Sophomore Year of Summer Set Music and Camping Festival

This past weekend (Aug. 9-11th) marked the second year of the new Summer Set Music and Camping Festival in Somerset, WI. For Midwesterners, the festival brought huge acts that usually don’t come this way, such as STS9 and Big Boi, and the hype was big enough to match. You could find Summer Set posters all over the area from Minneapolis to Rothbury to Chicago. Headlining this year’s festival was Big Gigantic, Girl Talk, Passion Pit, and STS9. Hip hop legends Big Boi and Common also made an appearance this year for the hip hop fiends looking for some festival relief from all the EDM taking over lately. The music this year blew everyone out of the water and each act was nothing less than what festival attendees were looking for. On the non-music side of things, the security and cost of the festival was what most people were talking about after day 1.

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The Stages

Zedd at the Main Stage

Zedd at the Main Stage

This year, Summer Set had 3 stages: the Main, the Grove and the Saloon Stage. The main stage was the same as last year and the largest of the festival (hence the name “main stage”), but I found that most festi goers were excited about the Grove Stage. I think this stage was the equivalent to the sopping wet and hot ass Hockey Rink Stage from last year’s festival. They brought the dancing outdoors and added a big circus tent to bring the light shows to life during the daylight hours. Huge crowds waited in long security lines to make sure they got to their shows before the stage reached capacity. The tent sat in a valley of the campground and beautifully lit pathways led the way to the hard-hitting theme of the stage. Most acts at the Main Stage consisted of old favorites and the headliners, but the Grove stage held the after parties and huge acts like Wolfgang Gartner and Diplo. The Saloon Stage held smaller acts in an intimate setting close to the vendors of the festival and towards the back end of the Main Stage’s stadium-style hill. This slightly underrated stage often held acts in between headliners’ sets and those who wanted to keep the party going could stop over for something new in a close-knit place.

The Music

Friday:

The act that everyone was talking about on Friday was GRiZ! While I didn’t get to see his set this festival, I’ve seen him on more than one occasion and it keeps getting better! GRiZ has the ability to take trap music and a saxophone and have them make sweet, sweet love on stage for everyone to enjoy. He loves what he does and you can see it on the smile on his face. From what I hear, this year was one of his best sets yet, dropping remix after remix of his most popular tunes along with some new ones. At least 5 people that I spoke to said that it was their favorite set of the night– and some even said of the whole festival. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Grant (GRiZ) and his laid back and down-to-earth attitude makes him a pleasure to be around and makes the whole experience that much more worth it.

A popular one people were talking about this year was Beats Antique. Their gypsy sound and live entertainment bring an energy to the stage that few can match. They opened with high energy and continued to wow the audience with a combination of  remixes and their classic gypsy bass style. As always, their stage presence seeped into the crowd and everyone became a belly dancer. The hula hoopers and poi spinners could easily get into their flow and there wasn’t a still foot in the venue. Beats Antique’s style was a great early break from the seemingly dubstep-filled lineup this year and those who listen to a wider variety of music were greatly pleased with their set.

Polica

Singer Channy of Polica

Another break from the ordinary was local act Polica. Their deep, smooth rhythms and soulful lyrics made Friday’s sunset. Playing at a packed main stage, Polica brought an electric stage presence that wowed those who hadn’t previously heard the Minnesota-based band. Singer Channy glided from stage left to stage right belting out hits from their latest album that came out earlier in the month, and she never missed a beat. Polica has a sound that was a unique addition to the mainly electronic acts at Summer Set. The full band works together so well, it’s no surprise they’re gaining popularity so quickly. If you haven’t heard them yet, check tour dates and catch them ASAP.

I am a fast and hard hula hoop dancer and Jack Trash‘s performance at the Grove Stage was a jump around good time that had me exhausted afterwards! Jack Trash is owner of Sound in Motion (SIM) and is based out of Minneapolis.

Big Gigantic are quickly becoming legends in the festival scene and they made their mark yet again this year at Summer Set. Closing out the night and then again during the after party, Jeremy and Dominic really know how to put on a show. Each beat they drop gets down and dirty and the crowd ended up on the floor half of this set. While playing old favorites and new remixes, their show never got old and really pulled in the passers by. Many people after this weekend said that they would try and make it to their next show closest to them and few said they were disappointed. A couple of people even said that it was the best set of the weekend.

