Day one at Summer Camp was full of fatigue and excitement, in that precise order.
We arrived early afternoon on Friday in the midst of many other campers’ arrival, although some festival goers had moved in as early as Thursday afternoon. At the box office, contrary to what one would expect, the will call line moved exceptionally slow. After waiting an unexpected hour in the sun for my ticket, my unprotected shoulders got their first taste of sunburn before I had even crossed the gate.
I can’t say the Summer Camp veterans didn’t warn me, but the extreme distance from the parking lot to the camping field can’t be stressed enough. A cart, wagon, wheel barrow, or some other mechanism for transporting camp gear is essential. I repeat: DO NOT GO TO SUMMER CAMP WITHOUT A WAGON.
Summer Camp works extra hard to keep their festival clean. And by clean, I mean free of drugs and drunk people. After having attended numerous festivals of varying size with relatively lax security at all of them (Bonnaroo included), I was shocked to have every bag and cooler individually searched as I carried it through the gate. Aside from the natural confiscation of illegal substances, Summer Camp also kept every single beer and bottle of liquor they found over the course of the weekend. That’s right, folks. Absolutely no outside alcoholic beverages may be brought into Summer Camp.
But don’t worry. They have beer for sale inside at a cool $30/six-pack. Furthering the absurdity, the beer was sold in glass bottles. Even when festivals do allow their guests to bring their own alcohol, they restrict it to cans and plastic for obvious safety reasons. Come on, Summer Camp. After 10 years of doing this, I thought you’d have a better grip on things.
So, approximately four hours after I parked my car in the field and after three trips of lugging coolers and other gear from the lot to my campsite in the blazing sun, I was physically drained before I had made it to a single show. And I didn’t even have a cold beer waiting for me in my cooler.
THE FESTIVAL OFFICIALLY BEGINS
With the worst of it all behind us, my friend and I were ready for some music. We erected our tent to the swampy blues of The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band playing on the nearby Sunshine Stage. During trips to and from the car, I caught bits and pieces of Papadosio as we hauled gear past the Campfire Stage, but were never able to stop and listen. With camp only 50% put together and the clock already past 6 p.m., it was time to leave if we were going to see Midwest Hype.
Entering the wooded area at nighttime in search of the Camping Stage made me feel like Link stumbling into The Lost Woods on his quest for Zelda. The main arteries of the forest were lined with people traveling to and from shows, making the pathways barely navigable. Campsites lined every inch of every trail and hidden lanes led deep into the trees, revealing cul-de-sacs of tent cities. Glow sticks, lights, and lamps were everywhere. Constant chatter, laughter, and general ruckus-making could be heard from every direction, but determining the origin of any noise was impossible.
After a quick jam session with Midwest Hype (including my favorite song, Ben’s Kitchen Blues), I made my way to The Moonshine Stage where Yonder Mountain String Band was playing. Situated at the bottom of a wide-open hill of sand and dirt, the stage was lit up with a sea of lights, observable to me only through a cloud of dust from the top of the hill. The crowd was large and rowdy. With little time to spare before another Indiana band played elsewhere, I left almost as soon as I arrived.
Back at the Camping Stage, after another trippy tour of the woods, The Twin Cats were in full swing. Blow-up animals were resting on top of the tent, but were quickly pulled down and tossed amongst the fans. I saw familiar faces from past Twin Cats shows in Indy; it was a comforting feeling to share the Summer Camp experience with fellow local music supporters.
From there, I led my unsuspecting friend to her first-ever exposure to Bassnectar over at The Starshine Stage. Having seen him at The Vogue in February, I had an idea of what we would experience, but was honestly just as unprepared as she. The outside venue increased capacity exponentially and enhanced the visual effects beyond comprehension. From afar, the sea of ravers was illuminated with circulating LED hoops, waving glow sticks, and endless sets of twirling poi’s that looked like an intergalactic, neon carnival. Nearing the stage, the Bassnectar set separated itself from others with intense white light, rather than soft multi-color lasers. The strobes, in perfect sync with the sound, created a feeling of anxiousness that was counteracted by the grimey, super-danceable, glitchy dubstep being cranked out of the DJ equipment.
My night ended across the street at the only Umphrey’s McGee show I attended all weekend- a warm and friendly light show to wind down with before bedtime. Returning to my tent, I remembered the state of distress we had left our home in hours ago. Too tired to care, I balled up on the cold, hard floor with zero energy left in my reserves to even change clothes. Saturday morning would be here before I knew it.
Continue reading: Day Two at Summer Camp.