Intro 

Every year, thousands descend upon the small town of Chillicothe, IL for a memorial day weekend full of music, camping, and adventure. Folks come for the mud, bugs, sleeping outside and porta potties. They come with Pancake mix and and Uncrustables, hammocks and hull hoops, coolers filled with water and cereal boxes stuffed with joints. Most importantly, they come for a weekend full of music and love.

Now it’s easy to spend all your time when writing about a music festival talking about the music. However, that’s not what I think makes Summer Camp such a special shared experience for all that come. What really sets this festival apart from some of its other neighboring festivals – like Riot Fest, Pitchfork, and Lollapalooza – are all of the little things that help immerse you into your new weekend life. It’s all about the art, the oddities, the people you meet, and the adventures you accidentally stumble upon together.

As I am writing this, we have not had a chance to experience the new festival that will be Solshine Reverie, and all of my memories are of what Summer Camp was, So I will be referring to the past festivals as Summer Camp throughout the article.

Whole New Weekend Life 

Let’s start at the beginning. What is advertised as a 3-day festival is actually a 6-day experience, which starts the Wednesday before Memorial Day. If you and your friends want to get a good spot in the forest and build out your muti-tent campsite with a shared common area, you need to make sure you get there the night before to get a good spot in line.  As much as this sounds like a pain in the ass, getting to the festival more than 12 hours before doors open is actually a great way to get a taste for what’s to come. You can set up a small campsite in line to get out of the elements, talk to your neighbors and take some time to plan out your weekend. This is the perfect time to look over the app and see who is playing what stage and what workshops you may want to attend, and also plan on going to that morning yoga class you are never going to make it to.

After you get through the line and finish lugging all your gear through security, you have a really big decision ahead of you – where you should camp. This may be one of the most important parts of the journey. Do you want to camp in the forest or in the field by the stages? Do you want to camp near the camper-ran merchant market in the forest, or do you prioritize not having to walk 10 minutes to the nearest bathroom? There’s so many areas to pick from, and coming early to the pre-party will help you find a good spot to call home.

There’s something so special about being able to spend the entire weekend camped out at a festival. Now don’t get me wrong, I love going to other festivals, but there’s something about the coming and going each day and night that really brings you back to reality. At other festivals, there are a few brief moments where you are back in the world buying Taco Bell and catching up on the outside world. At Summer Camp, you are fully immersed in it all, the good and the bad. While staying outside for 5 days straight really does something to reset your soul. I will say though, a Taco Bell Cantina at Summer Camp really would hit differently. If you’re reading this Summer Camp.. please consider.

Being outside for so long really does something to you, it almost feels like a total mind reset. 5 days of being out in the elements; the rain, heat, and with limited access to electricity. Which also means having limited phone charging options. You will find yourself leaving your phone behind more often than not to preserve the battery in case you need to get a hold of someone. That means no doom scrolling, no work emails, no YouTube or Instagram. And if you don’t leave your phone alone, you will end up like me my first time, phone dead by the third day.. with no portable charger. My friend and I spent an entire day communicating by leaving notes on our tent before we finally found each other, but I guess that’s the spirit of Summer Camp after all. Be prepared to spend a full weekend off the grid, although this is not such a bad thing. Enjoy your four days with nothing to do, but maybe too much to do at the same time.

The Little things 

While your communication to the outside world may be limited, one of my favorite things about this festival is the people themselves. You are going to run into so many interesting people at Summer Camp, and you will never run out of experiences to be had. One thing I love about the festival is the more years you come, the more you will notice the same people returning. You will run into people like “Dancing Man,” who you can always count on finding somewhere in the crowd dancing his heart out. You will always find him dressed in the most amazing outfits, with his arms adorned in wristbands of past Summer Camps. Or the guy who wears watermelons on his head all weekend. He never turns down a portrait whenever I see him. One of my favorite memories has to be when I was sitting around the campfire one evening, and I look over to see a man dressed as the Riddler talking to someone Dressed as the Joker. The best part is that they clearly didn’t know each other, but they seemed to really hit it off regardless. That’s what the festival is all about.

Summer camp is full of a lot of really odd but strangely beautiful moments like that. One second you are tripping in the warmth of a 5 foot tall fire pit listening to Sun Stereo play over your shoulder, the next you’re in the middle of a DC movie. If there’s one thing this weekend will do is leave a mark. I remember walking through mud pits in sandals to get a breakfast burrito, running off with a group of people to find a juggling master who ditched their workshop, waking up in my tent to the sound of EDM and wind hitting fire, only to find a fire juggler feet from my tent at 2 in the morning. I remember eating pancakes in the morning half dead from the night before, and someone fell 10 feet from his hammock tent in front of me, only to see him in great spirits in his wheelchair on his way to see Three Six Mafia. I remember falling asleep in my hammock at midnight listening to the sounds of EDM and bluegrass competing in the distance while the wind blew the leaves in the trees above me. I can barely remember what I did yesterday, but my weekends at Summer Camp will always stay with me. 