Big G also teamed up with Marc Brownstein, Aron Magner, Chris Michetti, and Ben Baruch of Conspirator, Disco Biscuits, and Underground Orchestra to create the super group Gigantic Underground Conspiracy for Friday’s after party. This was quite the treat! The set was made up of many Big G songs and well as jams from the other groups and they were put together flawlessly. It felt like the ultimate electronic jam session with a little more oomph and a lot less hippies. No one left the after party disappointed and many were asking for more. Even after leaving the festival grounds and entering the camp ground, you could still hear Big G tunes bumping from campsites!

Saturday:

I spent most of my Saturday (and the festival for that matter) at the Grove Stage and act after act was amazing. Alex Metric was something new to me and I had never seen him before but it was a pleasure and I will definitely try to see him again sometime soon. He’s not trance, he’s not trap, and he’s not just house. While he can pull all of it off, he’s something all his own and he killed it! Everyone at the show was grooving to his smooth beats and hard-hitting drops. He adds little bits of sound and vocals that make the crowd screaming for more.

Morgan Page at the Grove Stage

Morgan Page at the Grove Stage

Morgan Page was an act I had been waiting to see. I have spent many a time YouTubing many of his trance hits and rocking out in my living room. His is a legend to many of my friends and he didn’t sell anyone short at Summer Set. While I did feel as though he (as well as many other trance acts at the festival) catered to the more trap and dubstep crowd, he added his own feel that made it worth sticking around and I would like to see him outside of the festival scene in a more intimate setting next time. There will be a next time.

Girl Talk…was Girl Talk. I have to be honest, I’m not too much of a fan and I wouldn’t spend my last 10 bucks to see a set. BUT, Girl Talk is always a romping good time– that is guaranteed. His A.D.D. style of spinning and his masterful mash-ups will have you dancing and singing along in a second, but that feeling is quickly lost as the next mash-up enters. It seems as though the moment the crowd started rocking out to something, the mix would switch. This is simply the style created by Girl Talk and it gets the crowd going, which is why his popularity has soared, but also where his critics nip at his heels (besides the fact that he doesn’t produce his own music). I had a good time, but I think I was still soaring from the previous act – Passion Pit.

Passion Pit at the Main Stage

Hula hoopers at Passion Pit

I wish I could express how much Passion Pit really gets me going. Their energy on stage and happy, synth-pop feel is matched by few. This was the act that I was waiting for the entire festival and I wished it didn’t end. Somehow, even though Passion Pit hasn’t come out with a new album in years, they still tour and still bring huge crowds. They played songs from their small handful of albums and didn’t spend too much time on one or another. Of course, they ended the set wishing everyone a smile and a good time as “Sleepyhead” started up and got the crowd screaming for more, including myself who hula hooped myself to exhaustion during the set. They will be playing in Chicago for North Coast Music Festival along with many other acts that came to Summer Set and I only hope to have the funds to be able to make it down for their set if nothing else.

Eoto‘s after-party at the Grove Stage presenting The Lotus was a great second night after-party and perfect for all the exhausted kids wanting to party, but not needing anything too crazy. The Lotus was a beautiful set up that made the stage look like a large lotus flower and Eoto sat perfectly on either side of the flower rocking it and mixing live as they have mastered. The lights on the Lotus were a projection onto the huge flower and it perfectly reflected the feel of the music being played. Eoto made their set bump and their live mixing paired with beautiful vocals and hitting down beats had the exhausted crowd still nodding their heads to the beat and asking for more. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the encore in fear that I was going to collapse from hula hooping all day and dancing as much as I could during the set, but I feel bad for those who missed the after party. It was a real treat!

Sunday:

I had heard about Minnesota a couple times before the festival, but not much could have prepared me for the awesomeness that ensued. They brought a roaring good time and the ultimate in the dubstep experience. Each beat that was dropped brought asses to the floor and hands in the air. I don’t think I’ve seen that many people groove so hard drop after drop. They lived up to the hype and if the chance comes up, get the experience.

