Summer Set 2015: Review
Photos and Review By: Ryan Blair
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Festival: Summer Set Music Festival
Date: August 14th, 15th, and 16th
Location: Somerset, Wisconsin
Music: EDM, Hip-Hop, Jam Bands
Price: 3 Day Pass: Up to $250/ 1 Day: Up to $100/ After parties: Up to $40
This years Summer Set Music Festival is the fourth year in Somerset, Wisconsin. The 2015 festival included over 75 artists spanning many different genres including Hip-Hop (G-Eazy and Action Bronson), EDM (Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Deadmau5, Brillz) , and Jam bands (Earphunk, Boombox). This years festival offered five different stages that all had their own unique musical experiences and qualities. Summer Set offered more than music with a giant swing, a Ferris wheel, craft tents/vendors, performers, and art to keep the 40,000 festival goers entertained throughout the weekend. While the overall Summer Set experience is enjoyable and unique, there are areas that could use improvement and one big lingering question about the storm evacuation that should have never happened at this years festival
The festival grounds are definitely the area that leaves the most for improvement at Summer Set; the over-watchful eye of security, dog searches, lack of direction, and general lack of charisma from festival staff left me less than satisfied with my staff interactions.
Lack of Direction:
Finding the festival grounds wasn’t so difficult, finding out where to go or what to do once I got there was. Parking wasn’t terribly hard to find and the first day we opted to go with the festival provided parking lot for the sake of convenience. Parking was $20 a day which was inconvenient but expected. The staff then proceeded to pack us as close as possible to all the other cars around me. I understand that they want to be efficient as possible but this was a giant lot that only filled 4 rows by the end of the day. Our cars were packed so tight that we needed to work together with our neighbors just to create enough room to wiggle our cars free when we were ready to leave. My frustration was only amplified when I passed the parking lot attendants who were just sitting around and avoiding confrontation.
The confusion on where to go started as soon we left our car. There were no clear signs for how to leave the parking lot, or where the box office was, or how to get to the festival entrance. We spent a lot of time walking in the wrong direction throughout the weekend just trying to find our way around. There are several roads surrounding the festival that lead to the campgrounds and parking lots but none of the roads label where they lead so festival attendees are forced to resort to trial and error.
When we did finally find the festival entrance we were greeted with another surprise, the most intense security team I’ve ever seen at a festival. I’ve heard rumors about Summer Set being intense with security, it has even earned the nickname “Summer Setup”. Most festivals tend to hire a volunteer staff to handle the security but Summer Set went the extra step and hired an outside security force.
They patrolled the lines leading into the entrance of the festival with drug sniffing dogs that weaved in and out between festival patrons. The canines would sniff pockets and shoes along the way and whenever they would find a hit, the dog would sit down next to the person in question to indicate that they found something. The officers then proceeded to pull the suspect out of line to question them and search their belongings. The officers were actually pretty casual about the confrontations, as they would hold conversations throughout the process and even joked with the suspects about their poor hiding locations. After the officers confiscated any illegal substances they would allow the person to get back into line and enjoy their festival experience, drug-free of course.
The security presence didn’t stop at the front gates though, as there were also officers located inside the festival. They were generally scattered around the hill tops of the stages watching over the crowd. I couldn’t help but feel like I was at a high school dance all over again with teachers surrounding the dance floor ready to jump in, in-case any unethical activity begins to take place. The security inside the festival was actually quite casual though, I don’t think I saw them confront anybody the whole weekend. There were a few scattered occasions when I saw them walking through the outskirts of the crowds, but they generally just kept to themselves.
