It’s no secret that we love going to music festivals. We met at Rothbury back in 2008 and we’ve been to dozens of other festivals together since then. Camping music festivals truly are our happy place. Unfortunately, we don’t get to go to that many these days as our jobs teaching English online get quite busy in the summer months. One festival that we just can’t miss, though, is Summer Camp. This festival just feels like home, especially since I joined the Camp Counselor team a few years ago. This year marked the 4th time in a row that we went to SCamp together and my 8th overall. Read on for our full recap on the 2019 edition of the Summer Camp Music Festival.
To SCamp or Not to SCamp?
Since we headed down to Mexico back in 2017, we’ve been living the digital nomad life all across Latin America. We’ve made Puerto Vallarta our home away from home for about half of the year and we spend the rest of the year traveling.
It’s a great lifestyle and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but it makes things like 4-day camping music festivals difficult to pull off. For one, we don’t travel with any camping gear. Since we work online, we’re usually looking for full apartments on Airbnb and not campsites. We’ve got plenty of camping gear, but it’s just scattered in between our parents’ houses in Michigan and Tennessee.
There’s also the issue of transportation. Most camping music festivals in the US are in somewhat remote locations that are all but impossible to reach on public transportation. It seems like a waste of money to us to rent a car for four days just to leave it sitting in a parking lot. We have better things to spend our travel dollars on than that!
For the past few years, we were able to pull off Summer Camp with help from friends in Chicago. They collected our gear for us and gave us a ride down to the festival and back. When our entire Chicago crew dissipated this year, it seemed as if we were going to have to sit this one out.
It’s easier to accept missing out on a festival when you have to pay full price. Thanks to my efforts as a Camp Counselor, though, I already earned my two VIP passes this year. There was no way we were going to skip out on our first ever VIP experience at a music festival!
We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends
Thankfully an old friend came to the rescue when he saw a post I made on Facebook. He offered to let us borrow camping gear and pick us up if we caught the train out of Chicago. We actually ended up taking planes, trains, and automobiles just to get to Summer Camp this year!
We had the essentials (a tent, some blankets and pillows), but not much else. Since we’re old now and our backs hurt, we had to buy an air mattress and a few lawn chairs to survive the festival. We didn’t even have a cooler or an easy-up to protect us from the inevitable rain. Cue our awesome neighbors and new friends, who let us be full-on w00ks and borrow everything.
That’s one of the things I love most about the community surrounding our favorite bands. You meet so many amazing people along the way who are always happy to help you make it to the show. We really didn’t want to have to miss out on Summer Camp this year, and thankfully we didn’t have to. It was a little nerve-wracking flying up to a festival with no crew or gear, but everything worked out in the end.
A Summer Camp 2019 Recap
Let’s get this show on the road and dive into the amazing weekend that we had at SCamp this year. Here’s a recap of each day of the festival and all the fantastic music we saw:
While Thursday is the “pre-party,” it is pretty much the 4th day of the festival at this point. In years past, Summer Camp would only have a handful of bands on Thursday, mostly from the under card. My how times have changed!
They brought the ruckus this year with STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Spafford, Keller Williams, EOTO, and Here Come the Mummies – some of the top names on the lineup. I really feel sorry for anyone who couldn’t make it to the festival on Thursday.
We got a much later start than the past few years, but this year we had the added bonus of camping in the VIP area. Within minutes, we had a nice spot in the trees just steps away from the main stage and the VIP Lounge. No more fighting the hordes of w00ks for a campsite in the woods!
While I usually like to bounce around on Thursday, we just hung out until it was time for STS9. They played an Axe the Cables set, which was the first time we got to see one together. It was a beautiful set and a major highlight of the weekend for both of us.
The music was incredible, but the best part about that set was seeing some of our old friends. One of them was helping to run the Starshine Stage while the other was there with the band Funk You. Look at our friends go!
With a bit of time before the next set, we took a bit of a detour to walk through the Cosmic Village. This psychedelic section of the woods is covered in day-glo paint and a bunch of black lights, making for quite the visual experience.
Next up, we caught a bit of Steady Flow on the Campfire Stage. These guys are funky as hell and I can’t wait to see them play a whole set. With Umphrey’s getting ready for a late-night set, though, it was time to head into the Red Barn.
Umph in the Red Barn is classic Summer Camp. It’s a sweaty, rocking good time as the band always turns it up to 11 for these shows. This year was no different, as UM played a solid set to kick off the festivities. Rock hands were flying in the encore, when they teased both Def Leppard and Metallica.
