What Makes Summer Camp What It Is

What Makes Summer Camp What It Is

The early stirrings of festival season have already started, and around the country people are making plans, buying tickets, arranging travel, etc. This industry has seen a huge boom lately, mainly due to their ability to make us forget about the soul-crushing reality of day-to-day existence and let time slow down just for a little while. New festivals seemingly pop up every year, which is great, but also a difficult business to sustain. Only those that really nail every aspect of delivering the best weekend possible to the fans stick around longer than a couple years.

Here in the Midwest, there are a great many festivals that have cemented themselves within their local communities as annual parties to be enjoyed by everyone with a smile and a friendly attitude. One, however, rears its head every year above the rest with snarling ferocity: Summer Camp, in Chillicothe has grown from a small festival of just 1,000 attendees to one of the top festivals in the country (20,000+ attendees, 7 stages) without reaching Bonnaroo-levels of mind-shredding madness. How do they do it? Well, in this author's opinion, they just know their crowd.

The music at Summer Camp caters to fans of just about every genre under the sun, with the possible exception of death metal (although last year I did hear "Master of Puppets" being played by a group named Aqueous, I do believe). Jam bands, folk, roots rock, country, bluegrass, reggae, classics, tribute acts, new wave, disco, electronica, world music, hip hop, you can find it all at Three Sisters Park on Memorial Day weekend. That is definitely one of the main reasons people keep coming back year after year.

Summer Camp also has the unique distinction of being the only festival to host, every single year, three days (or five sets, however you want to count it) of music by Umphrey's McGee and moe., two of the festival circuit's most beloved bands. Midwest fans of either group have no other opportunity to catch both groups in an outdoor setting for that amount of time, and it remains a huge draw.

However, those two groups are not the only thing keeping Summer Camp going and expanding: there are always some surprise names on the bill as well, such the Steve Miller Band last year, Jane's Addiction back in 2012, the Zac Brown Band in 2014, Primus in 2012 and 2014, etc. Bands like this give fans a chance to branch out and check out some music they might not have heard otherwise, and to do it on a grand scale (Summer Camp may not be the biggest festival out there, but it sure feels like you're on top of the world when you're standing at the top of the sloping Moonshine Stage hill).

In addition, there are several workshops for those who are trying to be more socially conscious, including seminars on Reduce/Reuse/Recycle principles, lectures on healthy eating, jam sessions with activist band members, and far too many programs regarding the environment to mention here (please check out that section of the website at http://summercampfestival.com/).

The food is also plentiful and delicious; anything your heart desires, from burgers and pizza to Thai curry bowls, homemade peach ice cream to vegan snack wraps, the famous Manolo's pizza stand to gyros, tacos, soups, shawarma, and more. Most of these are 24/7 (or just about) for the duration of the event, so grub is never a concern.

At the heart of all of this is the fanbase that makes Summer Camp so special for so many. The Midwest has a reputation for being a gentle section of the country, and nowhere is this more evident than in the family vibe you get at Summer Camp. Most of the fans are longtime festival-goers (this will be my 5th year in a row, and most of my friends have me beat by a few years at least), meaning they have seen most of the big bands a few times, leading everyone to check out new, smaller acts, thus helping the little guys get their names out and get performing for more people everywhere.

So what makes Summer Camp what it is? At its core, it's the people. Every time I get to Three Sisters on that Thursday before the storm, I always feel the same elation. I can't wait to see everyone, tell stories, catch up, reminisce about previous years, get food, and hit the stages. Even if the rain seems determined to utterly wreck the weekend (2013, anyone?), the fans keep throwing down as hard ever. Because we all know we're not here forever, and when you're someplace special like Summer Camp, with your family all around you (biological or otherwise), you feel at home.


Tickets and other info can be found at the website: http://summercampfestival.com/


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