In the past six years, Summer Set has grown to be one of the biggest midwest music festivals. Bringing together hip hop and electronica, with the occasional blue grass and indie rock performer, the hills of Somerset light up for one calming weekend every August. Just a stone's throw from the Apple River, this festival is an embodiment of Summer itself. While the activities and performances seem to go off without a hitch, we sat down with Summer Set Music Festival partner Jack Trash to find out what goes on behind-the-scenes at the festival.
UHH: Going into your sixth year here, what has been the most challenging thing to overcome? And what do you guys feel is the easiest part of the festival
Jack: The most challenging thing has probably been keeping our lineup diverse and strong while managing the overall budget and attendance expectations. There are so many festivals every summer, from a local community level up to the regional and national draw festivals. Many of our customers have a limited base of funds to spend on a higher end festival experience, the whole weekend deal. It simply costs a significant amount of money to spend an entire weekend at a festival: transportation, food, accommodations, festival ticket, etc… Customers have lots of choices, and tend to go to one or two festivals a season. We try to provide the best lineup and experience at reasonable pricing. We want fans to have a great weekend with amazing music, and still not stress about rent, bills, and other fun stuff they want to be able to do.
The easiest part of the festival for myself has been working with my partners (React Presents & The Majestic Theater). My partners are such huge music lovers, and the discussions we have regarding the lineup are the most fun part of producing the festival (not counting the actual festival weekend itself). Mixing and matching well know artists, up-and-comers, personal faves, it is all really awesome to work through with our team. We all respect each other and work well together.
There is a lot of mixing of genres nowadays but hip hop and Electronica/EDM/house etc makes sense to me. When I heard Danny Brown with Rustie or a Marshmello remake of Kendrick Lamar it makes sense. Where did the idea for Summer Set come from for you? Did the combination just make sense?
The music inspiration for Summer Set really came from the idea that most people enjoy a variety of music. Some of these styles of music tend to mesh well together, be a more natural fit for collaborations, listening to playlists/mixes together, etc… Hip hop and electronic music is such a huge obvious one nowadays. However, looking back at the history of electronic music hip hop has been an influence for a long time. Older electronic music from the 90’s often sampled hip hop catch phrases and hooks, which helped provide an identity and oomph to the tracks. A house/techno/electronic track produced well can instantly be made more dance floor friendly with a couple of well placed vocal samples. As the genres crossed over more over the years, actual rappers and electronic producers started collaborating more and more, from the musical composition level on through the finished product. There is also the obvious remix level going on right now as well. Every new hip-hop track automatically comes with half-dozen sick electronic remixes nowadays. The Summer Set team are all music lovers at heart, and we wanted Summer Set to reflect the passion of diverse music lovers. We wanted people to be able to move from stage to stage and experience different sounds and styles.
One thing that makes your festival unique is that is shifts from year to year. With festivals like Eau Claires, or Electric Forests, they have one major genre and sprinkle stuff here and there, but I saw a festival of many hip hop acts last year and this year it is heavier on the EDM side. Do you guys plan for this shift or does it just seem to occur with who can play?
Much of this boils down to who we are targeting, who is available, and overall costs of the acts. We prefer having a well balanced musical lineup, but things do tend to shift a bit from year to year based on these listed variables. We do try to balance things out in other manners as well. For example, we have a huge hip hop star with Post on this year, but not as many other larger tier hip hop acts. However, our regional Saloon stage is stacked with AMAZING regional hip-hop talent, and lots of it. Previous years have seen a heavy dose of bands on the Saloon stage. This year there is a lot of great hip hop on that stage.
Tell me a little about the acts performing at the Saloon this year. As a local hip hop head in the Twin Cities this is a very exciting event for me.
We do have Dolo Harris & Free Wifi taking over the Saloon for a couple of hours later on Saturday, and that will be sick. Dolo is a huge hip hop influencer/mc/performer in the Twin Cities, and Free Wifi is the newer project for J. Plaza from Minneapolis. Who knows who might turn up during these couple of hours!
This venue is beautiful, from the campgrounds to the VIP area to the Apple River you can't really ask for more. What do you think the venue adds to the experience?