I had a bit of a scheduling conflict next, as Here Come the Mummies and Spafford had overlapping sets. Thankfully it was easy to go between the two so I was able to catch both of them. The Mummies threw a funky dance party in the barn while the Spaff-bros ripped it up out on the Campfire Stage.
All in all, it was a pretty kickass Thursday night at Summer Camp. The next day in our media team meeting, I even suggested the title “When the Pre-Party Becomes the Party” for the recap video, and that’s what they went with!
I started Friday off over at the church for our meeting. It’s really more of a chill session than a meeting, as everyone enjoys the A/C, charges their batteries, and makes plans for the day. The other Camp Counselors are all cool AF and I wish we could hang out with them more often.
One of the honors of being a Camp Counselor is introducing moe. for their first set on Friday afternoon. Before that, I caught a few songs from Brandon “Taz” Niederauer. This kid absolutely rips it on the guitar and has a really bright future. If you haven’t seen him yet, look him up and prepare to have your mind blown.
In a scene that’s all too familiar at Summer Camp, the clouds started to roll in right before moe. Once there was lightning, the set was delayed. That’s 2 out of my 3 years as Camp Counselor that our intro has been canceled. I guess I’m bad luck! Thankfully, there was just a short delay and moe. still got to play a set. We just didn’t get to go on stage to introduce them…
After moe., we got to enjoy our first set of the weekend in the VIP Lounge. It’s a big tent with plenty of places to sit down and chill, which is perfect during the hottest part of the day. There’s also a bar here with drinks way cheaper than they are in the rest of the festival and even air-conditioned bathrooms! This, my friends, is the high life at a festival.
We thought Keller Williams was just going to play a solo set, but he had his whole band up there with him for a special Pettygrass set. As the name would suggest, they did bluegrass covers of Tom Petty songs. I’m not the biggest Petty fan, but he does have some classic songs and this set was a lot of fun.
I always say Umphrey’s McGee is the best band to their fans, and Summer Camp is a prime example of that. Not only do they have special umVIP ticket packages, but they also do the Golden Ticket event. They sell mixed bags of UM merch and stuff random “golden tickets” into several of them. Prizes range from meet and greets with band members to pit access for their shows at SCamp.
The grand prize is a pair of tickets to every show for the next year. Two years ago, the kid who won the thing went to every single show! I saw the dude who won it this year and he was super pumped, as he should be. Seriously, what other band does anything remotely like this?
From there, we moseyed over to the Sunshine Stage for Spafford’s afternoon set. Rachel isn’t the biggest fan but I’ve been digging these guys a lot lately. It was a short but sweet set for them, so we turned around and headed to Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Karl D is an absolute legend in the jam scene and it’s always great to see him at a festival.
Our next stop was over on the Campfire Stage, so we took the scenic way and walked through the “w00kie Woods.” It’s always a trip walking through the woods at Summer Camp. You could honestly just set up a chair in there for the whole weekend and be plenty entertained. We had another show to get to, though – Ghost Light.
This relatively new band features jam heroes Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling and they’re quickly making their mark on the scene. They only had an hour-long set and it was pretty freaking hot outside, but they still delivered a stellar performance.
After Ghost Light, we made our way back to Sunshine to settle in for a night of Umphrey’s McGee. Even though I’ve seen them over 100 times, I still catch all of their sets at Summer Camp. I know there are other great bands playing, but UM is one of my favorites and have been for over 15 years.
When I got a text saying that us Camp Counselors were invited back on stage to introduce moe. and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, I knew I had to bail a little early on their first set. I noticed some of the Mummies coming on stage in the waiting room, though, so I didn’t want to leave until after their sit-in.
The clock was ticking, but they finally came out to join Umph for a take on “Sledgehammer.” This Here Come the mUMmies sit-in was one of the best moments of Summer Camp this year and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it!
From there, we had to boogie over to Moonshine so I could join the other counselors in introducing the bands. It was actually way more fun doing this at night, as the crowd was hyped up and ready to rock. This is not the case at 1 in the afternoon, when people are getting pounded by the hot sun.
We stuck around for a couple tunes from moe. & Pigeons. Lots of fans were disappointed that Rebelution had to cancel, but I think this was a pretty awesome replacement. From there we headed back to the UM stage to get ready for their 2nd set. Little did we know that they had a serious surprise in store for all of us.
Back in 2004, Umphrey’s released “Anchor Drops.” It was by far their most polished album to date and a launching pad for their career. 15 years later, UM has been celebrating this historic album with a new vinyl release and a mini-documentary series on YouTube. They went ahead and dropped the anchor on Summer Camp by covering the album in full on Friday night.
