When 107.7 The End’s on-air personalities describe Summer Camp, you get the idea that is just like a stereotypical summer camp for middle schoolers, but with a main focus around live music. They advertise that you can sign up to be a “Camp Counselor,” do arts and crafts with one of the show hosts, Gregr, and there are even loads of Sharpie-covered t-shirts around. I wasn’t sure how much of this was just advertising, and how much would actually translate to the event itself. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s just as much about innocent, summer fun and music as it was described to be — set up perfectly in Marymoor Park. The two-day festival features an array of the alternative artists commonly featured on the station. From smaller local bands to internationally famous artists, they managed to pack in 8 performances between 1:00 and 10:00 P.M. each day.
After playing an array of local festivals including Sasquatch! and Capitol Hill Block Party, Seattle’s own Tangerine kicked off summer camp for the small crowd that had gathered early to see them. With a bright indie surf-pop sound, the band had a set that probably wasn’t the strongest Summer Camp could have opened with, but it was nice. While there wasn’t much variety within the performance, it was still enjoyable to watch because of the band’s seemingly optimistic attitude.
Early in the day at 2:00, 24 year-old Bishop Briggs took the stage. I’m sure everyone had heard her single “River,” which is consistently played on 107.7, but none of her other three singles picked up quite as much traction. Despite her lack of popularity, she was without a doubt one of the best performers that day. She has an incredibly strong voice with a versatility that sounds great belting out lyrics or whispering softly into the mic. All of her songs are intense and hard-hitting, making them great to experience live. Visually, she’s a great performer too. Briggs is constantly moving around the stage, totally into her music, and her performance simply demands the attention of the crowd. Closing her set off with “River,” Bishop Briggs hands-down was one of my favorite performances of day one, and I think it’s easy to tell that she’s going to make it big very soon.
Next up was former Seattleite: Barns Courtney. With his single “Fire” picking up speed on alternative charts, he drew a pretty good-sized crowd. However, I didn’t find his set incredibly exciting either. Performing with just an acoustic guitar, and no touring band, after a while all of the tracks seemed to bleed into each other, lacking the diversity that brings a set up and down. Specifically, the studio recording of “Fire” is very upbeat and easy to jam out to. The live performance on the other hand was pretty anticlimactic because you just don’t get quite the same build up before the big drop into the chorus. Technically I guess you could look at this as something like an acoustic vs. studio performance, and I have no problem with acoustic performances — often times they’re even better than the studio recordings, or they give the tracks a new intimacy that wasn’t present in the original. However with this performance of “Fire,” it wasn’t like taking his original track and altering it slightly to benefit the acoustic performance; it was more like taking the original track and trying to play that — and make it sound equally as good — with just a single instrument. Barns Courtney had a pleasant set (and it’s pretty fun to watch him pound on the duct-taped corner of his guitar), but it was quite a change of pace after Bishop Briggs.
If I had to summarize day one, I would probably sum it up with ‘highly anticipated names with very mediocre performances.’ The rest of the day held the promises of bands like Kaleo, KONGOS, and The Strumbellas — all of whom receive good amounts of air-time on 107.7, but none had sets that quite lived up to their reputation.
Right at the peak of the blazing hot day (it was nearly 90°) were The Strumbellas, followed by Hey Marseilles. The performances had quite a few similarities; for example, they both used classical string instruments for parts of their sets, and neither had particularly impressionable performances. When the Strumbellas walked on stage, the crowd went insane. So insane that you probably would’ve thought they were the headliners if you didn’t know any better. Many of the people standing at the barricade shouting “DAVE!!!” (the keyboardist) as he walked on. After that, everyone settled down, and it never really came back up. It was, like many sets from day one, enjoyable, but not especially memorable. Hey Marseilles felt the same way. They had some good moments, like an especially delicate and beautiful performance of “West Coast,” but they were probably not a show-stopping highlight of anyone’s Summer Camp experience.
The last two bands before AWOLNATION shut down day one were Kaleo and KONGOS. I was super hyped to see Kaleo — I had actually mentioned it to my friend earlier that day, and the people next to us said that Kaleo had an amazing performance the last time they were in town, and were going to blow the show out of the water. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by Kaleo’s performance, however. The eventual set somehow managed to be very soulful and feel meaningful, but completely lacked any personality; it felt really robotic. The band thanked the crowd once or twice, but other than that, there was almost no interaction with the crowd, and barely any movement or excitement from the band. The music, however, was pretty good — it sounds almost identical to the album, and “Way Down We Go” had a good portion of the crowd singing along. Again, another set that was good, but ground-breaking.
KONGOS brought some hope back to the night, with a very upbeat performance, that probably got the largest majority of the crowd dancing all weekend. The fun part about it was that all different types of people were dancing. Unlike other sets, it wasn’t just the first few rows of teenagers that were brave enough to stand up front all day, it was the parents in the back, the elementary school-aged kids, the elderly group of friends, the middle aged dads — everyone. In addition, most of the band has fantastic hair that they love to flip around as much as they can. This set was definitely more fun than some of the previous ones, and would probably be worth seeing again, if only for the crowd.
