The 2012 Festival Season Begins
So here we sit, Thursday afternoon, oozing with anticipation as Memorial Day Weekend begins to turn the corner. We squirm around at our office desks, spinning in our chairs and staring at a clock whose hands refuse to move. We gaze out the window during lecture, compulsively monitoring our mobile devices in search of some sort of scouting report. Any sign of life from those lucky enough to have already been set free. Some of us come from across the country, others from around the state. For many of us, this weekend marks the beginning of a new season. Festival Season. Each year we drive out to the same place, our cars packed to the brim, ready to kick off summer the right way. Each year we haul hundreds of pounds of gear across a lumpy grass parking lot until we can barely walk. We inhale handfuls of dirt, sacrifice our sleep for days and nights on end, eat soggy PB&J’s and drink warm beer. We skip showering for days and shit in the most offensive bathroom conditions known to man. Why? For the love of music. And that one unifying factor, that one element of passion that causes so many people from so many walks of life to converge upon this one special place at this one special moment in time, is a thing of true beauty.
It was Thursday evening by the time I rolled in to Chillicothe. The sun was just beginning to set over top the Big Red Barn and the parking lot was already becoming overcrowded with vehicles that had license plates of all different colors. The local and state police were having a field day as the music junkies started rolling into town. K-9 unit after K-9 unit I saw sniffing around each trembling vehicle. One Coloradoan offered me an eyewitness account after he was safely inside the gates. Apparently $250 in cash kickback is enough to avoid possession of marijuana charges. The filthy bastards… turning into the same armed robbers they’ve sworn to protect us from.
From the furthermost corner of the parking lot, I huffed, puffed, and hauled my way towards the entrance, stopping every 30 yards or so to let my muscles recuperate. Hearing Digital Tape Machine off in the distance and watching people zip past me with their crafty little wheeled contraptions made the situation that much more difficult. But amidst the pain and lack of sufficient oxygen, I suddenly realized that Summer Camp had begun. My nerves were put to rest.
The city of Chicago boasts one of the greatest live music scenes in the country. Below you’ll catch a glimpse of a few bands that we are privileged enough to call our own. Be sure you get out and support these groups whenever you have the chance, for they are the ones keeping this great scene of ours alive and well.
I headed straight for the Starshine Stage for a date with Van Ghost. If there was anything that could have put a little wind into my sails at this point in the afternoon, it was VG. The dynamic singing duo of Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman soothes even the achiest of souls while Grant Tye’s soaring lead guitar work lifts you high into the sky. Klem Hayes, the backbone of it all, upholds the low end with a sure swagger while Michael Harrison Berg steers the ship like a naturally born front-man.
They were brilliant at times, like they always are. Songs like “Easy On Me” and “Fortune Teller” absolutely ripped. They both felt jammed out and, naturally, Shreddy Kreuger (Tye) went mad. But after seeing them so many times I feel like there is a little bit of an identity crisis brewing. There were some songs that felt like they eased up too much. There was too much of their older, more poppy energy. I noticed some people wandering away when they played a couple more ballad-esque songs and it was kind of a bummer, because the previous songs were potent and obviously grabbed their attention. After seeing this happen, it was clear that they oughta stay on the progression towards a harder edged sound. These are the songs that drive me to see Van Ghost and, really, the reason why I’ve accumulated so much pure love and admiration for them. VG is one of my favorite bands when they are hitting it — one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands I know of. They have the potential to make some huge waves this year but I think they need to play an entire festival set that grabs people by the ears and doesn’t let them leave.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Strange Arrangement is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. These guys have progressed at an outstanding pace over the past few years, undoubtedly launching themselves into the Chicago music scene’s top tier. There is one thing that always seems to grab my attention with this band, and that is their positivity. In the oversaturated market of jam music, there are so many bands that begin to sound the same. It’s like a giant blender that sucks in full bands and spits out some tasteless, homogenous, jam milkshake. But Strange Arrangement stands out. They stand out because of the feel of their music… because of it’s positivity and it’s bright and uplifting texture. I don’t recall too many bands in this same vein that make me feel this happy.
My first show of the weekend was Cornmeal. A serving of Cornmeal is an essential piece of any Summer Camp diet. If you aren’t getting your mind blown to bits and pieces by some of the most psychedelic, rock-infused jamgrass music on the planet at least once daily, then you’re not doing it right. Fiddle extraordinaire Allie Kral is probably the most in-demand musician at this entire festival, sitting in on countless sets of music over the course of the weekend, and slaying each and every one of them.
This woman has the quickest hands and the hottest fiddle that I have ever seen in my life to be quite honest. But of all the bands she guests with, Cornmeal allows her to shine the brightest. With Kris Nowak playing his explosive, explorative, and effected style of bluegrass guitar with more enthusiasm in his pinky finger than most have in their entire body, this band becomes a serious force to be reckoned with. Thursday night’s set contained an outright sinister version of “Rise Above” as well as a wild interpretation of Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” that made me want to climb into a tree stand wearing nothing but camouflage pants, and pull back on the first large animal to cross my path. The Nuge will do that to you.
(we now interrupt this section to let Alli Bertucci expand on one of Soundfuse’s favorite Local Heroes: Future Rock)