In its 15th year, Summer Camp Music Festival has become something of a rite of passage for midwestern music fans. Drawing probably 60 / 40 from jamband fans and EDM lovers -- there is some obvious crossover but certainly enough of each to keep staunch supporters (or deniers) of each camp pretty happy over the course of three days of music and camping.
Then there's folks like me. I attended the “proto”-SCMF, the Summer Sessions at Three Sister’s Park (featuring SCI, Galactic, Gov't Mule & moe.) in 1999, which puts me at... old. Likely older than the great majority of the festival-goers, who appear to brave fairly spartan tent camping conditions to have a sometimes literally stone's throw access to the music. You may be able to guess that I also fall into #teamjamband.
Luckily, there's a thing I call Summer Camp Sunday. It allows for a quick in-and-out and a stay at a nearby hotel for a night's rest. You get a feel for the fest but don't have to go "all in". And you can pack a day's worth of music nicely into an extended holiday weekend, without sacrificing the whole thing.
My participation in Summer Camp Sunday was all but confirmed this year when I realized that both Widespread Panic & Greensky Bluegrass -- two top ten bands for me -- would both be making an appearance, and back-to-back no less. The festival has long been a showcase for moe. and Umphrey’s McGee -- two bands who let's just say are not in my top ten -- so the Sunday slots for WSP and GSBG had the potential to draw from a pool of #teamjamband without an obvious need for 12 full sets from the festival's "hosts".
But this also played into the perception, and perhaps even the execution of the two sets of Panic on Sunday night. Their sets drew modestly, with the hardcores crammed up front and some curious onlookers perched toward the back of the field on the Moonshine stage.
A true Panic fans might tell you to "never miss a Sunday show", but in this case there was little truly memorable. Highlight jams included the out-of-nowhere set opening instrumental improv and a tasty "Pleas" in the first set, and nice-but-not-epic "Second Skin" and "Rebirtha" second set jams.
In total, for two and half hours of Panic, it just seemed sort of strange. With most of the big hits brought out Friday in Orange Beach, and a work-out on the newer tunes the night prior at Georgia's Counterpoint festival, Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend just got stuck with a bunch of catalog songs. And ones that didn't feel the least bit special or appropriate for a crowd comprised largely of curiosity seekers. "Little Kin", "Action Man", "Impossible", "Junior", "Aunt Avis", "Dyin' Man", "Imitation Leather Shoes" -- basically all songs that I can take or leave. Others may have different opinions, but that's a high percentage of songs that certainly aren't top tier. And I don't think the assembled festival crowd was hooked by these either.
I thought I might use time during set breaks to catch a few tunes from bands on the smaller stages (The Heard!), but the timing seemed to be thrown off (possibly because an ominous threat of rain), and the grounds didn't make for easy passage because of the muck leftover from storms that passed through earlier in the day.
Luckily, the rain held off for the entirety of Panic's slot, a fact which JB acknowledged ("thank you rain gods") with his signature style after a typically fiery "Fishwater".
1: Jam > Little Kin > Action Man, Tall Boy, Pleas > Who Do You Belong To?, Walkin' (For Your Love), Impossible > Travelin' Light
2: Junior, Second Skin > Aunt Avis > Rebirtha > Stop Breakin' Down Blues, Honky Red > Drums > Cotton Was King, Dyin' Man, Fishwater
E: Imitation Leather Shoes
One more word on Panic. This was the third show I've seen with Duane Trucks behind the kit. Quite honestly, I think the drumming is just about 99% what it was in the Todd Nance days -- the 1% is just the knowledge that a founding member of the band is sidelined makes it hard to swallow.
It was just a quick walk over to Starshine stage for Greensky, where an enthusiastic crowd was assembled, and fully prepared for the weather that had avoided us the last few hours.
I've been able to catch Greensky a handful of times per year over the last 5 years or so, and their gigs are always among my top shows of the year. I'm eager to commit deeper, but have tended to be cautious in going to more shows, since this young-ish band tends to produce many same sounding gigs, even while so much of what they do is steeped in improv. They lean mightily heavily on the most recent (and yes... awesome) releases and tend to pick same few songs to jam out on.
But I think they may be just on the verge of overcoming these limitations. For their single set, the opening trio of "Crying Holy Unto the Lord, "Dry Country" and Pink Floyd's "Time" were all tunes that had eluded me thus far, and "Time" contained a whole world of nice jamming.
Yes, this is a band that cultivates a very unique improv style, but the opening bluegrass number showed just what they can do with more trad bluegrass arrangements, each member taking a short but potent solo while his bandmates comped nicely behind.
From there came a more typical If Sorrows Swim-centered run of songs, but hard to complain with the amazing trip that "Don't Lie" took the (by now rain-soaked) crowd on. In the midst of a whipping rainstorm, Greensky had found some competition from the heavy bass womps emanating from the "Vibe Tent" directly across from the field where the band was set up. With the sky spitting and music of the opening "Don't Lie" chords swirling, defiantly introduced the band... "we're Greensky Bluegrass... and these things we're playing are musical instruments". Classic.
For it's part, Traffic's "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone" provided the cover highlight of the set, as Beck worked in "Tweezer (Reprise)" jam into the already extended outro.
This was likely the largest Greensky Bluegrass crowd that I've been in -- and very few seemed to be deterred by the rain. So the the word is out, and with it will come bigger venues, multi-night runs and returns to many of the cities that they've hit on previous tours. By necessity, I think these gigs will get constructed more interestingly and we'll enter a very exciting time to be a GSBG fan indeed.
Crying Holy Unto the Lord, Dry Country > Time, Kerosene, The Four, Steam Powered Aeroplane, Burn Them, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Leap Year, Wings for Wheels, Don't Lie
For me, the rest of the festival served as icing to the gooey cake that these two bands provided.
On the nostalgia trip, I caught my first Steve Miller Band set in 25 years. Not surprisingly, it was nearly exactly the same. But, hard to argue with legit super hits like "Rockn' Me" and "The Joker" -- daytime crowd singsongs all.
Earlier on the Starshine stage, New Orleans dual-bass funkateers Dumpstaphunk did their best to get campers moving mid-day. Ivan Neville laying down laying down filthy keyboard lines over the band's massive low end.
I was also mightily impressed by Melk, a trio who has been garnering some acclaim around Chicago. Mixing up a typical power-trio format with a heavy dose of effects, they are producing instrumental music that sounds really fresh to these ears.
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