When that album came out, I was but a wee college lad in my freshman year at MSU. I probably saw 25-30 Umphrey’s shows that year, traveling as far as Amsterdam to see them melt faces. “Anchor Drops” was basically the soundtrack to my first year of college and it remains one of my favorite albums of all time. To see them play the whole thing live was an incredible experience and one of the best sets I’ve ever seen at SCamp.
There wasn’t much time to recover and pick up the pieces of our spilled brains, as STS9 came out next for a Friday night rager. Once upon a time, Sound Tribe was known to play “festy sets” where they played it safe to a festival crowd. That’s not the case anymore, as they brought the heat with this one.
The late night lineup for Friday this year was stellar, with too many great options to choose from. Our friend Jason was DJing back in the VIP Lounge, so we ran back there first to catch a bit of his set. Props to the guy with the panda bear head (the “Heady Teddy”) who was in there with us!
With a head full and a tall boy of IPA, we were ready to journey through the woods to the next show. Ryan Stasik (bassist for UM) started a new band called Doom Flamingo, and we were excited to finally check them out. They have quite the stage presence and the music is incredibly unique. It was definitely perfect for a late night campfire set at Summer Camp.
There were so many good shows going on that I completely forgot about the Red Barn. Since we had tickets, we decided to head in and catch some of Pigeons. I first saw them at SCamp last year and despite their goofy name and pajama pants, I’ve actually grown to like them a lot. They absolutely crushed their Red Barn show this year and I’m glad we got to see at least some of it.
We thought it would be weird going to Summer Camp without a crew, but it turns out a bunch of our friends were there. Of course, we made plenty of new friends as well. A new friend we made at Phish Mexico invited us to join her crew, and it turns out they were camped right down the hill from us. We had a couple late nights hanging with these guys, staying up until the birds started chirping.
Despite the late night, I was up and at them to get to the meeting. Since no one seemed that interested in covering the Field Day activities, I went over there to snap a few shots. The tug of war was pretty intense, but that was nothing compared to the game of dodge ball that came next.
Yellow was getting smashed by Red and was down to their last player in a 1-on-6. It seemed like an inevitable blowout, but their last man was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in an insane comeback. The mustard was spraying everywhere as Yellow Team celebrated their big win.
The layout of SCamp changed a bit this year, as a few stages were dropped. Rather than have the Starshine Stage and the Vibe Tent facing each other, the tent was removed and all the EDM acts were moved over to Starshine. That’s not really our scene, so we didn’t make it over to that stage much over the weekend. I did manage to catch a bit of the hip hop act called Trouble Chasin’ after Field Day and they were pretty solid.
Another perk of finally being able to camp in VIP was the free showers. I was never into waiting in line to pay $5 to take a shower at SCamp, but this year my w00k ass finally got cleaned up over the weekend. While getting ready at camp, we were able to hear Horseshoes & Hand Grenades over on the main stage.
Feeling fresh and ready to take on the day, we headed in just in time for Cory Wong. His set was tons of fun, especially when he brought Dom from Big Gigantic out to play a bit of saxophone. We bailed a bit early to get over to Black Star, as rumors were flying around that Dave Chapelle was traveling with them.
Outdoor music festivals are always unpredictable, and things don’t always go as planned. Unfortunately, the Black Star set that was supposed to happen was one such example. They showed up late, then their DJ wasn’t even with them, resulting in the set getting bumped back several hours. Thanks to inclement weather, it never actually happened.
Back to the music, our next stop was Trampled By Turtles. Their beautiful tunes were the perfect soundtrack to a hot, sunny day at SCamp. These guys were one of our favorite new discoveries this year and we’re excited to dive into their catalog.
The next 1-2 punch of Chromeo > Andy Frasco & The U.N. might have been the highlight of the whole weekend. While we got to Chromeo a bit late and missed a few of our favorite tunes, the rest of the set was still a sick dance party. It was fun finally seeing Chromeo with a live band as opposed to their standard DJ set.
I heard a lot about Andy Frasco from the other counselors, so we figured we should go and check him out. Boy are we glad we did! His set was by far the most entertaining of the week.
In one short hour, he managed to crowd surf while chugging a beer, take a dab with a fan, bring a guy dressed like Gumby on stage, eat a bag of shrooms, and lead the crowd on a Bar Mitzvah dance. What a wild set that was!
Another first came next as we hustled over to Moonshine to catch the end of Blues Traveler. I remember listening to these guys back in the day and it was fun finally getting to see them up on stage, even if it was only for a few songs. From there we checked out the VIP Lounge again to catch the tail end of TAUK’s set.
