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Summer Camp 2008 set the bar for all other summer festivals, and set it pretty high. This year festival organizers pulled out all the stops. They pieced together an impressive slew of genre-spanning bands that filled the weekend with enough musical highlights to fulfill an average music fans entire summer. It was also a prime example of how the fest has evolved from its humble beginnings into a monster event. All three days were jam-packed with a variety of quality music, and here are just some of the many highlights.

Late Night Thursday

The late night action featured sets from three of the scene’s up-and-comers: U-Melt, Family Groove Company and Future Rock. Notable moments came via a nasty funk/disco jam from U-Melt towards the end of their set; a solid front-to-back set from the Chicago-based FGC that showcased the rapping style of bassist-vocalist Janis Wallin; and a wild late night dance-off from Future Rock.


The early morning downpour couldn’t dampen the spirits of the thirsty music fans. sub-ID, the Nashville by way of Chicago trio, laid down their blend of funky electronic dance grooves to the receptive masses on the Sunshine Stage. Their use of sampled sequences with live bass and drums provided a burst of energy, and also allowed the kids a chance to shake their bones after an unseasonably chilly night. Drifting toward the Starshine Stage (the new stage for 2008) shortly after sub-ID’s set, theChicago Afrobeat Project¬†were in the midst of a bouncy rhythmic centered groove. It was hard to stand still during their short set especially since it was so brisk and blustery.

After milling around the grounds, past the Trojan Tent and Guitar Hero setup, I rotated between sets from The Lee Boys, Future Rock and The Avett Brothers, and then ventured towards the main stage for Sound Tribe Sector 9’s afternoon set. It was sporadically funky and even brought out the first taste of sun, but couldn’t compete with what was going on at the Sunshine Stage, where Girl Talk was warming up.

Fully immersed in the late afternoon sun, I rushed past the throngs of curious onlookers and found myself backstage debating on whether or not I should join the all ready rabid dance party surrounding Girl Talk (a.k.a. Greg Gillis). Prior to the crazy mash-up of Metallica’s “One” and Two Live Crew’s “Ass and Tities” (which featured a cameo appearance by Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips), I joined the party. The momentum and energy onstage was infectious and exhilarating. It was clearly a personal highlight of my weekend (maybe my life), and was topped off by the set’s closer, a rare take on Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice” that featured Gillis singing the entire song.

Following Girl Talk the night excelled at a ferocious pace, and thanks to The Flaming Lips I was able to check off another of my short term goals: be a part of their wild stage show. With the confetti cannons booming, a giant LED screen covering the back of the stage, and more onstage dancers than Girl Talk, the Lips rocked! Spirited versions of “Radical,” “W.A.N.D.,” a massive sing-along of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” and the classic “She Don’t Use Jelly” all stood out. If there was one downside it was the momentum slowing between song rants from Coyne, which carried weight but seemed too preachy. At the conclusion of the Lips, I ventured down to the Main Stage just in time to catch the encore of Umphrey’s McGee’s set, a brilliant and nearly perfect version of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”

The late night entertainment on Friday was provided by Ha Ha the Moose, which featured three masked men – unofficially moe.’s Chuck Garvey (guitar) and Rob Derhak (bass) with an unknown drummer. Surrounded by inflatable penises and a tripped-out backdrop, hidden behind horned masks, the trio opened with AC/DC’s “Big Balls.” They blasted through several heavy Primus-like jams in their set before welcoming out some of Central Illinois’ finest strippers, who provided a wild peep show for the late night campers! After Ha Ha the Moose finished, Tea Leaf Green rocked ’til the wee hours. New bassist Reed Mathis was dead-on, and his interaction with guitarist Josh Clark was quite impressive.


