Weather in the Midwest is always unpredictable and the fourth installment of Summer Set Music Festival this year was looking less than favorable from the start. With a forecast of back-to-back blistering hot days (followed by a chance of storms on Sunday), a stacked lineup was prepared to make up for possible discomfort. With Deadmau5 as the closer on Sunday, Summer Set boasted every type of genre you could ask for with the deep house sounds of Tchami, Hip-Hop greats Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, to the down-home roots of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. The result: Overall, Summer Set Music Festival '15 was an exciting experience. Filled with mostly ups and only a few downs, this year proved that you can have a blast in the hills of Wisconsin no matter what Mother Nature might throw at you.
As you might expect from a young festival, there were many upgrades from previous years in an attempt to provide festival goers with the best weekend experience. An additional stage was added, named The Meadow, making for five total stages. After an overwhelming response to the “talking trees” (which were animated faces projected onto two large evergreens) last year, the Summer Set team had a stronger focus on art this year by teaming up with a new art director who added more installations and features. Finally, the return of the Summer Set App. This app not only gave live updates throughout the weekend, but a map of the grounds as well.
Friday was predicted to be the hottest day of the weekend with temperatures hitting around 90 degrees. The local meteorologist called the humidity levels “unbearable”. The moment I stepped out of my car after parking near the main entrance I was hit by a wall of moisture in the air. Equipped with a water bottle and a bag of snacks to keep me energized for the battle against the heat, I began my day one journey. After checking in and getting my wristbands, I made my way towards the main entrance.
Security this year was painless for the most part. A big part of that was the drop in unnecessary checkpoints between stages. My only complaint was that after getting my bag past the first checkpoint, I was told at the next checkpoint that no outside food was allowed in. I was slightly confused… not only because the packaging was unopened, but since this wasn't an issue in the past. The security worker was polite and informed me that I had the choice of going back and dropping my food off – or they would have to confiscate it. Since I was already running late, I decided to leave the food with them.
Two checkpoints deep into the festival grounds, I quickly made my way towards the relocated Big Top Stage (now close to the North East edge of the grounds). Previous Summer Set attendees might remember this stage from last year. The huge circus-style tent is equipped with uplighting on the four peaks and colorful material hanging inside to give it a true carnival feel. Here is where I spent time catching up with Kap Slap shortly before his set. While Kap Slap was settling in, Audien was wrapping things up inside, dropping his huge hit “Something Better” featuring Lady A.
As with any festival, it's hard to catch full sets of artists if you want to see everyone. I dealt with this for the first time on Friday by leaving Kap Slap's set early to check out Odesza at the Grove Stage. I've heard nothing but great things about Odesza live from others. The guys definitely lived up to the hype! The sounds, visuals and overall feel coming from both the stage and the crowd were overwhelmingly positive. The spaciousGrove Stage not only had pyrotechnics featured on stage, but also shooting out of a huge art piece located near the stage area entrance. Realizing that the day was flying by, I quickly made my was to the Meadow Stage to catch the end of Purity Ring. This was my favorite stage setup of the weekend! Corin Roddick's light-themed instrument paired with the draping string lights that Megan James would dance through made for a very intimate set that was a must see! Sadly Purity Ring's final song was literally shut down halfway through because the nearby Main Stage was firing up for Bassnectar. I felt terrible for a now devastated Megan, who moments before playing the last song begged for the crowd to stick around for one more.
On that note it was time to experience the Main Stage area for the first time that weekend. I took the gravel path that lead me past a lit up SSMF structure, then directed through a brightly colored arch. Shortly past the arch I was in The Main Stage area containing a couple of lit up bench structures, carnival rides and a huge mass of bass heads in front of the stage ready for Bassnectar. His set consisted of high quality visuals and large waves of confetti. He ended the set with his remix of ‘Feeling Good'. At this point of the night I was ready to grab some food to make up for my long lost granola bars. I went to the food vendor area on the side hill of The Main Stage to grab some tacos. Apparently great minds think alike because I bumped into Kap Slap once again who was also enjoying some grub while taking selfies with fans.
For some, the first day was over… but for a large number of others (including myself) it was time to hit the after party. Haywyre performed for his second time of the day, dropping his take on Michael Jackson's ‘Smooth Criminal', who was then followed by GRiZ, who even dropped his new track “Summer” after saying ‘Summer at Summer Set, it just makes sense!”. Both artists delivered the perfect sound to end the night.
Starting my Saturday, I caught the weather report saying that the day would be almost identical to the first day, minus a few degrees. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything this time around so I showed up a half hour before the gates were open. During that time I walked through the North Campground where a crew from Wisconsin invited me over to share some shade and drinks. I didn't push my luck on this day and had left my bag behind, but made sure not to forget my water bottle as I entered the the toasty festival grounds. I spent the first hour exploring the vendor and arts area. I picked up a print from a local artist, got a free shot of Starbucks, watched a group participate in a free yoga session, and took time to watch the silk aerial performers. As with years prior, the arts area got me in the perfect mindset to start the day and trek out to the first sets of Day Two.
Of course I had to head to the Big Top again to catch my first Day Two set from the Summer Set veteran, Manic Focus, who was just wrapping up. The tent was overflowing with other fans who came to show love early for the Midwest native, including Manic Focus' own parents.
Later, as much as I didn't want to leave Giraffage mid-set, I couldn't turn down meeting up with my friends to see the reunited Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. To be honest I didn't have the highest hopes for this set. I had previously seen a fraction of the group give a mediocre performance in a small bar that about two years prior. Wow, was I proven wrong! Having the whole group together and dropping hits along with tributes to Eazy-E, Notorious B.I.G., and Tupac was truly a great throwback experience.
