commanding the stage with his unmistakable presence as Umphrey’s McGee backed him all the way. Nine months later, Ween would officially reunite with a two-night run in Colorado on February 12th and 13th, 2016 and the world has been a better and browner place ever since.
Godboner – Summer Camp Music Festival – Chillicothe, IL – 5/22/15
Godboner – “Voodoo Lady” – Chillicothe, IL – 5/22/15
While Summer Camp Music Festival is undoubtedly the place for bands to strut their stuff with original content, for many acts a well-placed cover can be what earns them a place in a busy fans’ memory. From topical choices to all-time fan-favorites, many at S’camp choose to pay tribute to the artists that came before them with well-received tributes.
One of the most significant covers in recent years came on May 27th, 2017, the day Gregg Allman died. While the festival grounds can often be a wasteland of cell service that fosters an embargo of information from the outside world, news of the Allman Brothers Band co-founder’s death shot through Three Sisters like the most urgent of news bulletins. That same day, Allman’s former bandmate Warren Haynes was set to take the stage with his side project Gov’t Mule. To close out his set, Haynes brought up moe.’s Al Schnier and Umphrey’s McGee’s Kris Myers to pay proper tribute to the fallen Brother with an emotional “Whipping Post” (the song begins around 42 minutes in the video below).
Gov’t Mule – Summer Camp Music Festival – Chillicothe, IL – 5/27/17
Repeat S’campers have seen Buffalo-bred quartet Aqueous grow up before their very eyes over the years as they climb the ladder from stage to stage. With a little help from the band’s fellow Bills-loving brethren moe., Aqueous has come back bigger and better each and every year—and if anyone appreciates a well-chosen and well-timed cover, it’s Aqueous.
Aqueous, Vinnie Amico, Joel Cummins – “Kid Charlemagne” (Steely Dan) – Chillicothe, IL – 5/25/17
Aqueous – “Pseudo Suicide” (Oysterhead) – Chillicothe, IL – 5/26/18
Though there’s plenty of raucous rocking to go around at Summer Camp Music Festival. The festival’s organizers know how to reel back and provide a relaxing schedule of daytime music that will leave attendees with plenty left in the reserves to boogie all night long. A fine example of daytime programming at Summer Camp is the sermon of Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, joined here by The Infamous Stringdusters on a divine rendition of “Bertha”.
Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, The Infamous Stringdusters – “Bertha” (Grateful Dead) – Chillicothe, IL – 5/22/15
So whether your thing is cross-genre collaborations, unbelievable sit-ins, crazy covers, or beloved originals, there’s going to be something at Summer Camp Music Festival 2021 waiting for you. See you at Three Sisters Park August 20th–22nd, 2021 for a 20th-anniversary celebration of all things S’camp.
Below, you can also prepare for Summer Camp 2021 with galleries of photos from previous years courtesy of photographer Keith Griner.
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