photo by Michael Patrick of STL Homegrown Productions
written by Austin Allen
It took three bars of soap and a gallon of shampoo to wash away my sins, but thankfully, the mark Summer Camp Music and Arts Festival left on my soul will never fade away. Four days were jam packed with great food, fantastic music, beautiful people, and a glorious double rainbow that made for one of the most iconic moments of the weekend. Summer Camp was so full of wonder and magic, it’s nearly impossible to capture it all in one review. What I saw, heard, and learned infused my soul with a kind of comfort so addictive, I know I and many others will be returning for years to come. Read on to find out why!
Summer Camp Quick Facts:
Camping: You better believe it!
Attendee count has been estimated somewhere between 24 and 26K, but that doesn’t count the sneaky little snakes that snuck themselves into the festival, contributing to a noticeable and borderline unpleasant increase in crowd density on Sunday in particular. This, along with the option to purchase a Sunday-only ticket, made that day’s crowd feel twice as large. Leaving a stage early became a frustrating struggle, but fortunately, the growing sea of music lovers could not sway the love and respect that ran vibrant throughout the festival.
Crowd type: Ravers / Jam band fans / All ages
Imagine a fruit salad. Ok awesome, nice job. Now imagine that assortment of fruits as people; a festival salad if you will. A five-minute walk around the campgrounds presents several different variations of festival goers all ready to rage. The younger “kandi kids” were scarce this year, though stray strands of “P.L.U.R” dotted the camping fields. Pashminas and pins dominated the fashion trend, followed by crop tops and flower headbands coming in at a close second. One specifically original element was the presence of families, young kids and all. Summer Camp even hosts a “kid’s camp” from 11am to 6pm, where little ones can experience workshops of all kinds while parents experience Scamp adult style. One of my favorite moments of the weekend was hearing a child yell to his mom, “I LOVE YOU!”…feels man, feels. A single tear fell from my face and…ok, not really, but you get the point. Kids are cute.
Music genre: Funk, Blues, Electro-soul, Rock, Dance, House, Trap
“Festival salad” applies just as much to the people as it does to the music. You’re into it, Summer Camp is more than likely hosting it on stage. The majority of acts can be characterized as jam bands, with a healthy amount of electric genres sprinkled in, bringing people from all walks of life and musical preference out to enjoy their favorite bands and discover new ones. The diversity surging through Scamp can be partially exemplified by contests for Best Rap Performance, Best Rock Vocal Performance, and Best Americana Album.
How To Get There
Best way to arrive at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL is by car. Those travelling from farther than a drivable distance can fly in to O’Hare or Midway in Chicago, or Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Illinois, but a car is definitely essential to make it to the venue itself.
Where To Stay/Camping
Summer Camp is a decidedly camping festival; few options exist as far as accommodations in the surrounding area, and the experience is truly enriched by the immersive camping experience. A plethora of camping spots filled the festival grounds, organized around six memorable stages. Attendees could choose to set up in open fields or wooded areas, or indulge in one of the multiple VIP packages offered…it all depends on how fancy you’d like to get. VIPs got first pick at their preferred camping terrain (woods or field), and are also offered electrical RV camping. See Why Go VIP for more on this.
So many munchies. Every main walkway throughout the festival grounds was lined with delectable meals to fill your belly and keep you going into the night to catch your favorite acts. Manolo’s pizza is a must have if you’re a pizza fan (who am I kidding, of course you’re a pizza fan), and if those addictive slices aren’t enough, the pizza empanadas will keep you coming back. Another awesome vendor of note sold hand-made “Chorizo Bread,” and tacos were in no short supply. But not just any tacos…Heady Tacos! Super spiritual and amazing for your chakras!
All six stages each had a unique and stimulating style, and were perfectly spaced—not too far away from each other, but with enough distance in between to prevent sounds and crowds from mixing. The best and biggest stage was definitely the Moonshine Stage, home to some of the top acts of the weekend and set against a beautiful background of magnificent trees and open skies. Sound quality was good, though I noticed few glitchy visuals over the course of the weekend. Best mishap award goes to Snails who blew a speaker during his set, but somehow I can’t see this as all bad…the guy just rages too hard.
Shoutout to mother nature for the best production element of the weekend. As they say, pictures are worth a thousand words, so feast your eyes on this beauty.
Artists You May Not Have Heard of But Can’t Miss
Summer Camp’s busy lineup made it hard to catch all of my favorite acts, let alone discover new artists I wasn’t yet familiar with. I carved out some time for a lonesome little stroll in search of sounds I had yet to discover, and stumbled upon a few artists that have wiggled their way into my head and buried their catchy tunes into my brain. The Way Down Wanderers, The Nth Power, Late Night Radio, and Positive Vibr8ions are some that might qualify as “acts you may not have heard of”, and each one lent an excitingly exotic twist to the Summer Camp atmosphere.