My group and I chose to camp off-site at Apple Family Campgrounds located just up the road from the music festival. This was an extremely positive experience. We were able to set up a comfortable campsite with lots of room to spread out. We weren’t packed tightly against our neighbors and we had the freedom to camp next to our cars and drive into town for supplies. The Apple Family Campgrounds also offered bathrooms with showers, two pools, lots of activities, and a river that hundreds of campers socialized in during the afternoon. It was a leisurely experience that I don’t think we would have had at the Summer Set camp grounds and it was one of my favorite parts of the festival. The campsite was about a 30 minute walk from the festival if you take the long way, but it could be cut down to 10 minutes if you’re willing to sneak through the knee high river.
Summer Set music festival is the perfect mid-sized festival because it has enough people to have the large festival feel, but it doesn’t come with a lot of the overwhelming capacity issues of large audiences. Most of the people in attendance were in the 18-25 age group but like most music festivals, Summer Set brings a diverse crowd of many ages and backgrounds.
I experienced only good attitudes from all the people I interacted with at Summer Set. It was a really great experience talking with everybody at the festival because they were so friendly. I even met some wonderful people who approached me just because I had a camera.
Summer Set is truly what you make it. One person could make it a very relaxing atmosphere sitting on the hill side watching shows from the back of the audience where there is plenty of room to spread out and dance. Another person could make it a raging dance festival where they are down in front of the stages in the action. The crowds grew large but never overwhelming and it was pretty easy to get close enough for a good viewing spot on any of the stages.
The stage setup is one of the best I’ve experienced, with one exception; the paths between the stages were long and very hilly. The Main stage, The Meadow, and The Saloon were all located fairly close to each other, but The Grove and The Big Top required a long walk through the woods. It’s not a big deal for most shows, but if you were thinking about running from one stage to the other, you might want to think again.
Other than that I loved the stage setup. The stages were spread out and faced away from each other so that there was never any sound bleed between the stages. Each stage also had it’s own theme or genre so the schedules never conflicted too terribly.
The Main Stage:
Located at the entrance of the festival, The Main Stage was massive with huge screens and an intricate light setup to support the dance acts this year. The floor in front of the stage was a huge cement parking lot that gave people lots of room to dance and enjoy the music. One of the best features was the mist machine that continuously sprayed the crowd with water. Other stage features included compressed air cannons, fire blasters, confetti, and fireworks.
This was one of the two stages with a hill that runs along the outskirts of the stage for elevated viewing but it also includes the Ferris wheel and giant swing. I’m not typically a fan of fair rides at music festivals, but I think it’s a pretty unique experience to watch a show from a Ferris Wheel right next to the stage. The only flaw I had with this stage was that there were two giant spotlights positioned on either side of the stage. I don’t know if they were trying to light the ground so people could see, or if they were lighting the crowd so staff could see, but it really took away some of the extra power from the late night dance shows.
The Grove was the second largest stage positioned on the opposite side of the festival. This
stage wasn’t as big as The Main Stage but it packed all the same features into a smaller area including the mist cannon, compressed air tanks, fire blasters, and confetti. The Grove also featured elevated seating on a hillside that surrounded the stage which I used consistently throughout the weekend. The best part was that there were packs of trees scattered on the hills which were perfect to setup hammocks in. The more confined location made The Grove a more crowded place than The Main stage but this brought a lot of energy to the shows that took place here.
The Meadow is Summer Sets newest stage added in 2015 and it is directly between the Main Stage and The Grove. The Meadow was added this year with the intention to have a stage specified for bands and live musicians. The Meadow lacks a lot of the flashy lights and effects that the two biggest stages offer, but it provides a relaxing field for rocking out with some jam bands or napping to some music that isn’t bass heavy. I didn’t spend much time at this stage but it was always easy to get up close to the performers and it was nice to see people performing as I passed between the two biggest stages.
The Big Top:
The Big Top is the place for all the up and coming dance acts at Summer Set. It was the most
out of the way of any of the stages and the walk was particularly exhausting coming back because it was all up hill, but it was one of the best places to party during the day. The Big Top was a tent so it was the perfect place to avoid the sun and to dance the evening away. This stage had a modest lighting setup complete with compressed air cannons but the real energy came from the ravers that filled the tent day and night. This was definitely the place to be if you were looking to dance because the party never stopped as DJ’s would pass off the turntables with no interruption between them. Music was always playing at this stage from the moment the first DJ started until the end of the evening when the last one finished!
