Summer Set Music Festival 2014 Recap
The third year of Summer Set Music Festival showed us that the third time is truly the charm. Earlier in the month, Sensible Reason had a chat with SIMshows CEO Jack Trash, one of the organizers of the festival along with Majestic Madison and react presents. He gave us a few hints as to what changes we could expect for the upcoming festival. While his descriptions were accurate, they could not prepare us for what was in store.
After driving 6 hours all night through the wilderness of Wisconsin, we finally arrived at Somerset Amphitheater for the weekend ahead. We easily obtained our tickets and credentials because we got there at 7AM, a good hour or so before the general admission campgrounds opened. Those with VIP and RV parking were allowed to enter the night before, and it was clear the party had already begun. My photographer and I planned on camping with a group arriving from Colorado, so we decided to wait for them since they held the camping pass. Each group was given one car permit and 6 wristbands. Anyone driving or parking separately purchased a parking pass and met their friends at the site.
By the time our friends made it, the security line had gotten much longer. Once in line, the beers were cracked and the frisbees started flying. After about an hour of our car moving only 3 inches, we started to wonder what was happening. I left my car with my friend and walked to the security check. I have never seen anything like the security at these gates. The team was doing the usual check for glass and paraphernalia, but then it got intense. Drug dogs have become a normal thing at festivals (and for good reason), but these dogs were under cars, inside trunks, and under seats. Cars were pulled to the side with their seats removed and their dashboards pulled apart, and litmus tests were being done on windshield wiper fluid. It looked more like a border crossing than a festival entrance. While I fully understand that safety is a #1 priority at a festival, this felt a little excessive. One volunteer confessed that the city police were concerned about how many additional cars were on the road due to the traffic caused by this security check. All gripes aside, everyone felt a little safer once inside.
After parking my car and getting our belongings to the site, we set up in the South campground. At larger festivals, you too often find yourself fighting for a place to set up your tent. That wasn’t the case here. The sites were awesomely roomy, with enough space for 6, and then some. The campgrounds were a great use of the space at the amphitheater. Each offshoot of the lot was utilized, and there were multiple potable bathrooms and water stations. We never had to venture too far for either. The campground was surrounded by forest and corn fields, so a couple of people even had space to set up hammocks and hang blankets beside their site. The South campground allowed one car per 6 campers, but the North campground was tent camping only. There was a short walk in between the North and South grounds, making them seem slightly separated. The North was like another world. Not having a car during the weekend seemed to be tough, but rewarding. We also noticed that the North campground was where all the parties were. It was a little tent city.
There were several entrances to the festival, and once inside it was easy to bounce from stage to stage. In past years, there was a checkpoint for each stage, slowing the transition from one artist to the other. This year they eliminated that problem. The entire festival area was fenced off, so there was only one checkpoint and all stages were inside. Each entrance was positioned close to a specific stage, so if you wanted to go straight to the Grove Stage and then continue to the main, you could achieve this with ease.
The stages underwent a huge improvement this year as well. The Grove Stage stayed in the same spot as the year before, but was expanded on both sides. As a result, the area where the checkpoints were last year became extra hill seating for those wanting to stay a bit farther back from the chaos. Vendors were moved to the side, allowing attendees much more space. The Grove Stage was just like another Main Stage, which meant that huge headliners like Flux Pavilion were competing with the acts on the Main Stage itself. Both after-parties were held at the Grove Stage, which was perfect because it was the stage closest to the campground. Each after-party could be heard from the campgrounds closest to it.
Last year, the tent at the Grove Stage hosted spectacular light shows, even during the day, but the stage’s size made the heat a little too much to bear. This year, festival organizers introduced the Big Top Stage, located at the top of the hill behind the vendors at the main entrance. As its name suggests, it looked quite a bit like circus tent, with high exaggerated points. This stage held all electronic music all the time, and yes, the light shows were just as spectacular as the Grove Stage shows last year.