Walking out of the Grove, I kept overhearing festival goers rave about Jauz on the Main Stage. That was all I needed to convince myself that it was time to go deeper and head back to my second home of the weekend, The Big Top for some House music. Brillz was all smiles as he left the fans hyped up just in time for Tchami to tag in. Shiba San was the last artist to perform at the Big Stage that day. I had a game plan going into Shiba San's set: catch the beginning and jump over to see The Weeknd (who had been moved to the Main Stage because of high demand). That game plan failed, but not in a bad way in my opinion. Shiba San's set was loaded with so much amazing sounding Tech House that I was sucked in and straight up lost track of time to catch The Weeknd.
Eventually I finally made my way to the Saloon Stage, located at the on-site bar, for the first time of the weekend. Here I caught Nashville artist Mike Floss keeping the crowd hyped up before the next Main Stage act. 10:30PM hit and it was time to witness another Summer Set veteran (or in this case veterans), Big Gigantic. As usual the guys didn't disappoint and shut down Day Two with heavy funk, drums and sax. Another great duo, The Floozies were playing Saturday's after party. After experiencing a day filled with heat, back-to-back sets and not wanting to deal with the crazy line that had built up for the after party, I decided to call it a night.
Weather wise, Day Three was a total 180 of the first two days. Overcast skies and a chance of showers had come to join the festivities. Minnesota artist Ghost Channels kicked off Day Three at The Big Top with great tunes, including “Out Of Commission” featuring fellow Minnesotan and Summer Set performer Megan Hamilton, throwing in his newest track “Elevator” as well. Next was JT&T, the duo consisting of one of the Summer Set producers Jack Trash on the deck alongside saxophonist Tyler ALlix. Together, they brought some cool and mellow Sunday sounds that progressed as the set went on.
Late in the afternoon, I met up with Vaski to get his thoughts on the festival. During our interview, Mother Nature finally decided to quit the day-long tease and drop some rain. Shortly after talking with Vaski, I walked over and introduced myself to a group of guys who were a major part of the whole Summer Set weekend: the puppeteers. These guys controlled several whacky puppets that wandered the grounds and stage areas all weekend. They informed me of their very green views. They created the puppet frames from recycled tubing they would come across. By the time we were done chatting, the rain had let up so I made my way back to The Meadow Stage.
Luckily, Summer Set was ready for rain this year with straw laid out along the paths between stages. 5PM at The Meadow I witnessed the boys of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades perform a good ol' fashioned ho down! The crowd was hooking arms and dancing to the twangy sounds of the local Wisconsin band.
The excitement only rose from there as I headed to the Main Stage to witness Die Antwoord live for the first time. Before joining the crowd in front of the stage, I walked around the perimeter and caught a pic of the famous Manny The Frenchie in attendance at the merch booth. Then, about 10 minutes into my arrival, sudden silence, followed by a man's voice over the speakers. “At this time we are temporarily suspending all festival programming and advising all guests to seek shelter immediately”. This couldn't have happened at a worse time, since Die Antwoord fans aren't exactly the type you want to play games with. There was a roar from the crowd, followed shortly by mass confusion. I was confused myself as I hopped on my phone to check for any weather warnings. A Flash Flood Watch, but nothing beyond that. Shortly after that, my Summer Set App notified me that the National Weather Service had issued a threat of severe weather in the area. After bumping into some friends on my walk out of the festival they told me there was a bolt of lighting in the background of G-Eazys performance. An understandable reason for the delay indeed. I joined my friends back at their camp across the road at Float Rite Park until gates were opened. “Gates open back in 45 minutes, spread the word!”, one of the Float Rite workers told us.
I waited a little longer at the campsite for confirmation texts from friends and another notification on the Summer Set App that the gates were back open. I expected the Main Stage festival entrance to be a mile long at the time of reopening, so I waited it out a little longer yet. I made the right decision because I found out later that the large line filled with the upset festival goers stormed the entrance. An uncalled for act like to say the least.
After all the chaos, I was back inside to catch more great music. I was looking forward to catching Lettuce, but sadly their performance was cancelled due to the weather delay. Thankfully Vaski had only 15 minutes cut from his set so I headed that way. He dropped lots of great tracks including his untitled track that he and 12th Planet collabed on.
It had reached that time of the weekend where it was time to close out the stages. Zeds Dead wrapped up The Grove stage in proper fashion with a full house. In my three years of attending the festival, they brought in by what was by far the largest crowd I've seen at that stage. I snuck back to catch Borgeous close out The Big Top and to say goodbye to some of my friends who held down the stage all weekend. After the goodbyes, I arrived early at The Main Stage for a good spot for Deadmau5.
Only a few minutes after I found my spot, I turned around to find all of the Summer Set goers had flooded behind me. The huge stage setup that I've been hearing about was nearly fully set up. The now fully intact dome had slowly started glowing as gentle melodies began playing from the stage speakers. Deadmau5 began his set inside the dome wearing his mau5head, taking it off shortly after. As the set went on, the dome structure slowly broke apart and spread across the stage. His performance was filled with great down temp tracks, balanced out with “Ghosts N Stuff” and a mini party that broke out mid set with the infamous Left Shark during “Seeya”. Although some may have called it anti-climatic, I thought the pace of Deadmau5's set had a good balance and was a great way to wrap up a festival on a Sunday in Wisconsin. Makes sure to mark this one on your calendar next year.