Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Festival Coverage: Summer Set Camping & Music Festival 2012 - Somerset, WI

Fake Plastic Tunes traveled north to the small town of Somerset, WI for the first annual Summer Set Camping & Music Festival. Below is an account of the shenanigans that went down the last weekend in August.

The weekend began with the journey to the small town of Somerset, WI - population around 2300. We got in to town at around 4:45 after about a 6-7 hour drive from Milwaukee. The journey was actually kind of enjoyable once we got off of I-90; entirely rural and passing through 25 MPH speed zones on our way to the Summer Set Festival grounds. Upon arrival, we were instantly impressed by the kindness of the festival workers: they helped us get to our campsite, park our cars (a couple of times) and were incredibly chatty and friendly. We set up our tents, grabbed some food, and headed in to the actual festival grounds at around 6 p.m.

Yelawolf was the first act we settled in to actually watch. And I hate to say this but it was a terrible mistake. I really don't want to sound like a condescending ass, but I was immediately blown away at just how mundane he is live. It's nothing but "white boy problems," "marijuana in the suburbs," "Juggalos," and other subjects that made me ashamed to be a white guy that enjoys hip hop music. 

I became infuriated when he started to play Beastie Boys covers. Sure, he paid homage to them, but then immediately retracted any notion of nobility by terrorizing "Fight for Your Right" "Intergalactic" and others that I legitimately got mad about him playing. I was actually of the mindset that he might end up playing "Bawitdaba" next. I was ultimately let down.

But maybe I was just bummed I missed RJD2, either way all hope was not lost.

After about 30 minutes of wait time, Cloud Cult took the main stage. Featuring live art on the sides of the stage, the artist began by spinning the boards, and basically throwing the paint brush at the canvas. By the end of the set, the artwork took full form, developing into tangible objects.

Cloud Cult has been around for a very long time, and as I stated in my preview piece, they've flown under the radar for far too long: like an expansive version of Air, or Explosions In The Sky with lyrics. Regardless, as the sun began to set, I was extremely excited that this was the true start to my weekend.

We were ultimately let down when we tried to catch Zeds Dead at the Hockey Rink side stage (yes, you read that correctly) and the "venue" was at capacity. Just something to remember for later in the weekend: get to these Hockey Rink shows early.

Big Gigantic
Big Gigantic was the headliner for Friday, a band I've done my best to avoid for the duration of their rise. I caught a few songs towards the end of their set, and will admit that, although not for me, they did a great job of crowd control, crescendoing at just the right times, building upon their layers and then releasing. Although, I can't believe the saxophone has found its way into the electronic dance music scene.

The thing about Summer Set, I began to realize, was that a lot of the fun happened off of the actual festival grounds. Friday night we headed to see DJ Chris V across from the actual VIP Campgrounds. It was a bit of a hike for those who were camping outside of VIP camping in the North and South Campgrounds, which could explain the lack of attendance at the beginning. Either way, we had a good time.

Saturday began with rain, showers, and naps (much needed after Friday's heat wave). The first act we caught was Solid Gold: one of the undercard acts I was really pumped to see. Hailing from Minnesota, I had never listened to any of their studio recordings, until now; immensely impressed with their live set and I enjoyed the music enough to check out some of their music online. Later in the day, I got a chance to talk to a couple of the members, and they seemed just as pumped to be at the fest as the majority of the crowd, gawking at some of the attractions throughout the grounds (including the organized dance circles/vendor tent area, giant air pillow (a.k.a. US Airbag) that people were jumping into from about 50-60 feet up, as well as the rest of the days' schedule).

Some folks testing out the US Airbag
After Solid Gold, I met up with friends at GRiZ in the Hockey Rink, a young DJ from Michigan. He actually stood out amongst many of the other Rink acts throughout the weekend, by playing a heavy amount of funk-infused bass music, both during this set and at the after party later that night. GRiZ was one of the EDM acts I hadn't heard of before the festival that I will remember for the future.

Nas & DJ Green Lantern (photo credit: DJ Green Lantern)
One of the (multiple) benefits of having VIP camping access was the ability to stand on a separate section from GA, allowing the group to get as close as we wanted off to the side. This paid off for many shows, but the first I was really excited about was Nas. Hearing from colleagues earlier this summer that he puts on a good show, I was overwhelmed by his set.

I bicker about many hip hop acts playing shortened versions of their songs, limiting to the audience to only snippets of their favorite tracks. Nas disregarded this trend by playing a mass of his old hits, most in their entirety and mixing in a few new songs. The old songs brought me back to my introduction to hip hop, and its progression in to mainstream rap, and the new tracks had me intrigued in picking up his latest effort, Life Is Good. This was clearly the biggest daytime attendance draw I had seen yet, and rivaled being the biggest I saw all weekend.

Kim literally dropping it on top of the crowd
Our little nook also helped us get front-and-off-center for Matt & Kim, a booking I found odd for this festival, especially behind Nas in the schedule. The duo was an incredibly high-octane performance and there's no amount of drugs that Matt and/or Kim could have scrounged up from festival-goers to illicit the insane amount of smiling that beamed from the stage. Riddled throughout their set of pseudo-classic feel-good songs (i.e. "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare", "Don't Slow Down", "Block After Block", and "Daylight") were pleas from Matt to check out Kim's ass. At one point she literally got on top of crowd members and did her best to "drop it."

But I had one band on my mind all night: MSTRKRFT.


