For many in St. Louis the highlight of Memorial Day weekend is heading on over the river to Summer Camp Music Festival. One of the best parts about living in St. Louis is the access to many nearby music festivals and venues. While a large number of attendees are from nearby cities, the event draws people on a National scale. This year the lineup boasted major electronic artists like Pretty Lights Live and Gramatik, a contrast to the heavy jam band influence at Summer Camp. St. Louis added some bluegrass flavor with an appearance by Grass Fed Mule for the early arrivers. The three day music and arts festival has been held since 2001, and is located just 3 hours away in Chillicothe at Three Sisters Park. Unlike a lot of camping festivals, Summer Camp offers a free range venue with tent only camping. Because there is a separate parking lot for the cars, the actual venue fits a much larger amount of people an intimate space, leaving the next stage within 10 minutes no matter where you are.
Summer Camp is not just a fun name for the festival, but a concept complete with early morning kickball games, and a field day event that brings back a load of nostalgia for days on the playground. Attendees register on four separate teams and go to war to be the champions. The activities do not stop there. Within the Soulshine Tent there are a range of workshops and creative outlets to do throughout the day. The schedule ranges from burlesque performances to talks about poverty relief. Sustainability is an important concept at Summer Camp, with an emphasis on recycling and a leave no trace mentality. Walking around you can also find green-centric displays like container gardens and attendees doing acro-yoga to pass the time during the day. Lindsey Laz has gone to 15 Summer Camp Fests and summed it up as, “I’ve eaten some of the best food, and I’ve seen incredible art. I can spend 4 days not worrying about work, not checking emails, turning my phone off, and just living in the moment. There is just so much to do and to see that your weekend fills up with amazing experiences and leaves you with lasting memories.”
This year was off to a somewhat rocky start with a heavy lightning storm that left two campers injured and Three Sisters Park flooded on Friday afternoon. Many have stories of holding down the fort as they braced the storm, and this video quickly went viral showing just how intense the storm got. Despite the stages shutting down for a few hours, the party wasn’t going to stop because of some bad weather. Even though the rain left heavy muds, everyone was in good spirits and happy to have made it through. And as the sun rose on Saturday morning, it was the start of a beautiful weekend.
Saturday’s lineup boasted some big names including The Infamous Stringdusters, The Floozies, EOTO, and The Werks. With the weather forecast easing minds, Scampers felt free to express themselves in full force with costumes and flow toy performances. You can find flow arts of all types from hula hoops, to poi, to fiber optic whips. The attendees provide almost as much entertainment as the festival does. Many set up impromptu performances for the captive audience, playing the Saxophone or setting up guerilla DJ booths within the woods.
As the sun began to set, the sky turned into a beautiful swirl of pink and orange just in time for Pretty Lights Live. Pretty Lights is an electronic artist originally from Colorado, but now well known for festival appearances and shows across the country. Since his first major festival in 2010, he has become an instant draw for any electronic music lover.
In 2016 he formed Pretty Lights Live, a collaborative effort between Alvin Ford Jr (Drums), Brian Coogan (Keyboard), Chris Karns (Turn Tables), and Borahm Lee (Keyboard). Borahm had just played a set earlier on the same stage as half of the duo Break Science alongside Adam Deitch of Lettuce. Everyone took a moment to take in their surroundings with the beautiful sunset as one of the largest crowds of the festival filled into the stage. The party continued long after sunset with the sounds of Pretty Lights booming across Three Sisters Park.
Summer Camp shows off a lot of local talent besides their national acts. Chicago’s EGi, who was featured on Sound of STL earlier this year, was happy to perform at the festival for their second time. While they definitely drew a crowd in St. Louis, you could tell EGi was happy to be on their own turf, with many in singing along to every word.
“We were booked at the same time as an Umphree’s set, though. So, we were extremely anxious to see if we were going to have a decent crowd. I remember walking on stage letting out a huge sigh of relief, looking out into the vast gathering of people ready to share the moment with us,” recalled Allan of EGi. They played one of the more intimate stages of the festival at the Campfire Stage. All day long a dedicated crowd of jam band lovers showed some love for the smaller acts. And EGi had no trouble building off of their energy, you could really tell they felt at home playing Summer Camp.
After the incredible lineup on Saturday, it was time to gear up for another day of great music for the final day of the festival. One of the biggest draws for Summer Camp attendees is the presence of resident jam band Umphrey’s McGee. Something special happens with fans of Umphrey’s, and they have that kind of cult attraction that bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish have garnered over the last half a century. The band has roots in nearby Chicago and consists of Brendan Bayliss (Guitar), Joel Cummins (Keyboard/Vocals), Ryan Stasik (Bass), Andy Farag (Percussion), Jake Cinniger (Guitar/Vocals), and Kris Myers (Drums/Vocals). While the band plays throughout the weekend, we caught their daytime set at the Sunshine Stage. A performance by Umph is unforgettable, with fans showing up decked out in their full merch to show support. An Umphrey’s fan even sported a full chicken costume complete with an Umph Love sticker to rock out front row. If you want to check out some of their magic you can find them playing a two night event in St. Louis at the Pageant this September.
At every music festival, there is a hope that you can leave the festival discovering some new music you wouldn’t have found on your own. At Summer Camp, Sound of STL fell in love with the Pimps of Joytime. The Pimps are a mix of Brooklyn and New Orleans in every sense, including origin. Their full bodied performance left attendees grooving along as a nice mid-day treat on Sunday. It was a perfect mix for the festival because their soulful and lyrical music has a strong base in jam and funk. They are like a fun mix between STS9’s most recent album, Universe Inside, and the String Cheese Incidient. While the music is amazing in itself, the band is completely visually captivating.
While the men of the group are solidly talented and easy on the eyes, including Brian J (Lead Vocals/Guitar) who is more than suave, the ladies give an energy that is unforgettable. Not only was Mayteana Morales (Vocals/Percussion) radiantly performing on her hand drums, but Kim Dawson (Vocals/Percussion) exudes pure joy as she sings along, vibing just as much as the crowd with a full smile on her face. The Pimps of Joytime are definitely an artist to look out for.
One surprising artist on the lineup was Waka Flocka, who has been a recent feature on various festival lineups including Electric Forest later this June. The radio superstar attracted a huge crowd of party animals for his late afternoon set. While his DJ hyped up the crowd for a solid 10 to 15 minutes, the energy in the open field rose as fans began to shake the security barrier and splash water overhead to cool off the people nearby. By the time Waka Flocka came on stage the people were ready to party. While he was a controversial artist for many attendees, there was no doubt that it was good times all around at his set. St. Louisans looking to catch him in action can see him at The Pageant on July 20th.
As Sunsquabi began a beautiful performance during the sunset, we geared up to head out for the end of a beautiful weekend. While Summer Camp started off with a storm that would test anyone’s strength, the party held out for a full two days of gorgeous warm and sunny weather. For any St. Louisan looking for a weekend getaway, Summer Camp Music Festival is the perfect opportunity for a low stress trip. Their Sunday day passes make it even more accessible for those who do not want to commit to the full weekend of camping. If this year’s lineup was any sign of the future, we cannot wait to see what comes next year from Summer Camp. At the end of the day we know we can rely on some good times and a little bit of Umph Love.
Check out our photos from Summer Camp Music Festival for more from the memorial day weekend festivities (Please credit Sound of STL):