The Mornings

The early mornings of Summer Camp is truly one of the most peaceful moments you will ever get to experience.. that is if you wake up early enough to experience it. This is the time where you get a break from the steady sound of music from the big stages battling against each other. When you can get a life saving breakfast burrito and meal prep your joints for the day. Nobody is drinking or getting crazy, everyone just wants to make pancakes on their griddles and talk to their friends that they only get to see once a year. Its a great time to take advantage of one of the best things this festival has to offer on – their workshops. They have so many volunteer instructors to run classes for those who are interested. You can take mushroom forging classes, juggling lessons, hear stories and watch dances from some of the local tribal leaders. This is the time where you really get to learn what kind of kind and wonderful souls who grace Summer Camp every year and it wouldn’t be possible without our gracious volunteers.

This is also the best time to really admire the art that is being made around you. At the center of the festival is the Solshine tent. This tent is the “Gallery” space of the festival. While it has a stage, and some of my favorite acts, off to the side you will find that they have many artists artwork up for display. You will find beautiful woodcarvings, paintings, drawings and more on display. Once you venture out from here, you will start seeing plenty of painters and muralists setup through out the park. Many will be set up right on the sides of the crowds at some of the bigger stages painting along to the music. Also during this time you might notice many of the giant art installations installed around the park. Most of these are built for the night time but you can’t help but take in the beautiful pieces that they are.

Beyond visual art, this is also the time to find the many amazing performers. The fire jugglers, hula hoopers, dancers and cosplayers. There are so many talented people that come to let their creative juices flow for the weekend. People that will not think twice to share their passion with you. There are so many truly talented artists that come here every year for this beautiful weekend.

Now it’s time to head back into the forest. Mornings in the forest are the perfect way to start your day. Spending a couple of hours to yourself, walking around the miles of paths, seeing all of the love and care that go into the campsites and more. People build out entire communities; bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms. All within the forest. Some people will be hanging out, meditating or reading. Some will even be sleeping for the night while others are just kicking back and enjoying the beautiful weather in their hammock. This is how I experienced Lorde’s Solar Power album for the first time, at 8am, laying in my hammock under a tree. And yes, I did snap this polaroid at that exact moment so I could remember it.

The Night

Things really start to liven up once the sun goes down over the festival. This is the time where you see just how much thought and care went into the dressing of the forest and the rest of the campgrounds. You will start noticing all of the LED figures and strands flowing all through out the trees, guiding you across the dark paths to the multiple stages. These are very important for getting around the forest at night. When you are half awake at 2am trying to find your way back to your tent, its easier to think “go past the giant butterfly and take a right at the floating jellyfish” then trying to remember actual directions. This is also the time that the big headlines will start going on. Everyone will be out at this time, so be ready for some big crowds at this point.

You will start to see people truly becoming themselves during this time as everyone dresses up to represent exactly how they want to be seen. There is no judgement at a place like this. The crowds at the stages will be filled with a healthy mix of ravers, jam band enthusiasts, families, and everyone in-between. One of my favorite things about being in these crowds has to be the totems. You will see them scattered through the crowd, they are giant poles, decorated so your party can always find you in the crowd. It’s fun to see what groups make it to the same shows you are going to, and to see them come back year after year.

Lets say after a long day you are looking for a break from the music for a little bit and want to see what the night has to offer. I suggest taking a ride on one of the many tractor rides that are circling the park. One of my favorite things to do is hop on and ride it in circles, just watching everything happening around me. If sitting on the back of a tractor isn’t your thing, then I would recommend taking a walk to the center of the festival, the field next to the Solshine tent. It’s here that you will find numerous interactive art pieces and performers. In the previous years I’ve went, they had a giant lit up carousel filled with swings. Right next to it was a meditation tent filled with gongs and cymbals, where you sit in a circle while the instructors take you through a guided sound meditation. The festival is filled with things like this. They have silent raves in the forest, barter system casinos, magical forest setups, light up murals and statues, and communal hammocks at every turn. This fest is really personalized to make sure that everyone is having a great time, no matter what they are there for.

Conclusion 

I hope I was able to give you a good idea of what to expect at this year’s Solshine Reverie Festival. If you enjoyed my stories and the polaroids I sprinkled through out this article, make sure to check the full gallery below. While a multi-day camping festival might be intimidating for some, I highly recommend anyone who likes to go to festivals to try it out at least once in their lives. It truly is a magical weekend filled with nothing but love and music. The newly Re-imagined Solshine Reverie opens their gates for the first time on May 24th. All Solshine tickets will have camping included, with the option of additional add-ons including VIP upgrades, the Thursday pre-party pass, as well as RV and car camping spots. Make sure to check out the full lineup on the Solshine website, where you can find more information on the festival. 

Visit Solshine’s website for tickets and further information. For inquiries, contact info@solshinereverie.com

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Photographer, Videographer, and Mastermind for Roadhouse. Likes his dog Elton and leftover pizza.
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