The Saloon was the smallest of the five stages and it was positioned at the top of the hill directly in front of The Main Stage. This stage was meant for smaller and more localized acts. The best part about this stage was that it is within a small building and doubles as a bar. It’s the perfect place to go sip on a beer and enjoy some underground music between the headliners. The small crowds make it easy to get close and interact with the artists but odds are you won’t know who these artists are.
Overview:The best part was definitely the amphitheater hills at The Main Stage and The Grove because it was so relaxing to be able to watch the headliners from the back with a perfect view of the stage from any angle. It was very unique for a festival to have an amphitheater and it makes the Float Rite Amphitheaters an ideal location to continue the Summer Set tradition in the future.
Bassnectar: Bassnectar was Summer Set Music Festivals first headliner of the weekend and he did not disappoint. He has had years to perfect his style, polish, and control and his set really shows that he has been hard at work perfecting his craft. I’ve really enjoyed the ambient style of his new album and I think it works well when mixed with some of his older bass heavy tracks. In typical Bassnectar fashion, he blew the roof off Summer Set with a well rounded performance that ended with a blast of fireworks in the sky above.
Big Gigantic: Big Gigantic is the first electronic artist I’d ever seen live and I love them more now then when I fell in love with them 4 years ago. I’ve always been fascinated by the smooth and jazzy sounds that the saxophone player, Dominic Lalli, mixes with the bass heavy dance music. He also plays with a live drummer which gives movement and a live element to their shows that many other electronic acts lack. They actually played a lot of their old catalog of music which gave me flashbacks of that first magical night seeing them at Bonnaroo. The performance was solidified when Big Gigantic debuted their new collaboration with Griz “Let The Good Times Roll”.
On The Rise
I had no idea what to expect from The Weeknd’s set at Summer Set. All I knew was that “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Earned It” would always get stuck in my head any time I heard them. I thought he would put on a half passionate pop performance but he blew me away when I walked into his performance. This man is a performer and a lot of work has gone into perfecting his set. He had an elaborate setup of stage lights that helped to set the mood for his songs but the real surprise was that he performed with a live band… and they rocked. This wasn’t your ordinary pop concert providing a backing track, this band actually got into the music and they were just as important to the show as The Weeknd himself. I thought I walked into a rock performance when I saw him performing on the main stage, it caught my attention and held it all the way throughout the show.
I had already seen Odesza once earlier this year and I’ll be seeing them again at Backwoods music festival so I only planned on stopping by their set Friday night. It was a surreal sight to stand at the top of the hill and see The Grove packed with bodies from the front of the stage deep up into the hills. This had one of the biggest turnouts of the festival and Odesza didn’t disappoint with their ambient electronic ballads. I spent a little longer than I expected to just because I was so mesmerized with the turnout.
Brillz brought the bass to The Big Top with his heavy trap style and the crowd responded by turning up early in the evening Saturday night. Of all the DJ’s that performed at The Big Top, Brillz stood out with his blend of trap and house for a highly energetic performance. There were lots of impressive DJ’s but nobody else had fans hanging from the rafters in the same way that Brillz did.
Zeds Dead is a Toronto based electronic duo that has been around since 2004 but recently they have been making moves that might bring them into a headliner spot in the future. The dubstep duo combines aspects of glitch, hip-hop, house, and dubstep to make for a highly energetic performance from beginning to end and the audience responded. There was an hour long rain delay that caused a festival wide evacuation just before Zed’s Dead played so maybe people were just happy to be back inside but they were sure were ready to party. Zed’s Dead was one of the first artists to play after the rain and they packed The Grove with as many people as the stage would allow.
