Our year-long party started off with a few months in South America, as we celebrated New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso, took in the madness of Carnaval in Brazil, and then took part in the Holy Week festivities in Peru. While many of the plans for the year were up in the air, May was a no-brainer – we would be returning to Chillicothe, IL for the annual Summer Camp Music Festival. Enjoy our video recap of the festival and read on for some more details about this great festival that many simply know as SCamp.
History of Summer Camp
The first Summer Camp happened back in 2001. The idea for the festival came about after moe. had spent a summer traveling around the country with a few bands on a tour billed as the Summer Sessions.
Wanting to hold their own annual summer show, the jamband from upstate New York settled on Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL and decided to call it Summer Camp.
In that first year, there were only two stages, about 20 bands, and around 1,000 attendees.
The Perfect Fit
After a successful first year, they decided to return for round two. While the first one had been in June, they pushed it back a few weeks for the second edition and did it around the 4th of July weekend.
Two major changes would occur in year three, as the festival was moved to Memorial Day weekend and a young upstart band named Umphrey’s McGee joined the bill.
Something must have gone right in 2003, because 15 years later the festival is still at Three Sisters Park on Memorial Day weekend, and it’s co-headlined by moe. and Umphrey’s McGee.
SCamp has come a long way since that first edition with only two stages.
There are now seven stages, plus a special VIP concert area and of course the legendary Red Barn for late nights. The crowd has grown exponentially as well, with around 20,000 people showing up this year.
Despite the tremendous growth of the festival, Summer Camp still feels small, especially when compared with massive festivals like Bonnaroo or Coachella.
Our Summer Camp Experience
Skipping Prom for a Festy
I first went to Summer Camp way back in 2004 when I was a senior in high school.
Not excited about the prom, I convinced a few friends to ditch it with me and head to a music festival instead. Many questioned my decision at the time, but many years later it’s clear I made the right choice. I don’t think senior prom changed any of my friends’ lives, but SCamp sure changed mine.
I would go on to attend dozens of music festivals and hundreds of shows in the next four years until I moved to China.
A Triumphant Return
While we were living on the other side of the world, we never made it back to the States around Memorial Day.
We usually saved our trip home for July so we could celebrate the 4th and see some Phish shows. As a result, I missed several SCamps.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I was finally able to make it back and bring Rachel to her first. We volunteered that year and had a great time, despite the jetlag we had after our long and awful trip home from Bali.
Camp Counselor Life
Last year, I decided to try once again to apply for the coveted position of Camp Counselor.
The Camp Counselors are basically ambassadors for the festival throughout the year. They attend shows on behalf of Summer Camp and also get a media pass at the festival to take photos, videos, do interviews, and all that good stuff.
I had tried the previous year but didn’t get it, but I figured it was worth a try again. As luck would have it, I got offered one of the two spots!
My first year as a Camp Counselor was a great learning experience. I got to see the festival from a whole new angle, as I was given access I had never previously had.
It was pretty intimidating having a photo pass that would grant me access to the pit. I barely even used it that first year. Instead, I took it as an opportunity to learn from the awesome team of counselors and see what kind of stuff they got into over the weekend.
One of the best parts about being a Camp Counselor is that once you’re in the program, you’re in for life! As long as you contribute things like show reviews, podcasts, Facebook posts, and so on, you’re welcomed back.
Of course, we decided to return and make it our 3rd year in a row together for the 2018 edition of Summer Camp.
Summer Camp Music Festival 2018
Thanks to our experience last year, we knew just what to do when arriving for SCamp this year. We dropped my cousin and his buddy off at the front with just their bags, and we pulled around to staff camping.
I love to pull the “I’m late for the meeting. Can I just pull my car in real quick then I’ll come back out?” trick. It works like a charm.
While most people drag all their shit from the parking lot a good mile or more to find a place to camp, I got our car right up to the treeline and unloaded right there.
We set up in the “w00kie Woods” for the third year in a row. The place is really starting to feel like home…
Thursday is always spent getting set up and trying to meet up with friends, and this year was no different.
Once we were all situated at the campsite, we got out to see some music in the evening.
It was great just being able to stay at one stage, as we caught Crosseyed & Phishless, Beats Antique, and Lettuce. Thursday night was a late-night throwdown in the barn courtesy of UM, followed by an all-star band doing a Nine Inch Nails tribute.
