Music festival grows in size and diversity

Fans watch moe. during one of their sets at Summer Camp in Chillicothe, Ill., on Saturday night. Susan Kantor

Fans watch moe. during one of their sets at Summer Camp in Chillicothe, Ill., on Saturday night. Susan Kantor

By Eric Heisig

For complete coverage, including pictures and interviews, check out On The Town, The Daily Illini Entertainment blog.

As the band moe. took the stage for its last of five sets Sunday night, the crowd was at its largest. Exhaustion was in the air, which after more than three days of music, was understandable. It had been a long weekend, and bassist and vocalist Rob Derhak asked the audience to stay with them, even though they were all tired. They did.

In Chillicothe, Ill., a town of 6,000 people, the Summer Camp Music Festival comes once a year.

It has grown considerably since its inception in 2001, and this year it ballooned into a three-day event filled with music, attractions and camping.

Three Sisters Park has been home to the Summer Camp Music Festival since the beginning. Each year, there is no shortage of hippies on festival grounds, and 2008 was no exception, and along with them came an abundance of tie dye, hula hoops and a green substance festival-goers referred to as “Molly.”

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The people that come to Summer Camp are partially there to visit with each other, and it may seem that the music takes second place at times. The Campfire Stage was set up to have late night music, but large portions of the people just sat close to the fire pit nearby, talking to each other and trying to keep warm during what were some chilly nights.

Still, it was all about the music in the end, and there was no shortage of it. Headliner moe. played each of their sets to a large, rowdy crowd who threw balloons, inflatable animals and glow sticks during their performances.

When it started out, Summer Camp was a jam band festival with artists such as moe. (who play each year) and Umphrey’s McGee. As audience sizes have increased, the festival has attracted more diverse artists, such as Flaming Lips and Girl Talk, an electronic musician whose specialty is to mash up different parts of songs to create entirely new songs.

“I think I’m still strange on this bill, but I’m really into it,” said Girl Talk, aka Gregg Gillis. “I like to be an outcast, if possible.”

This year, six stages were set up in various areas around the park, including one stage in the woods where smaller acts, including Champaign’s Elsinore, performed.

“The people like good music, and not just jam band music,” said Elsinore frontman and guitarist Ryan Groff before their performance Saturday. “We will try to be good music for them.”

The more diverse lineup worked out for many of the artists. Flaming Lips, who performed Friday night at the Starshine Stage, attracted one of the largest audiences of the weekend. Their bright and psychedelic music and light-filled stage show is designed to be equally interesting to the eye and the ear. The band even went so far as to bring up naked women to dance with them during a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same.”

Michael Ivins, bassist for the Flaming Lips, said he has never been entirely sure why they have become popular with the jam band community, but he thinks part of it has to do with audiences becoming more open-minded.

Other types of artists, such as George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, attracted more people to the stage as their performance went on. Much like the Flaming Lips, their extravagant stage show seemed to be designed to open the crowd up to music they may not otherwise listen to.

Even if the audience has become open-minded, not all of the more diverse artists went over as well. Indie rock band The New Pornographers played to a smaller audience than any of the more eclectic bands, even though they were in a headlining spot.

It did not seem to bother the band, as frontman and guitarist Carl Newman said that big crowds scare him, but it seemed an odd booking choice.

Festival organizers Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment and Jam Productions booked the band in the spirit of increasing Summer Camp’s diversity, but the majority of the festival-goers did not respond by attending.

While the festival is growing larger each year, festival organizers have tried to make the bookings more diverse.

When it comes down to it, though, Summer Camp rarely strays far from its roots. If anything, this weekend proved that while the audience was willing to experience new sounds, the most popular artists reflected the music that encapsulated the festival when it started.