Summer Set offered the usual food options like tacos, and burgers but they also offered some wacky creations like biscuit burgers. The food was priced like most festivals with a meal ranging from $7-$10 and beer priced similarly. I wasn’t particularly impressed or disappointing with the food selection though it would have been beneficial to spread out the food stands throughout the festival. The way the festival was setup all the food was located in one corner by the main stage. If you were on the other side of the festival there were no options anywhere for food, just beer and water.
While the main focus of Summer Set music festival is the music, there are still other ways to stay active and entertained. For starters there were vendors located in a corner next to the main stage selling tapestries, ear plugs, watches and more. There was even one talented artist taking requests for 10 minute paintings that he would produce right in front of their eyes. I watched him make a mural of a bridge after glancing at a picture for a few seconds on a girls phone.
There was also a giant Ferris wheel and spinning swing located right in front of the main stage. I generally find carnival rides like this at festivals a little tacky, but because of the location right in front of the stage I was absolutely excited about their presence. It is a unique experience to hop on the Ferris wheel or swings and watch your favorite headliner from above the crowd. The only problem is that the line at night can get pretty long so you might miss most of their set while waiting to get on.
There were also several art pieces displayed throughout the festival. One was an illuminated structure that sat in the back of The Meadow stage. It was covered in bright lights and it reminded me of a UFO or some other futuristic craft. The second large art instillation was a giant fire breathing piece located in the middle of The Grove. This art piece shot fire plumes more than 50 ft high into the night sky radiating the audience with heat. There were also people giving fire blowing demonstrations which allowed festival attendees to turn up the heat and launch fire balls into the sky.
Additionally there was a crew of festival performers that walked around but I only saw them appear at The Meadow. They were all dressed up and they walked on stilts and juggled their way through the crowds. It really helped to fill out the festival with their gravity defying feats.
The biggest drop of the weekend didn’t come from any of the DJ’s who performed but rather from the staff member that decided to evacuate the festival Sunday afternoon. I understand that safety is important and the audience needs to be cared for properly but this evacuation was questionable both in timing and execution.
When I think of festivals being evacuated I think of huge storm cells developing in the sky, high winds developing, lightning in the area. These all make for valid reasons to evacuate a festival, but none of them were happening, which had me questioning why it ever happened to begin with. Leading up to the evacuation there had been a sprinkle filling the festival for about an hour. Then just as the rain was letting up and I was taking my poncho off to stuff it into my pocket, all music stopped and festival attendees were urged to evacuate the festival for their own safety. There was a lite overcast in the sky, but no winds, no lightning, no rain.
Festival goers were rightfully upset when they were being forced from the property that they paid good money to be at rain or shine. Many of attendees begged security to let them stay until it passed. Officers were needed to clear out the lingering packs of people that were trying to hide under benches and in corners of the festival grounds.
A bigger issue is that some people had no where to go, some people like me. Somerset, Wisconsin isn’t a particularly large town so it’s possible to walk to the festival from most areas and that’s exactly what I did that day. I walked to the festival without any of the people I drove up with and they parked the car without me. So now I was being forced to leave the property into a parking lot with an uncharged phone, no phone numbers, and no where to go. I resorted to asking a security member what I should do if the severe weather actually develops because now I’m being forced out into a parking lot and the only shelter I have is a poncho. His response was to just find their tent if it gets bad enough. So with no other options I started walking the main street and I was finally granted a miracle when my group yelled my name a half mile down the road.
An hour passed as we all waited anxiously by our vehicles for the green light to go back into the festival grounds. After what seemed like a very long sixty minutes we were finally allowed to go back inside to finish the festival out. The strange thing is that it didn’t rain a single drop from the moment that the festival was evacuated, it seemed like they cried wolf and fans had to miss performances that they drove across the nation to see. Regardless people were eventually allowed back in and they made the most of the remaining couple hours leading up to Deadmau5.
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