Summer Set Festival brings EDM north of the border

Bill Lamb, Contributing writer

Only in its third year, Wisconsin’s Summer Set Music and Camping Festival has quickly become a top destination on the summer music scene. Spread across three days — Aug. 15–17 — the festival features music from the electronic and jam band genres.

Located in Somerset, a Wisconsin town of about 2,500 just 45 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, Summer Set is based around the Somerset Amphitheater and three surrounding campgrounds. The layout gives the event an ambiance that’s half traditional music festival and half camping festival.

In 2012, the festival’s first year, Summer Set drew 13,000-15,000 attendees per day. It’s been growing ever since under the watchful eye of its promoters, veterans of Chicago’s Spring Awakening and North Coast Music Festivals.

Most impressive at Summer Set is the musical lineup. Electronic dance music dominates, but there are plenty of other genres represented — from jam bands to hip-hop. Many EDM acts fail to cross the border north of Chicago for Wisconsin concerts. Summer Set fills the gap. 

Headlining on Aug. 15 is Grammy-nominated DJ Ryan Raddon, better known as Kaskade. The Chicago native was named “America’s Best DJ” by DJ Times magazine in both 2011 and 2013. He headlined Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, widely recognized as North America’s top electronic dance music festival, in 2012. Much of his fame among EDM artists comes from his ability to present shows that tell a story and make the concert experience feel intimate even in massive arenas and crowded festivals.

Big Gigantic leads Day Two of the festival. The Boulder, Colorado, duo has built a reputation among music festival devotees. They’re almost guaranteed a rapturous welcome-back after headlining last year’s Summer Set.

Big Gigantic’s music is difficult to describe — an intriguing blend of electronica, hip-hop, jazz and jam band with analog saxes and drums amid technologically advanced beats, lighting and stage designs.

Bassnectar anchors Sunday, the final night. Bassnectar is the recording name of DJ Lorin Ashton. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and was originally influenced by heavy metal and hard rock. Like Big Gigantic, Bassnectar is known for powerful live performances, with dramatic lighting effects and recurring, interwoven motifs. Bassnectar is often ranked as one of the foremost artists in the drum and bass genre, but hip-hop and rock are also an integral part of his shows.

Beyond the headliners, Summer Set boasts about 60 acts spread across four stages, where music begins by mid-afternoon daily. Other notable performers include progressive improv band Umphrey’s McGee, hip-hop legends Wu-Tang Clan and Philadelphia-based electronic jam band Disco Biscuits — all strong performers who help raise Summer Set’s stature as a great summer music destination.

On stage

Summer Set runs Aug. 15-17, from 2 p.m. to midnight. Tickets are $44.50 for individual nights or $115 for a three-day pass. Camping packages can be reserved for an additional fee. The festival has scheduled after-parties that cost $20 to attend. For more, visit summersetfestival.com/2014. 

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