Just got my ticket for the greatest event of the year: Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe. I went for the first time this past May, and it changed my life. I started to get more involved in the festival scene, finishing up summer with another festival that I will be sure to attend every year from here on out. It was a smaller festival, but what it lacked in size it more than made up for in musical talent and beautiful scenery: Shoe Fest. Here's a look back at the festival, with my personal highlights.
I pulled into Camp Shaw in Manteno, Illinois on Friday, Sept. 7. The light drizzle gave a slight shimmer to the landscape; lush green grass and the gurgling of Rock Creek in the background made for the perfect festival environment. This was my intro to Shoe Fest 2012. Having dipped my toes into the festival scene for the first time at Summer Camp earlier this year, I was excited to down to the nitty-gritty and experience a festival in a more intimate setting, where fans could really get up close and personal with the bands. The lineup was fantastic; Keller Williams and the Keels (a lightning-fast, pitch-perfect bluegrass couple) headlining, with fantastic performances by Family Groove Company, Strange Arrangement, Old Shoe, Thinner Teed, Zmick, The Giving Tree Band, Sneaky Gene, Chicago Farmer, Elephant Revival, and others. The music perfectly reflected the spirit of the festival: roots rock, folk, bluegrass, and general shredding guitar with all the fixins. From the dramatic, harmony-laden vocals of Elephant Revival to the face-melting stomp of Strange Arrangement, the mood never stopped being perfect. A nice thing for me personally about the festival was that I had heard of most of the bands, but I hadn’t been introduced to their music yet. It was a great weekend of new musical obsessions and some of the best shows I’ve seen. I distinctly remember looking through the steam over the crowd of Family Groove Company’s set and seeing the band completely in the zone, just tearing it up. The other aforementioned acts did not disappoint, with a good mix of playful covers and funk nasty originals echoing out over the campground.
The first couple days had a good variety of music, from Keller and the Keels to Afternoon Moon to Old Shoe. Sunday was more bluegrass-oriented. The evening wound down perfectly with sets from Flatland Ramble, the Giving Tree Band, Elephant Revival, Chicago Farmer, and the Rumpke Mountain Boys. I particularly enjoyed Chicago Farmer’s set. His voice is perfect for what he does, and hearing his soulful wail echo from the other side of the trees filled me with that certain “je ne sais quoi” that you get when you hear something incredible.
A quick side note about Camp Shaw: it was impeccably clean. I thought that was very nice to see at a festival in a scene that is notorious for presenting an image of deadbeats. I thought it was a good sign that people were very conscientious about keeping the place as clean as we found it. I didn’t see one piece of litter all weekend. And the people were great; as I said, it was a much smaller event than Summer Camp, so I was able to really talk to people and keep seeing them over the course of the festival, making new friends in the process.
Speaking of meeting new people, three members of Elephant Revival were kind enough to give me a few minutes of their time before their set on Sunday night. Since I only had a few minutes, it was a brief interview, but their answers said a lot about the band and their dedication to bringing quality music to their fans.
AH: So, my intro to your music was your set at Summer Camp. What’s more fun for you, something huge like that kind of festival, something a little smaller like this [Shoe Fest], or a show where it’s just you?
ER: Something a little more intimate like this, the dynamics are really nice. It’s great that you can get to the river here, it’s really grounding. It’s always great to play outside. It’s really nice when the audience is observant and sharing the experience with us, whatever the venue.
AH: What was the hardest part for you as a band as far as getting your name out there and getting noticed with so many new bands showing up?
ER: Probably the traveling. You know, you’re trying to cover a lot of territory, it’s just such a huge country. We just try to find a good, healthy balance between the amount of touring we do and letting people know we’re playing music.
AH: Is there any new material on the way?
ER: Well there are so many songwriters in the band, there’s usually something being worked on, but we just completed an EP with seven songs and one hidden track, as well as a songbook with photos from the band, original artwork, song notation, three free downloads, and other bonus material.
AH: Last question. What’s your advice for those who are just starting out and trying to make a name for themselves in the music business?
ER: Keep it in the heart. As an artist that’s what’s important. Keep the business in perspective, but don’t lose track of the art.
They were such nice people, and I was very honored to meet and interview them. They then proceeded to put on a hell of show a couple hours later.
All in all Shoe Fest was a fantastic time. I’m very grateful that I was allowed to interview Elephant Revival, and it was great to be part of such a well-run festival. The whole thing was very well put together, the people in charge were very helpful, and the bands of course were wonderful. Combine that with the general atmosphere of peace, sitting by a waterfall on the river, and organic BLTs, and you have the recipe for what is sure to become a major event for those in the know. I for one will be back at Shoe Fest every year. Maybe I’ll see some of you at the first annual Snow Shoe, the indoor Shoe Fest experience. Featuring Zmick, Sneaky Gene, and Old Shoe, Snow Shoe is an indoor festival event that will be held at the Majestic Theatre in Kankakee on Feb. 2. Tickets went on pre-sale Dec. 1 for $10. An all-ages event, it promises to be a good time. Until next time, brave readers.