One of my favorite reasons for supporting live local music is watching bands as they grow. Nearly every act that sells out a stadium or hits number one on the charts was once a local band playing at local venues, for a $5 cover, for people like you and me. There are countless steps in between, often more than we know. One of those is music festivals.
Making the jump from local venues to music festivals is not an easy task. Many amazing bands never manage to do it. Those who do make that jump, do it in various ways.
In the mid-west, one of those ways is Jason Miles and Summer Camp on the Road.
Summer Camp on the Road (SCOTR) is best described as a sixteen city “Battle of the Bands.” Top bands in each city are chosen by popular vote, winning a spot to play at the upcoming Summer Camp Festival. Each person who buys a ticket to the show gets a single vote. And in the end, one band ends up with an invitation to the Summer Camp Music Festival!
When Miles started working with Zach Swinderman on SCOTR in 2010, there were 4 shows in different cities. He took it over in 2012 and it has since grown to 16 cities in 2019.
While many bands would love to be part of this type of competition, Miles says it has been particularly useful for finding local regional acts. “Many of them have a big following, but couldn't have made it into a music festival the scale of SCAMP on their own without a management company or an agent.”
So how does he find them? Miles has an impressive network of people who work in the industry in each market where they hold a competition. From venue owners to sound guys to people who just love live music and see a lot of it, if a band that would be a good fit comes through, people reach out to tell Miles.
That’s what happened for 2018 winners in Morgantown, WV, Culture Thief. “Adam Payne does most of the booking for 123 Pleasant St. He reached out to us, and would be the connection to Miles. He has always been a big help to us getting on good shows. He is great to work with.” said Bassist, Corwin Hoban. (I didn’t catch them at Summer Camp last year, but I’ve added a video of theirs here.)
Alternately, the band Blind Colors, who is competing for this year’s spot in Peoria, was performing at an open mic at Peoria Pizza Works that Miles had been invited to. He liked them and offered them their spot.
Coordinating shows on 16 consecutive weekends between mid-January and the end of March, with 16 venues, and 4-6 bands at each venues takes a lot of preparation. In fact, Miles starts organizing SCOTR for the next year before the Blues & Heritage Fest is finished in late August.
With all of that coordinating, there are going to be conflicts. Some great bands just aren’t able to work it into their schedule. But, it’s such an important competition that ones that can work it out, will do what they can.
Peoria band PhanieRae and the Soul Shakers was already booked for another venue when they found out about Peoria’s SCOTR date last year. Disappointed, PhanieRae told Miles how much she wanted to be a part of it and asked about Champaign. He agreed to let them take a spot there and between the bus loads of fans they brought with them and the new fans there, they went on to win that competition.
Including participating host bands (those who have won multiple times and are now helping with the competition instead of competing), SCOTR 2019 will fill 19 slots at Summer Camp with this competition, and Miles will be at nearly all of them as they play out.
That’s a lot of work to fill slots at a music festival when bands are already clamoring to be a part of it. There are much easier ways to fill them. But for Miles it’s obvious that going out of his way to find these bands is worth it, both to give them a chance to reach a broader audience, and to give his Summer Camp audience the best show possible.
The bands I spoke with talked about the connections they had formed throughout the experience. “We were invited by Prontoh, the winners at Woodlands Tavern in Columbus, OH, to play a Summer Camp pre-party with them. That brought us more exposure and got our music out to new people before the festival even,” Says Hoban, from Culture Thief.
“It got us connected with the amazing folks at Jay Goldberg Events and Entertainment on a more personal level, and put our name out there just by being on the lineup for the festival itself,” adds Audiodacity Lead Vocalist and Trumpet player, Ben Jarvis. They were the winners of the Indianapolis competition last year and have since played shows at Kenny’s Westside Pub as well as taking the stage at Peoria’s Blues and Heritage Festival on Labor Day weeked.
Summer Camp 2019 is already shaping up to be an incredible weekend for the fans. I’m looking forward to seeing what this year’s experience does for the SCOTR winners.
Peoria’s Summer Camp on the Road competition will take place Saturday, February 23rd and will include The Blank Stairs, Formerly the Fox, Harvest Sons, Blind Colors, and LESSKO.
Where else in the area will you see five amazing bands playing for a shot to perform at Summer Camp 2019, and also be entered into a drawing to go see them (and everyone else) there for $10? Nowhere but Kenny’s Westside Pub.
See you there! And be sure to tell Miles thanks for all all the hard work he does to make sure you get to see these amazing bands you’d never have heard of without him!
*Miles was out of town when I realized I don’t have any pictures with him! We’ll fix that soon! :-)