This was our first year at Summer Camp, and there were a bunch of bands I was excited to see. So my expectations were high. I got to see most of the bands on my list, and all that I did see were as good or better than I was expecting. But, Christ… the heat? Almost unbearable. It practically drained the life from me. But, once again, I was saved by rock n roll… plus some new strategies for staying cool when you’re spending entire days out in unshaded, 90+ degree heat. Here are some of the bands and artists that made Summer Camp a special musical experience for me.
Keller Williams, Friday, May 25, Moonshine Stage, 2:45 – 3:45
Keller Williams is a one man show, like no other. He plays guitar, bass, and brings digital programming and loops into the mix, including layers of harmony vocals he’s built in advance. I’ve enjoyed every show I’ve seen him play. He’s incredibly interesting to watch – especially considering it’s just one dude, and he doesn’t even bite a bat’s head off or anything to keep the crowd entertained.
You can listen to the whole set over at the Live Music Archive by clicking the link above. My two personal favorites were “Freaker By The Speaker” and “Doobie In My Pocket”, both of which I’ve seen him play before. They both brought smiles to my face.
It was during Keller’s set that our strategy for staying cool and properly enjoying the festival came together. Which is odd, because we’ve done this before. My theory is that the sheer number of stages threw us off. There were just so many fuckin’ stages at this festival. In fact, it’s one of the things Summer Camp promotes – how many bands and how many stages they have. It was a little overwhelming, to be honest. Way too much movement required.
In any event, our strategy became: Whenever we decamped and headed for a stage, we brought our lawn chairs, a small cooler, our camera gear, and set up camp at every stage, before the show we were there to see. Then I would head up to the photo pit, take a few shots, while Sab kept the new base camp under control. So we didn’t exactly do this for Keller, but we found the shadiest spot to kick it, far back from the stage, but still with good sight lines and audio coverage. [More photos of Keller Williams at Summer Camp]
Weir, Robinson, Greene Acoustic Trio, Friday, May 25, Sunshine Stage, 5:00 – 6:15
Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. And the should-be-more-famous Jackie Greene. Now touring together as an acoustic trio. I hadn’t seen them together before, so they were high on my list of bands to see. They started things off with “Truckin'”, a common and loved show starter for the Grateful Dead and the bands that have come after – Furthur, RatDog, Phil and Friends, etc.
The rest of the set – all hour and a half – was a mix of songs that I would have killed to see at a Ratdog or Furthur. “West LA Fadeaway” was one of the highlights for me. They creep into the song. On “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, Greene plays mandolin. Outstanding.
The idea for the trio likely grew out of the Furthur and Friends show for Phil’s 70th birthday, which saw Greene and Robinson joining Furthur to amp up the celebration. In fact, I saw them do New Speedway Boogie at both shows. An acoustic Boogie was a treat. Jackie Greene is the multi instrumentalist in the band. In addition to rhythm and lead guitar, he plays mandolin and the occasional harmonica. Weir and Robinson stick to acoustic guitar. And, obviously, they all do vocals – harmonies on the choruses, and they mostly take turns on singing the verses. This one is also available on the Live Music Archive (link above). [More photos of Weir, Robinson, Greene Acoustic Trio at Summer Camp]
I’d seen MathGames once before. The first time was at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. They had Ray White with them then, and they covered Frank Zappa’s “City of Tiny Lights”. They had the same uniforms on – some sort of white coveralls that couldn’t have been comfortable to be playing in the Chillicothe heat. My son had his tonsils out the other day, and now I’m pretty sure they’re wearing the same thing my son’s mom wore to observe the beginning of the surgery – at least until the boy was sedated. Anyway, maybe one of them is a surgeon in his day job?