We love the location and layout of the venue. We have a wide range of camping options to suit various financial & personal preferences. The VIP Woods experience allows you to pick a spot in the woods and create your own campsite, while providing all kinds of sweet amenities for a complete experience. Preferred / RV camping gets you more space to stretch out, power and water hookups, right next to the main festival grounds entrance. North and South give you more cost effective routes. We love that everything is really close on the festival grounds. It really does not take long to get anywhere on the grounds, which is easier on fans and allows them to enjoy various aspects of the festival. Having the Apple River across the street is very fortunate. Fans have realized that running the Apple River on a tube with your squad is literally the perfect thing to do on a nice summer day before hitting the festival. We have shuttles that get you to various tubing access points, so you can have easy access to what becomes a wild river festival party. This year we have developed an area providing more creative and engaging activities for fans. The Urban Arts area is expanding into this space, as well as our new Silent Disco. The Urban Arts area provides live painting and art, yoga, drum circles, basically different artistic choices and options to explore. The Silent Disco has djs that range from turntablism to drum & bass to open format to bass music, a wide cut of diverse music. Two djs will play at a time, and fans can flip back and forth between the djs to enjoy whatever they choose.
Six years means you have had a lot of artists bless the stages, is there any performance that stands out to you and who is one artist you are still hoping to see perform?
There have been so many amazing performances over the years. I honestly could not pick a fave. There are definitely a few that stick in my mind more: Deadmau5 because of what he does. Diplo in the Big Top a few years back was straight nasty. The Wu-Tang Clan was beyond surreal, like really almost not even real. I just stood on the side of the main stage and stared in awe. Infected Mushroom in 2016 was out of control, with their live blend of electronic mixed with kinda everything. They just destroyed the place. Bassnectar is always a treat, and we hope to have him back soon. There have been way too many memorable acts, which is one of the greatest joys with being a part of this festival. A few acts I would love to see perform at Summer Set… Wiz Khalifa, Kygo, Avicii, and Snoop Dogg.
On the stage, there is plenty to take in, but what truly makes any festival memorable is the atmosphere of the fans. From artwork to food, to glass blowing and more what is your favorite part of the festival off the stage?
The atmosphere of the fans IS what makes Summer Set amazing. The music is always great in so many ways, but the fans are who bring the energy and love. The campgrounds late night is where a lot of magic occurs, in my opinion. After the festival has wrapped for the evening, everyone is hanging around their campsites chatting about the music, the day’s activities, life in general, a whole range of topics. People are friendly, meeting new friends, sharing stories and memories, eating and drinking, just enjoying life together. I cherish the energy of the campsites late at night.
Outside of your festival, do you go to many and if so do you have a favorite?
I honestly do not have much time to get out to other festivals. My life is music intensive, and when I do get a vacation I really enjoy going somewhere more quiet and relaxing. I live and breathe music events week to week throughout the year, so it is nice to get out on my mountain bike with my girlfriend, take a road trip with my son, or go on a long run along a beach somewhere. I do usually go to Spring Awakening in Chicago, as it is closer and fits easier into my schedule. I always enjoy that festival weekend, having Chicago to enjoy along with the amazing music. I would love to get out to Coachella or a really diverse festival sometime soon, but life can be hard to balance.
Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?
I am definitely excited for a ton of acts this year. I rarely get to enjoy much of the actual music during the festival, as I am working most of the time. I want to see Die Antwoord for their craziness, Run the Jewels because their music is really fresh and unique, Keys N Krates for the live aspect of what they do, Seven Lions because he is always surprising with his sets, ZEDD for his massive hits and energy, Malaa and Ghastly for their deep and twisted house beats, RL Grime always throws down, plus plenty of others I want to be able to catch a bit of when I can.
Of the three stages, which one is your favorite and why?
I personally love The Grove the most. The Grove seems to embody the spirit of Summer Set is many ways. The layout in the natural landscape, with the hills surrounding the stage and woods all around, it is just a beautiful environment for the stage.
The Grove is my personal favorite stage as well, for all the same reasons. It feels like you truly are just out in the wild with music surrounding you. For those still looking to join in the festivities and atmosphere of an event I look forward to every year, you can find info and prices here.
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