Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The making of Summer Camp (Rated R)

“There was a lot of tolerance for psychosis.” This statement comes from the History Channel show called Hippies. And though I'm not old enough to personally have experienced hippieness in its original state, I'm pretty familiar with its demented child... er, i mean its modern remnants.

Having not seen the History Channel program, I can't really comment on its content. But, as to the quoted bit of text above, I can say with certainty that psychosis is still tolerated, if not encouraged, in the community.

I spent Memorial Day weekend down in Chillicothe, Ill. at the neo/pseudo-hippie Summer Camp music festival, where approximately 10,000 people gather every year to camp, cook, imbibe, and smoke, and listen to some subpar bands. And, oh yeah, there's the portapotties, or "Little Johnnies" if you prefer, which, at certain horrifying parts of the weekend, inevitably end up filled to the brim with a foul brew of modern-day hippieness.

It was my third Summer Camp. Mostly I've been prodded into going every year. See, I used to be into the whole jamband scene, back when the bands were pretty good. I've seen Phish more times than I care to count, and I've seen scores of other noodly shows. But it got to the point where I felt most of the bands were either poor Phish/Dead imitators or just terrible, terrible songwriters and singers. While a few good bands still grace the scene, I now prefer my noodles in the form of unbleached whole wheat flour and appendages.

Don't get me wrong: I absolutely love improvisation, which is at the root of the type of music that hits the festival circuit every summer. But it's gotta be good, productive improvisation that takes you on a journey and challenges you to question the fabric of reality. I know, I'm a demanding listener, but that's what improvisation is to me. While not the worst of the bunch, Moe. and Umphrey's McGee, the "headliners" of Summer Camp, are far from challenging. And most of the lesser known bands suck even more. I enjoyed three sets of music all weekend (Drop Q, Brainchild, and Toubab Krewe), two of which I already knew I was going to enjoy. All of this detail is to explain just what mediocrity composes the modern hippie experiment.

It's pretty sad. All the drugs (and then some) of the original hippie movement flood the fields of modern festivals. And people just don't know how to take their drugs responsibly. Granted, this year wasn't as bad because the authorities cracked down pretty hard, but still, almost every drug you could think of was available without a prescription, no matter your age or mental state. In fact, I'd say drugs take center stage at these festivals, with the music an afterthought or, in some cases, a vehicle for the drug user.

And this is where psychosis is still tolerated. People want to trip so bad that they're willing to take all kinds of things in liquid, powder, and solid form on the word of complete strangers--many of whom are there mostly to bank. Then the trippers run around all night doing weird things until they're so strung out all they can do is walk around like zombies and fall into people's tents. (It never fails; I always see someone crash into someone's tent at a festival.)

And then you've got the folks who think they are the gatekeepers of love and can see into the souls of everyone. They'll tell you your aura is bad or good (and then you're totally pegged!), or they'll talk about lightning bolts coming out of necks (not making this one up--no joke) and other such what I presume to be vague derivatives of vague derivatives of Eastern religion/philosophy that they use to establish their superiority.

And then there's the portapotties. While sanitation is probably one of the most crucial advances in our society, some people at Summer Camp don't care. They stuff all kinds of random stuff into the poop and pee receptacles, causing the latter to often clog, which is especially fun at night. Oh yeah, and let's not forget that someone always feels obligated to smear their crap around in there; don't know how or why, but it happens a lot.

Anyway, psychosis is the only plausible explanation for some of these actions. And people obviously love it: just consider the yearly increase in attendance for Summer Camp and other larger festivals like Bonnaroo. It's the modern incarnation of Woodstock. Hippies left a bad legacy in this regard.

All that said, this was my favorite Summer Camp. All our neighbors were awesome and kind (for a change) and there appeared to be less unstable druggies wandering around menacing others. Still, this will probably be my last Summer Camp. I'd rather spend my money on other, more satisfying experiences.

I'll take peace and love and communal living and jamming and saving the earth and enjoying myself--just without all the weirdness. Come on, you pseudo-hippies, it's not too late: don't bolster the Nuge's position, OK?

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