Saturday night at SCamp is all about that moe. > Umphrey’s back and forth goodness. We joined our friends for the first set of moe. and got to hear a few of our favorite tunes. I don’t listen to moe. much these days, but it’s always nice watching them at Summer Camp.
Umphrey’s was playing a rocking first set on Saturday night, but unfortunately the weather had other plans. A storm rolled in causing them to shut down all outdoor stages, so we headed back to camp to take shelter. Not about to let it rain on our parade, we still had a good ole’ time at our friends’ campsite as we waited out the storm.
Even though we had Red Barn tickets for Chromeo and Lotus, we weren’t feeling up for trekking through the mud to get there. Instead, we stayed back in the VIP area to catch Aqueous. It was our first time ever seeing them and we both really enjoyed it, so it wasn’t a bad trade-off. I managed to get to sleep around 5 while Rachel stayed up until sunrise. That’s why she’s the proud holder of the Rage Belt!
I must be getting old, because by Sunday I was feeling rough around the edges. My neck was sore from head-banging too hard during UM and my feet were worn out from all the walking and dancing. My phone was totally dead, leaving me with no alarm. Since it was still rainy and muddy out, we stayed in our tent as long as we could.
The funky sounds of Steady Flow woke us up and provided a good soundtrack to getting ready. As is tradition at SCamp, we hustled over to the Sunshine Stage so Umphrey’s could take us to church. Since their 2nd set got rained out on Saturday, they made sure to make up for it with this one. We got our two favorite UM songs – Glory and Hajimemashite – in one set!
Honestly, I could have gone home after that set and been happy. We still had some more music to see, though. First up was The Werks in the VIP Lounge. It was our first time seeing them and those guys rip! It would be fun to make it to their festival one of these days.
After their set, we got to see the last couple tracks from Break Science on Moonshine. They’re one of the few EDM acts I always catch at festivals and they’re always lots of fun to see.
The VIP Lounge had great music all weekend, but the highlight was definitely Oteil Burbridge and Eric Krasno playing a 45-minute duet full of Grateful Dead songs. We always listen to the Dead on Sundays anyways, so this was perfect.
With more rain in the forecast for the next morning and the parking lot already looking like a muddy shit show, we all made the executive decision to tear down camp and pack up the car. One good thing about not having a lot of gear is it only took us two easy trips and about half an hour to do so.
Feeling exhausted but still hungry for music, we brought our chairs over to the Toots & the Maytals set. These reggae legends were a great choice for a Sunday afternoon set at SCamp.
After watching half of their set, we settled in at Moonshine for the Oteil & Friends set. His all-star band played a bunch of Allman Brothers, Dead, and other classic covers and this was definitely one of the top sets of the weekend.
Back in the day, we used to see a band called Pnuma Trio all the time. They were known for playing epic festival sets and they always raged after parties. Unfortunately they stopped playing together around 2009.
A decade after hanging it up, they returned to the scene as Pnuma Live. It was awesome seeing them again, especially thanks to this wicked glowstick jellyfish. Apparently they’re going to be recording new music soon and playing a lot more shows, so that’s exciting!
For our last hoorah at SCamp, we caught a bit of our friend Jason’s set atop the Good Bus. It was billed as a French Disco Party, and that’s precisely what he gave us. I also ran over to moe. to watch a bit of their first set before we moved to Lotus.
While we may have missed out on the Red Barn-burner, we at least got to catch a full set from Lotus on Sunday night. They absolutely crushed it and played a very danceable set. They managed to appease both the jamband and EDM kids in the crowd.
With the clock approaching 2AM, we made our rounds and said our goodbyes to friends at the 2nd moe. set. It would have been nice to stick around for the rest of that plus Gramatik and Crosseyed & Phishless, but our ride wanted to get on the road. As is always the case, the weekend flew by in the blink of an eye. Just like that, it was time to begin our long trip back down to Mexico.
Best SCamp Yet?
This year was our 4th Summer Camp in a row together and my 8th overall. While every year has had its special moments, I think this just might have been the best SCamp yet!
We went from thinking we’d have to sit this year out, to worrying about not having gear or a crew, to having an amazing weekend surrounded by friends old and new. The music is great and all, but it’s really the community that makes Summer Camp such a special place.
Next year will be the 20th edition of Summer Camp in the year 2020. It’s sure to be one for the ages! We have no idea what we’ll be up to in 2020, but we at least know where we’ll be over Memorial Day weekend – back home with all our friends dancing to our favorite bands at SCamp!