Summer Camp’s 20th: A Festival Pioneer Celebrates Milestone With Jamming Virtual Event

Summer Camp
– Summer Camp

A North American festival pioneer this year celebrates its 20th anniversary as the jam band soiree known as Summer Camp Music Festival has quickly organized a virtual event for Memorial Day weekend while still hoping to hold the proper outdoor festival in its usual home of Chillicothe, Ill., Aug. 21-23.

Scheduled May 22-24, Summer Camp’s “Virtual Festival: A 20 Year Retrospective” is hosted by Andy Frasco and Jonathan Schwartz, featuring a mix of live and pre-recorded performances, workshops, panel discussions, live Q&A’s and interviews along with throwback sets from the past.

For a festival in North America to run as long as Summer Camp – which arrived before Bonnaroo and the current iteration of Lollapalooza – is notable in itself, as so many have come and gone along with ever-changing trends, demographics and, often, financial stability.

Also notable is how Summer Camp has stuck to its roots, with jam-band mainstays like .moe and Umphrey’s McGee still serving as “host bands” and on board from the very beginning.

“That has been a secret to our success, being able to maintain that core,” says Ian Goldberg of Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment, which has produced the event from its inception. “But another part of why we’re able to keep going is we have kind of spread our wings to encompass other things. Starting with ‘08 we had Willie Nelson, which was a huge leap for us, to bring someone of that stature. Subsequently, we brought people like Zac Brown Band, Jane’s Addiction and more rock stuff, up to the extreme of Clutch. We’ve certainly varied the genres quite a bit.”

The event was primed for the wave of electronic music that took off in the mid 2000s, with early festival slots from would-be stars like Bassnectar and Girl Talk, which positioned it well to keep growing into the 2010s.

“Electronic music made total sense with the audience we had,” adds Goldberg, who leads talent buying for the event. “Bassnectar was playing electronic music but it had an appeal to that crowd. Girl Talk took off all of a sudden, and became big by mashing up songs everyone knew, so it was an interesting festival set that really crushed. Luckily, right when that boom had happened, we had already started in that vein, and then [now-Paradigm agent] Lee Anderson came to us and wanted Skrillex on the festival. By the time he played Summer Camp he was getting mainstage offers from major festivals around the world.”

Among the artists on tap for the 2020 Virtual Festival are Umphrey’s McGee, Zac Brown Band, Trey Anastasio Band, notable alums like Big Gigantic and Yonder Mountain String Band, upstarts like the red-hot Goose, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and more. It’s co-produced with “Live From Out There,” spearheaded by 11E1even Management’s Ben Baruch and Dave Dicianni.
Subsquabi’s Kevin Donohue says it’s important for the artist to community to support events like Summer Camp, which have given bands like his a huge platform over the years.

“From the artist perspective, the people behind festivals and venues are very important and friends that have helped us connect with people across the country,” Donohue, whose band is managed by 11E1even’s Kyle Day, tells Pollstar.  
“We’re seeing a lot of that happen, people reaching out and helping each other. Despite such a horrible thing happening, there’s still a lot of community. It’s been heartbreaking seeing so many major gigs canceled one week after the next, and it’s going to be a very long tough summer for a lot of people.”
Sunsquabi’s set from last year’s Summer Camp is being re-created for the virtual Summer Camp, with the festival having a multi-cam recording of the show and Subsquabi providing the soundboard recording. 
“Working with the Live From Out There team has been great,” Goldberg says. “Ben and Dave are good friends of Summer Camp, and we knew we had this great concept of what we wanted to do content wise, but we were already late in the game for this massive undertaking and had no idea how the streaming would work, so teaming up with them with their experience in the live-streaming space really is what made this all possible.” 
Tickets are available through streaming platform LiveXLive. Weekend passes are $25, with a portion of proceeds going toward HeadCount, Conscious Alliance and Backline. 
The coronavirus has surely put a damper on the outdoor music festival season in particular. Goldberg says 2020 was shaping up to be maybe its biggest yet, adding that ticket sales were on pace to reach about 25,000.  
The August event is still hopeful of happening, with a lineup featuring .moe, Umphrey’s, Ween, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Billy Strings, Three 6 Mafia, scarypoolparty, and STS9 among many others, but all Goldberg can do for now is wait and hope.
Summer Camp’s story is one of resilience, not being in a major market that attracts the big branding partnerships. Goldberg notes,“Luckily we tend to work with artists that get that and recognize the value in the committed fan.”
Another challenge is the plethora of events taking place in major urban areas where a fan may attend a single day and enjoy the rest a city has to offer, rather than a full camping destination festival. “There certainly are some artists that simply don’t make sense for the festival, as their fanbase isn’t going to do that,” he acknowledges.
 “But what I think really shines through about Summer Camp is really that family spirit that we’ve had since year one,” Goldberg adds. “Once you’re in, you feel like you’re at home for the weekend. It really is a callback to the old-style festival, the European camping style or even Woodstock and things like that. We’re able to re-create that vibe, and luckily people still connect with it.”