After Minnesota and before Tritonal, I stayed at the Grove Stage and saw an act I hadn’t heard of before, Keys and Krates. This was a surprisingly amazing experience! They played the best combination of electro and trap that the crowd could have asked for. It didn’t seem as though they catered to anyone, but everyone was excited. The energy they brought to their remixes and their energy on stage was matched by few at the Grove Stage that day and I spent a lot of time this week raving about their set. They were the perfect in-between until my favorite set of the festival: Tritonal.

Tritonal took no time in getting into their usual trance hits. They brought the trap kids into the clouds and off the floor. These guys were the only electronic act I saw this past weekend that didn’t cater to anyone except what their true fans would expect. They didn’t play trap, they rocked the hard club trance music that has made them who they are. I felt like I was back at Mansion in Miami with all the Euro trash boys and fist pumpers, but I was surrounded by kids who didn’t expect such a hard set from a trance act. They hit hard but their music, as with most trance acts, was smooth, happy and upbeat. I found myself bouncing around the back of the grove stage smiling from ear to ear.

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Huge crowd for Krewella

Krewella was another act that had me bouncing around, but this time it was on the shoulders of my 6’4″ friend in the middle of the Main Stage crowd. This crew can really rock it while bringing beautiful and soulful vocal styling. Krewella has this uncanny ability to make hardstyle music tolerable, even enjoyable. They played songs with which they had collaborated with Headhunterz along with their most popular tunes that you’ve heard before, but never knew were Krewella. They owned the stage and used every ounce of it, interacting with the crowd but never pausing a beat. I can describe them as nothing short of badass.

A Few Drawbacks

Last year’s Summer Set was clearly new to the scene. Attendance was lower than most camp-outs of the size  and the security matched the number of people there. It seemed to go smoothly from a spectator point of view and everyone had a blast. Unlike some festivals where you pay for one ticket which includes your pass to the festival and camping, Summer Set gave the option of paying for a ticket separately. This made the ticket to the festival extremely inexpensive ($75) for the lineup which included Big Gigantic, Nas, and Talib Kwali. However, unlike Chicago where you can find numerous hotels around the area, Somerset, WI is quite a small town and most people chose to camp anyway. The camping pass was around $150 as well which made the festival about the same price as most other festivals like it if you went by yourself. However, camping passes allowed for up to 5 people per camp site, so if everyone split the cost it was only $30 each. If you chose to park your car for the 3 days it was only $50. This year, however, the prices jumped up.

Let’s do some math here:
$150 for your ticket (plus fees!)
$200 for camping/ 6 people per site = $33
1 car per site = 5 people (at most) paying $120 to park their car (so, at least $24 each)
All this adds up to = freaking expensive (aka, at least $207 for the weekend)

This math was the talk of Day One at the festival. Camping was yet again open to anyone a 3-day pass and the 6 people per site limitation was impossible to enforce. Without 6 physical wristbands to give campers, people who bought a camping spot often had a hard time managing who was allowed in their campsite and who wasn’t; thus they struggled with getting friends to reimburse them for the money they fronted. And those who had to drive wondered why it was costing almost the price of a 3-day pass just to leave their car in a lot.

Security became another complaint of the attendees: many felt that there was an excess of guards patrolling the grounds. Everyone wants to feel and be safe at a camp-out festival and no one wants anything bad to happen to anyone, but the security was to the extreme that some people compared the festival to a “police state.” Contrastingly, the volunteers seemed over worked, under paid, and under informed about many things when it came to the festival.

Overall, Summer Set was a great festival musically. The acts that the festival brought will definitely have people talking about it all year and most likely until the festivals eminent return next year (I hope). Those who have been to larger festivals felt right at home but those who are new to the festival scene didn’t feel overwhelmed. The campgrounds were clean and better organized from its first year, but as a new festival there are still kinks to be smoothed out. The Grove Stage was a great addition to the festival and a much better idea from last year’s Hockey Rink. With the festival being in Somerset, WI, there were opportunities for campers to take a shuttle to the nearby river for daytime tubing excursions and I also heard rumor of a giant slip and slide that I didn’t get a chance to explore. I would highly recommend those in the Midwest area to check it out if it comes back next year, just be prepared for the amazing music and tight security.

Ashley Cizek

Went to school at UW-Madison, graduating with a BA in psychology. I hula-hoop, I write, I enjoy sunlight.

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