The rock hands were up all night!
Friday afternoon means introducing moe. on the main stage. Unfortunately, that whole thing got rained out in my first year.
The weather gods smiled upon us this time, as we got to welcome the perennial headliners to the stage for their first set. We also caught Yonder Mountain String Band and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong that day.
I know, hippie bands have silly names.
Things got weird on Friday night as they tend to do at SCamp.
We went from the prog-rock of UM to the wobbly untz of Tipper and back to UM in the span of a few hours.
Meandering through the crowd of glow-toy twirling spunions at Tipper to get all the way down to the pit was one of the most interesting experiences of the weekend, that’s for sure.
I even commented that I smelled drugs I didn’t even know existed prior to taking that walk…
After the counselor meeting on Saturday, I rushed over to catch Spafford. These guys have quickly become one of my favorite bands and I was stoked to see them, even with their less than ideal time slot.
After that, I checked out some of the field day activities. Watching a sweaty, tangled mess of hippies play Twister was pretty hilarious.
For the rest of the afternoon, we saw The Main Squeeze, Taz, and even Cypress freaking Hill. There were thick clouds in the air during that one!
That night was a big one, as we bounced back and forth between the two biggest stages to see STS9, moe., and Umphrey’s.
Obviously, we’re jamband peeps, so that’s where we gravitated. I can’t really do the Vibe Tent at Summer Camp. You kids have fun in there, though. Just boof it!
Rachel managed to get into the barn for the STS9 late night, but I was just fine with my lawn chair, cooler of beer, and UM killing a cover of Prince’s “1999.”
The Midwest at the end of May is an unpredictable time as far as weather is concerned. Summer Camp usually ends up being either a dust bowl, a mud pit, or both.
While we experienced the mud pit last year, this year was a scorcher. There were record-high temperatures on Sunday, which really sucked the energy out.
It was about 90 degrees during UM’s afternoon set, which included a giant beach ball. A smokin’ hot Greensky Bluegrass show came next to match the weather.
Thanks to that intense heat and being pretty drained from three big nights, we spent most of the day lounging around the campsite. I did finally make it into VIP after I got some credentials, where I was able to see some of Victor Wooten’s set.
That evening we all watched Phil Lesh & the Terrapin Family Band and Tycho, who I was really excited to see live for the first time.
I had to bail on the Tycho set a bit early to get backstage for my “interview” with Cherub. Needless to say, it consisted mostly of whisky shots and blunt smoke. Oh well… I tried.
I did get to take in their set from the side stage for a bit and then kick back on a couch, which was really nice after a long weekend. Plus, I had to conserve my energy for one last rager as they also had a late-night closing party in VIP.
Things got wild at the closing party thanks to DJ Paul from Three Six Mafia. He joined up with Cherub on a new track and decided to come rage at SCamp, too.
Dude was straight throwing beers into the crowd and pouring shots of Fireball down people’s throats. Mind you this was 4AM on a Sunday night! This old man retreated back to camp around 5 to get a few hours of sleep, but Rachel kept the party going with friends.
Unfortunately, this year’s SCamp story does not have a happy ending. In the wee hours of Monday morning, someone stole Rachel’s bag. She had her phone, ID, and credit cards in there, so we had to spend all of Monday dealing with that.
We’re taking it as a lesson learned and you should, too.
Never leave your stuff unattended at a festival, especially in the super early morning hours when there are nefarious characters wandering around. Even better, don’t carry your important stuff on you at all.
Wear a money belt with a little cash, hook that wristband up to a credit card, and leave your phone locked in the car. The thief got nothing in the end but $7, a phone charger, and a cheap bag from Mexico, but we had to deal with a bunch of BS as a result.
We’re not letting it ruin our festival, though, as this was one of the best SCamps ever.
I’ve now been to Summer Camp seven times. Going to this festival always feels like going home to me.
Every year, I see old friends and make new ones. I see my favorite bands and discover a couple of fresh ones to start listening to. I have so much fun and laugh so hard that it hurts.
It’s not easy getting all the way to central Illinois when you’re a digital nomad living outside of the country, but I’m glad we made it happen again this year.
There’s no lineup for 2019 yet, but we’ve already got Memorial Day blocked off on our calendars. See you next year, SCamp!