The addition of LED screens and lights to the Main Stage made it better and brighter, but what changed the most here was offstage. They pulled out all the stops this year to really wow the crowd, and, to add another element of fun, they set up a Starship 2000 and a Ferris wheel at the back of the dance floor. You could watch Bassnectar from the top of the Ferris wheel while attempting to point out your campsite from a distance.
The sound at Summer Set this year was the best I have heard. Even Electric Forest couldn’t compare with the quality of what these speakers had to offer. You could hear the Main Stage from the back of the South campground without any feedback or white noise. Too tired to leave your campsite? No worries, you’d only be missing the light show because of the way the sound carried this year. Bassnectar commented on the sound quality shortly after his set, praising it and saying that this is how it should be. His bass-heavy set created deep vibrations that could cure the sick. While earplugs were required to be front row for any headlining Main Stage set, the speakers could easily handle the volume. They hit the nail on the head when it came to sound.
The lineup at Summer Set this year was phenomenal. Huge acts that we haven’t heard from in a while were brought to Wisconsin with a vengeance. The best set of Friday night was easily Chromeo. Their fun-loving feel and amazing talent took the Main Stage by storm. Dave-1 crushed the guitar, shredding with all his might and bringing the ladies to their knees. P-Thugg blew our minds with his vocal talents, altered by his Yamaha keyboard and voice box. The two put on a true show and had everyone dancing.
On Saturday, a few powerhouses took the stage and had the whole festival talking. Cherub brought the majority of festival-goers to the Grove Stage for their unique 80’s synth rock. “Doses and Mimosas” had the whole crowd singing along and bouncing. Day 2 brought the one and only Wu Tang to the Main Stage. What could have been haphazard came together seamlessly as these guys bounced around the stage, uniting their individual styles to make it a very memorable reunion. Even though not all members could attend, it was a festival highlight. Flux Pavilion brought most of the festival to the Grove Stage for their set, while house legend Claude Vonstroke brought the house fanatics some kicking smooth grooves. According to a recent Facebook poll, Big Gigantic won the title for Best Set of the Weekend by a landslide, and Dom and Jeremy paired their live music with the the fantastic sound quality of the Main Stage to bring the festival to exhaustion. These guys have been headlining the festival since its inception, and each year they continue to blow the entire crowd away.
Sunday brought the infamous Tyler the Creator to the stage. His outlandish antics and stage presence were unparalleled all weekend, and I often caught myself with jaw wide open during his set because of the powerful things he said. His combination of ridiculousness with serious political and social commentary make him a household name in hip hop. Umphrey’s McGee brought a jamming good time, making the whole crowd groove for the duration of their set. And, as I mentioned above, the vibrations coming from Bassnectar‘s set were so intense that my body felt lighter after it was over. The recent release of his new album, Noise vs. Beauty, meant that he played a lot of new music, most with a bass-heavy twist.
The Grove Stage held after-parties on both Friday and Saturday for those who snagged tickets. Manic Science, a collaboration between Break Science and Manic Focus, brought the best of both groups to the stage. Collaborations like these are becoming more common because groups often play the same festivals all summer, and it’s proving to be a glorious trend. Emancipator Ensemble were a refreshing cool down after Big Gigantic‘s high-energy closing set on Saturday, but Savoy brought the energy right back up. This set had the whole after party back on their feet, making Sunday a difficult day to wake up.
Summer Set Music Festival closed its grounds at exactly noon on August 18th. We were the last people to leave. The weekend exhausted us, and waking up before noon to pack our belongings and road trip home seemed like an impossible mission. There were 5 people at our campsite: two handsome Colorado boys, two bloggers from Wisconsin, and a beautiful Minnesota native residing in New York. The beauty of this group was that we were built from camp-out festivals like this one, all brought together to live in harmony for 3 days while experiencing the most talented and entertaining music the world has to offer. Each year, Summer Set continues to grow and change. The organizers care about so much more than profit, and they stood out as individuals who worked their asses off to bring us the best music festival they could create. There was also a real reciprocity of energy between artists and attendees, which brought Summer Set to an entirely new level of awesome.