Smile Politely

Summer Camp in review

Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois is the only place where you get six hours of sleep, wake up dying from heat in a plastic tent, trek to the outdoor bathroom with a wad of toilet paper in your hand, and have a wonderful rest of the day. Here’s how my trip to the festival went:


Having missed the majority of the first day due to work, traffic and tent building, I didn’t see most of Friday’s shows, but, the two days full of music I did catch were across-the-board impressive. Joe Pug’s Saturday performance on the Camping Stage, a canopy-covered platform nestled between tents and trees, was one of the best performances of the day, in addition to Cornmeal’s mid-afternoon bluegrass set and Gomez’s pop-rock performance, which was undeservedly poorly attended.

With three days of Umphrey’s McGee and more of their shows under my belt than I care to count, I was burned out on their tunes by the end of the fest, making their Sunday acoustic guitar-led performance refreshing…

….but not enough to yield praise when compared to The Wood Brothers’ two showings (during which they played songs off their new EP)…

The Wood Brothers, “One More Day” from Carlye Wisel on Vimeo.


…or Bassnectar’s surprising, jam-packed dance party.

Medeski, Scofield (pictured at left), Martin & Wood wasn’t disappointing, per se, but with the sun beating down and dehydration kicking in, it’s quite hard to stay focused on their expansive jazz.

Easy Star All Stars, a reggae-infused cover band made absolutely no sense to me — how is this band different from a cover band at a dinky town festival? — but Willie Nelson (below), one of the weekend’s final performers, played to an excited crowd, energized despite sleeping on the ground, dancing in the dirt and walking circles around Three Sisters Park for the past few days.

The sound for each show was perfect, and the sights were, too — even without JumboTrons and standing far, far from the stage, every single show was visible, and impressive for that reason alone.




After three days at Summer Camp, you’re not really surprised by anything you see. Glittery dresses, ridiculous outfits, shirtless dudes with every pattern of chest hair possible — as each day passes, you get more submerged into the life of a music festival, and further from the mindset of the place you drove to Chillicothe from.

Trading eclipses selling, strangers become neighbors, and people coming over to offer you ribs, chicken, fresh-cooked pasta or a bowl full of blueberries is a normal occurrence. While the baby wipe showers and dirt-caked feet are something that I personally won’t miss, the simplicity of community and laughable sights — a walk through the woods could yield anything from a man shouting from atop a tree to an on-the-go dance party sound machine gathering nighttime followers — are something that everyday life definitely lacks.



For the organizers to set up a tiny, fully operating city in the middle of a field for less than half a week is a feat in itself, and to do it so flawlessly completely boggles my mind. Each day, new toilet paper rolls popped up in port-a-potties, and the ones that started to fill up were quickly cleaned out.

Compartmentalized waste bins were all over the park, and the only time I ever saw one overflow was backstage on the last night — and it was recycling.

Workers were even going from tent to tent in the afternoon, passing out trash bags and picking up each attendee’s refuse to haul to a garbage truck. In a place full of hippie tunes and a laid-back lifestyle, a cooperative, friendly environment is almost inherent, but to really plan a festival down to the trash bags with this same mindset is astounding.

Photos by Donald Rasmussen

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