Things To Do
Each morning started off with yoga and meditation offerings that led into activity workshops such as belly dancing and hooping. Demonstrations on topics like how to build your own house, how to harness solar power, and how to farm in cities tailored to the fest’s environmentally friendly focus. Want to learn how to turn your garbage into compost? Curious about how to make an oven from hay, dirt, and water? Summer Camp will teach you! This festival is full of both music and knowledge; activity offerings were a great way to learn something new in pretty much the most fun way possible, giving attendees the opportunity to walk away with a better understanding of how to embrace and encourage the kinds of living practices that will benefit ourselves and our world.
Fun fact: those tired of walking from stage to stage can give their legs a break by traveling in a golf cart shuttle for a small “cab fee”. The experience gives you a taste of VIP without a huge cost, and is fun way to avoid walks that seem longer the hotter it gets.
Why Go VIP
Don’t you just hate it when it’s the end of the night, all the acts are finished, and the rest of the neighbors don’t want to turn down? Me too, but don’t let that draw you away from the fun and excitement that Summer Camp has to offer! Complete with air-conditioned bathrooms, VIP-only showers, massages, artist meet and greet opportunities, and private performances in the VIP lounge, it’s hard to say no to the festival’s VIP packages. Highly recommended for those who want to experience the festival in the most comfortable way possible.
What Makes The Festival Different?
Aside from have a stacked musical lineup, Summer Camp also offers a full schedule of workshops and education sessions (see Things To Do). In keeping with its humanitarian focus, the festival’s Make A Difference campaign promoted making a difference (as the name suggests) by picking up trash, registering to vote, or providing support to non-profit organizations. Individuals spotted “making a difference” were awarded with a wristband granting them access to The Red Barn, a VIP-only stage from Friday-Sunday. Make A Difference also hosted the Everyone Orchestra, an improvisational music group including members of String Cheese Incident, Disco Biscuits, moe., JRAD, Big Gigantic, Fruition, and more, that focuses on building community to make a positive difference in the world. This gathering of talent all came together to celebrate a space where collaboration and audience participation is necessary to making a vision come to life, something I find refreshing within the effort to affect change.
Both first time and veteran Scampers alike should prioritize safety, and be mindful of legal rights. All routes leading Chillicothe are closely monitored by police, who have been known to stop drivers for even the smallest infraction. Year after year I’ve heard stories of people getting pulled over for going less than five miles over the speed limit, following too close to other cars, not signaling their turns, or even making a stop that an officer considered too far over the line. If you’re driving to a music festival, it is in your best interest to follow every law to a T. Seriously, pretend you’re 16 again trying to impress your parents with your sweet, lawful driving skills. Cops are there to keep the festival safe for everyone, and you don’t want to waste precious time getting caught doing something silly. If you want to be extra cautious (which I recommend), dress the part: take your pin-filled hats off, strip your pashminas from your necks, and don’t write anything on your windows about your venture to Summer Camp. You’re only asking for trouble.
Hate waiting in lines, feeling the sun suck the energy right out of you? Buy a Thursday pre-party pass to give yourself extra time to set up camp and beat the crowd. I arrived at Three Sisters Park around 2am on Thursday, when police presence was still low and lines were short. I ended up getting through the gates fairly quickly and snagging a spot in the woods with enough room to accommodate everyone I went with. The Red Barn (which was VIP-only/ticketed for the remainder of the weekend) was open to Thursday’s GA arrivals, making my decision to arrive early the best I made all weekend. Lettuce, one of my favorite bands, closed out the night and made its way into my top two sets of the entire festival. As if this wasn’t enough of a treat, the band ended up returning for an encore just as fans began to file out and retreat back to their tents. The song they closed out with? A renowned hit, “Do It Like You Do” (*praises the ground Nigel Hall walks on*). Complete with a saxophone solo and packed with soul and funk, the song ended their performance with a bang, setting the bar high for every artist to play for the rest of the weekend.
Overall, Summer Camp Music & Arts Festival has added more members to my festival family and created more memories than I could have ever expected. If you haven’t already experienced the magic that Scamp has to offer, start making plans for next year because this is something that no active festival goer should miss. Packed with amazing artists and workshops—especially on how to incorporate reusing and recycling into your everyday life—this festival fills the soul and quenches the thirst of parched patrons looking for a magical experience held within a wondrous venue. Learn a little something, experience a whole lot, and leave full of more love and knowledge than you came with. Summer Camp offers all this and more with open arms; it’s up to you to take it in.