I don’t know quite how to classify MathGames’ music. There’s jazz in there, a hefty dose of progressive rock, minus the choruses and verses. Space age jazz rock? No, four words is too many… Space jazz? Not quite right, either. I give up. For now, I’ll just describe the band. Fareed Haque is the driving force behind the band. He’s a unique and respected jazz guitar player, steeped in the 80s jazz fusion, and now a music professor in Illinois. Two younger Chicago musicians making up the rhythm section – Alex Austin on bass, and Greg Fundis on drums. And a new, permanent (?) addition to the band, Jesse Clayton on keyboards, coming to the band from Ann Arbor’s own Macpodz.
The good news is that I found a video of MathGames at Summer Camp. Prepare yourself for some, um, space prog…? Yeah, that doesn’t work either. Just watch the video!
For both MathGames and JC Brooks, we managed to score the best seats in the house. A gracious beer vendor had set up a sun shelter, and since no one was using it, we set up camp there for a couple of hours. The chairs, the beer cooler, etc. Plus shade in the noonday sun. Which was brutal! Brutal, I say!
But it was all worth it. Brooks is a charismatic frontman, and The Uptown Sound is a tight, accomplished band. Brooks has some stories to tell, and he weaves them through the songs in their set list. “I Got High”, for example.
Their Wilco cover – “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” is outstanding. They turn the song in a completely different direction. And it was the song I was really looking forward to hearing (we highlighted a version in our Summer Camp Music Sampler, you might recall). JC and the band funk it up a bit, and JC pulls the heartache in the song fully to the surface (the Wilco version hides it behind a lot of thrashing guitar riffs and noise).
Unfortunately, I can’t find a recording of their set, which is very frustrating. They have a liberal taping policy, so I kind of expected it out there. No YouTube videos, either! They are a band you’ll want to see if they come to your neck of the woods. [More photos of JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound at Summer Camp]
Common was at the top of my list of bands to see. I don’t get to see enough live hip hop, and I thought a festival would be the perfect environment for it. And I’ve been a huge fan of Common’s since I saw him with Kanye West on the Dave Chappelle show. His new record, The Believer/The Dreamer, is great. He played a few songs from that, but otherwise wove through catalogue highlights from the last 10 years or so of his work. He had a drummer, a keyboard player, and a DJ on stage with him.
Common used the length of the stage to engage the audience and drive his verses home. And the crowd loved him! There were enough hardcore Common fans to pack the stage area, from the soundboard forward. I was amazed at all the people spitting out the verses with Common, too. I mean, I know parts of verses from the Common records I have. But even if I knew them by heart, I don’t think I could get my mouth to move that fast, and if I did, I’d run out of breath before I got through a single verse. But it was really cool to see the crowd rocking with Common like that. I vote for more hip hop artists at festivals.
PS: Towards the end of the set, he said “lookout for the new album, coming soon” and he rattles off some of the people involved, starting off with Kanye West. Which could be good.
Another bonus from the YouTubes. Here’s Common doing a freestyle over a slice of the beat for “Otis” from Watch The Throne.
I’d only heard of Anders Osborne recently, via Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and their work together recreating The Rolling Stones‘ Sticky Fingers. So I didn’t know any of his solo work going in, but the Sticky Fingers work impressed me enough that I circled him on my festival schedule. I’m glad I did, because he was the best discovery of the festival for me.
Osborne played right after Common over at the Campfire Stage, so we had to decamp and move quickly to catch his set. What we heard was just great rock n roll. Well crafted songs writ large by a three piece band, with extended soloing over a rugged rock n roll terrain. Neil Young through the filter of New Orleans. Sort of. What was interesting is that he just released a new album at the beginning of May – Black Eye Galaxy – and he didn’t play a single song from it. Just one song from his album before that, American Patchwork. The song was “I Got Your Heart”, my personal favorite from that album (which I bought, along with the new one, when I got back from Summer Camp). He introduced it this way:
“Alright. Here’s a little song I wrote for my wife when I was in rehab last.”
Lucky for us, someone captured a few songs from their set on video, and posted it to YouTube. Here’s one, for the song “Burning On The Inside”. About 4:20 into the clip, Osborne starts playing this riff that builds into a nice solo, with good support from Eric Bolivar (drums) and Carl Dufrene (bass).