Although I had to see this band alone (my group sold out/bought in to Matt & Kim's electricity), I will admit that this show was one of the best I'd seen all weekend; easily the best DJ/production set. The group treats their set of electronic equipment like guitars, utilizing nothing but the loudest of shredding and shrieking noises to resonate in your chest (literally speaking, actually). It was the loudest I heard the Hockey Rink Stage all weekend. And MSTRKRFT treats its sets like a metal show (and just to prove me right, they closed with a mix of a Slayer song.), making me almost want to mosh amidst a group of people passing an imaginary cube or box or ball between them.

I resisted the urge.

Headlining Saturday night was Umphrey's McGee, a group that I will admit I have seen multiple times in my "I Lived in Madison, Wisconsin" days. I decided to get some rest for the after parties that night, but did catch some of their set. From my brief glimpse into their new sound, I came to a very broad conclusion that it seems like they're playing in to their rivals' hands; switching from their traditional guitar-based "jams" and in to a more electronic, guitar-distortion sound. Don't get me wrong, these guys are all talented musicians, and I have the utmost respect for them, but I was not enjoying their set at all. I popped by to hopefully get a little nostalgia from my "...Madison, WI" days, but instead left bitter.

A View of the Hockey Rink Stage
Sunday had a different feel than any other day of the weekend. It was again, scorching hot, and it seemed like everyone shared a common goal: to get the absolute most out of the final day. Whether it was people trying to get free food from the catering department, head in to the grounds the moment they opened, or even getting as absolutely wax-brained as possible, the crowd was on a mission.

Me and part of the group were of a different mindset: air conditioning, bloody mary's, and bar food. We travelled to a local Bar & Grille located just a skip away from the festival grounds' entrance. I realize this has little to do with the festival, but I wanted to point out that the folks living in Somerset were absolutely great. Talking to bartenders about the festival (and the type of crowd it brings in), and exchanging stories with the locals who were just popping by to play a game of pool on a Sunday. They were in for a treat as I bombarded their digital jukebox with LCD Soundsystem and Justice songs littered between their Trace Adkin, Plain White T's, and Alan Jackson selections. Ooops.

After a game or two of darts and four $2.50 Bloody Mary's later, we decided to check out this "Lazy River" everyone kept talking about across the street from our campsite. Although we declined the opportunity to tour in intertubes (it was a hefty 4-hour trek), we did take a little dip and got a good laugh at those who were on their way out of the Apple River, trying to find their feet again on dry land.

We got back into the festival to get a taste of Paper Diamond and Bonobo's DJ Set. It was enough of a "taste" to provide me with enough of a reason to check out Paper Diamond when he comes to Milwaukee's Turner Hall in the near future.

A big draw for me was F. Stokes, a formerly Madison-based MC, whom we got a chance to speak with the night before. He absolutely tore up his set of songs, performing at the "Second Stage." Stokes took it upon himself to deliver most of his rhymes from the grass, mingled in with the audience. A highlight of his set was his performance of "Small Town, USA" perched atop the back of a "hefty" onlooker, who could handle his weight for an impressive three-quarters of the song. Definitely a great performer, and an MC on the rise to keep your eye out for.

The ever-elusive Black Star
Stokes joined the crowd at the main stage for a couple of legends performing later that night: Black Star. Comprised of Mos Def (excuse me, Yasiin Bey, as he goes by now) and Talib Kweli, the duo absolutely killed it Sunday night, and was the real closer of the festival, in my eyes. It was the biggest non-EDM crowd I had seen, reaching all the way past the soundstage and almost to the far hill, a feat not many other acts accomplished. Playing hits from the duo's repertoire together, as well as solo hits, the Mos Def/Bey and Kweli proved that they still have onstage chemistry and ability. Neither grasping too much of the spotlight; despite Mos Def's edge in the charisma category, he never tried to outshine Talib Kweli.

The highlight of the set, and probably one of the tops for me all weekend, was their cover of "Children's Story" by Slick Rick. Black Star delivered their (and in this case, others') lyrics perfectly in sync and on cue with one another, very rarely stepping on the other member's toes or mashing their voices together. I truly wish that this group were still together.

Pretty Lights was the actual headliner for the night, but it all just seemed like an After Party for Black Star, to me. He performed well, applying crescendos and drops incredibly well, just as one of the top EDM artists should. I wish I had more knowledge of his material; if I did I'm sure I would have plenty more to say about his set. I will say this, however, he had the best light show I had seen all weekend, and quite possibly ever. Towers of lights stood above his riser built (seemingly) on boxes of more lights. If anyone tripped-out kid out there got lost in the music, I can only imagine the stimuli he received from the intense light show.

{Side note: Check out Weekend Natives' coverage of the after parties for the weekend here. And Here!}

On Sunday, I realized that the festival, still in its first year mind you, was more of a festival based around camping and spending time with friends than it was about JUST music. Compared to fests like Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, and Coachella, which possess the mindset of getting you into the grounds as early as possible, and pumping out a lineup that won't allow you to leave, Summer Set comes up short.  That's not saying that the festival can't become something huge. The grounds are navigable and expansive, and the crew members and staff were both something to be heralded at. Some of the prices throughout the grounds left a little to be desired ($7 for a bag of ice at a kiosk on the Campgrounds), but with growing attendance, these things will all level off, or at least you'd hope they do.

I would expect nothing less than next year's Summer Set drawing even bigger bands and acts to perform, and if that happens, festival-goers will reward the fest with another year of great attendance and exposure.

{Side note #2: Check back for more pictures soon!}

Many thanks to the following: Somerset, Wisconsin; Summer Set Camping & Music Festival; Weekend Natives; React/ React Chicago/ React Milwaukee; Diem and everyone at SimShows

1 comment:

  1. It was a great fest with mostly jambands. I think String Cheese was the headliner maybe. Full Record