[edit: Sumo-Chop is my homage to the Chop imortalized by Atlanta Braves fans. I've always just found the chop to be hugely humorous.]
After a debate over whether or not I’d drive or take the train there, Katie and I agreed that travel to Schaumburg from our north-side villa would be much easier by car. We arrived shortly after 1:30, and New Monsoon had been warming up the crowd for a small time. I was thoroughly impressed by the fullness of their sound–I don’t really think it has come through in any of the recordings I’ve heard. I was enjoying the heat, the sun (with SPF 48 on), my sweat (a lot of it), and the $5 Coronas (with two limes, please). Michael Franti came out and did a couple little freestyles over some good New Monsoon jammin’, so it was a great little warmup before we got situated for the Keller Williams set at 2:00 p.m.
Keller came out and starting tuning up right when Katie and I arrived at our spot up front. It was unbelievably easy to walk right up. I was so easily pleased with the amount of room that we had while Keller was warming up. My highlight was easily his cover of Gin and Juice ; it was just hilarious. Hilarious, yet musically friggin’ AMAZING! Billy Nershi came out and sat it on one tune and the boys from New Monsoon came out for another tune. It is very obvious that the collaborations were flowing.
We decided to hang back for the Michael Franti and Spearhead set. I had just seen them at Summercamp, and judging from what we heard from our seats in the shade, it was an identical set. When I say identical, I really mean it, too. He even had his “anti-war” speech intro that he gave at Summercamp, so Katie and I were pretty sure we weren’t missing much in that department. I mean, I really dig Michael Franti’s high spirit, energy, and attitude. But this HOW YOU FEELIN’!? can get a little ridiculous. How many friggin’ times does he have to say it? I should have counted, but either way, I’m confident that he said HOW YOU FEELIN’?! at least twenty-five times during his set. That does NOT include his collaboration with New Monsoon either.
We also decided to hang back slightly for Yonder Mountain String Band, but we moseyed up at the perfect time. They have a great set closing jam on The Beatles’ Come Together featuring Brendan Bayliss and Keller Williams. We snapped a couple hard to get shots and moved to stage right for our Umphrey’s McGee spot. Again, we were up front for some serious Umphrey’s McGee carnage.
Now, when I say Umphrey’s McGee carnage, it’s exactly what I thought it was going to be. They open with Pay the Snucka and the place goes nuts. I thought I was in for some seriously wild Umphrey’s McGee, and their set just seemed to lose momentum after that. The sun was setting and they were sporting their very smooth-looking jerseys with the name of their favorite bar right on front. It was a very cool time to see Umphrey’s, but I have to say that their set was much more watered-down than I would have wanted to see. I think it might have something to do with the fact that we just saw them at Summercamp (read above about Michael Franti), but it just seemed like they kept trying to find the jam and it never really got locked.
We decided to hang back once String Cheese Incident went on, as well. Honestly, I still can’t completely get into this band. Their show was tight, I’m sure, but I just can’t get into a fast bluegrass version of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire . It just sounds hokey to me. I know that’s part of their schtick anyways, so I won’t bore you all with my SCI rant. I’m sure I’ll like them more one day and I’ll regret not staying for the entire set, but whatever. We left a little early fully satisfied with the amount of music we got hit with during the day. It was an amazing festival. I would easily go next year, probably no matter what the lineup is.
New Monsoon – More impressive than I thought they would be. I’m interested in hearing more…
Keller Williams – Impressive as always, and hopefully most certainly not a novelty act.
Michael Franti and Spearhead – HOW YOU FEELIN’?!?
Yonder Mountain String Band – Bluegrassy as all others surely enjoy a lot more than me
Umphrey’s McGee – A very festival-friendly set (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and some fun jamming towards the end (including the jazz hands clap).
String Cheese Incident – Very dark ¡Bam! to get the set going, but Ring of Fire sealed it for me.
See you there next year!