Starting my day at the Camping Stage, I caught the tail end of St. Louis-based funk/soul centered Madahoochi. The soft, luscious vocals of keyboardist Shawn Hartung were rather pleasant for a late morning/early afternoon boogie. After the Hoochi set, I made my way to the first of two Chicago bands, starting with Family Groove Company on the Sunshine Stage. Their set was solid and highlighted by the set closer, an interesting up-tempo run through Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” After FGC, I headed towards the Main Stage for Cornmeal who rocked during the rare afternoon sun. Their last jam was a nasty, extended disco-grass throw down that segued perfectly into the Lotus set already in full swing on the Sunshine Stage.

Approaching the stage just as the group began the super funky “Tip of the Tongue,” I couldn’t help but boogie my way up towards the already massive dance party. As a unit Lotus is top-notch. Their funky groove-centered jams had the afternoon crowd moving and helped keep the blood going as the temps began to dip down again!

The second of Umphrey’s McGee’s festival set was okay and even featured a couple of guests (Mike Racky and George Jones on “Great American”), but it was the reunited Blind Melon that tweaked my interest. The decision to replace the legendary Shannon Hoon with avid Blind Melon fan Travis Warren was a tricky and risky transition, but Warren stepped up to the plate. His take on Blind Melon classics, especially “No Rain,” was impressive and eerily similar to Hoon. Their set was good, but to a hardcore Blind Melon fan it could have come off as a glorified cover band. The rest of my evening featured pieces of G. Love, The Roots and moe. before settling in for a nasty late night funkstravaganza from Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk.


Finally sunshine and warmth joined the party!

My morning opened with the bouncy funk of Iowa-city based Euforquestra. These gents kept the crowd, many of whom looked rather ragged, moving in the early afternoon heat. Their infectious polyrhythmic grooves helped this scribe, and a handful of others, sweat out a good bit of the previous day’s party and provided a lively jolt of necessary energy.

The rest of the afternoon was hot, both musically and literally. The Bloomington, IL-based Backyard Tire Fire rocked the mid-day music fans with their raw, raucous hillbilly stomp, highlighted by a fierce take on Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Over on the Main Stage, Hot Buttered Rum zipped through their set and even dropped a version Phish’s “Possum” before welcoming out moe.’s Al Schneir for a song. But, it was the lively back-to-back funk sets from Dumpstaphunk and George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic that set the day off! The intense energy from Dumpstaphunk ignited the rowdiest dance-off of the weekend, and carried seamlessly over into the Parliament set. Ivan Neville, Tony Hall and crew exploded through their set with a fury. The “Africa/New Orleans” jam was off the charts, and the interplay between the dual bass work of Hall and Nick Daniels was virtuosic and explosive, and entwined harmoniously with both Ian and Ivan Neville’s melodies.

After a brief stop over for Banyan, it was back to the Sunshine Stage for Parliament. This was the most crowded set of the weekend, and was perfect for the beaming, sun-soaked late afternoon. Classics like “Bop Gun (Endangered Species),” “We Want the Funk” and “Cosmic Slop” worked the crowd into an uncontrollable frenzy. Flashy ’70s style pimp suits, men in diapers and a plethora of band members roamed on and off the stage throughout the two-hour set. Clinton was right on with his “one nation under a groove, getting down just for the funk of it” vibe, which is exactly what transpired.

Energized by the overload of funk, moe. took the stage for their final sets of the weekend and showed why they’ve been the focus of the festival. The monster second set was ridiculous. The “Not Coming Down” > “Wormwood” > “Synchronicity” segue was slick, and during which Schneir and Garvey appeared high above their subsequent stage sides on the massive lighting rigs, where they proceeded to shred! moe., who might have been outshined earlier in the festival, stepped up their game and gave the energized crowd a wonderful send off with a seventeen-plus minute “Rebubula” encore.

I’ve seen this festival grow leaps and bounds over the last several years, and this year’s edition was the most solid lineup to date. Wayne Coyne was on to something when he mentioned how this was “one of the great festivals in America”, and hopefully it will stay that way because the bar they set this year was extremely high.

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