And finally to close off day one of Summer Camp 2016, the highly anticipated AWOLNATION. About two weeks before the festival, 107.7 announced that they had some sort of drawing or competition for the biggest Awol fan. They announced that the winner would have the opportunity to join them on stage, but were very secretive about the rest of the details. As the lights dimmed and the opening sounds of “Run” rang through the crowd, the winner, dressed in a space helmet and carrying a lantern (looking like the character in the song’s music video) slowly walked on stage. A bit later, Aaron Bruno finally ran on stage, much to the crowd’s excitement. Everyone had their hands up and heads banging and they danced along to “Run.” The rest of the set kept up pretty much the same tempo; everyone was incredibly tuned in and ready to party before going home.
After a crazy set, AWOLNATION finished with “Burn It Down,” the whole crowd was left unsatisfied and figured there was no way they could finish without playing “Sail,” their most popular track. Running back on stage, the band picked it back up with a perfect sing-along, “I Am.” Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, Aaron asked the crowd to greet Duff McKagan, who had just played Seattle the night before with Guns N’ Roses. And just to make it even more exciting, because there’s always more with AWOLNATION apparently, Aaron, Duff, and the crowd welcomed Grace McKagan (of The Pink Slips) up on stage to sing in one of the final choruses of “Sail.”
As a whole, day one of Summer Camp had its disappointing moments. However, it definitely had its high points as well, and I don’t think anyone regretted going (unless it was due to the weather).
Day two kicked off with more local heroes, in the form of Kris Orlowski and his band. Orlowski had another one of those sets that was good, but not very standout. The performance of “Walking in My Sleep” was very well done though, and probably my favorite of their set.
Maybe there’s something special about the second spot of the day, but Chef’Special met Bishop Briggs’ high standard from the day before. This was the first band to start day two’s theme of ‘smaller names that completely killed it.’ Fresh off tour opening for Twenty-One Pilots, the dutch band gathered a sizable crowd that afternoon, and definitely made it worth the price of admission. Their sound is all over the place — sort of alternative, sort of indie, but with some reggae influences that shined through at times. Frankly, the few singles they have released aren’t anything very special. They’re good to listen to a few times, and “In Your Arms” is very cute, but they get old quickly. Their live show, on the other hand, was absolutely incredible; it was completely different from their studio recordings. The show is super energetic, fun, and encases an energy and excitement that the singles were definitely lacking. The set included the crowd singing “I’m gonna be the biggest monkey, I’m gonna be the biggest monkey of them all!” along with the band, and the singer walking along the barricade. The set was fantastic, and perfect to dance around to at a hot festival like Summer Camp.
After another mediocre set, The Wombats ran on stage. Their two most popular tracks, “Greek Tragedy” and “Give Me a Try,” have been on 107.7 for quite a while, picking up popularity after the Summer Camp lineup was announced. The set was probably the most energetic of the weekend — it never died down. Usually bands open and close their sets with the most energetic and most popular songs, but that’s how every single song of The Wombat’s set felt like. The guitarist and bassist were running and jumping all over the stage the entire time, the crowd quickly following suit and going crazy in the small space available. Highlights obviously included everyone singing along to the most popular songs, but the whole set felt like one big highlight. The Wombats have the kind of performance that you could go to over and over and never get bored of it because of the endless amount of energy coursing through everyone. Overall, a fantastic set, perfect little pick-me-up as we were now halfway through day two.
After a calmer set with Miike Snow, and a very unique set from The Dandy Warhols, Big Data was filling up the last bit of daylight. The duo had much more of a performance, or a show, than any other band that weekend. The two singers were dressed in all black with sunglasses, while the rest of the band was in all white, and the whole performance was set up to be like a computer simulation. They opened with a remix of “Dangerous,” during which the duo performed their perfectly synchronized robot choreography in time with the intro. During the set, there were often breaks for tracks of an automated voice to welcome the audience to the simulation, introduce the band members, and announce the final portion of the set. Aside from the wonderful visual performance aspects, musically their set was great too. Both Mr. Big Data and Lizy Ryan sang together for each song, and their voices compliment each other very well — hers brings a higher, brighter sound to the songs, and his brings a lower sound to balance it out. Though the voices don’t sound quite as electronic as they do on the 2.0 album, it’s again like the difference between a studio recording and an acoustic performance—different, but a good different.
Finally, indie-alternative kings Young The Giant entered the stage to close out day two. Having just released their album Home of the Strange on Friday, the band was armed with lots of new material to play for us. Opening with one of the newer songs, “Jungle Youth,” the band had the whole crowd dancing along instantly. The new album is pretty impressive — it houses the classic YTG sound, but lyrically it’s very meaningful. With songs that touch on immigration, a person’s sense of belonging, and even themes of xenophobia within the US, it’s not the kind of album that’s released every day. Aside from the heavy lyrics, their performance was an absolutely perfect way to close out Summer Camp. Lead singer Sameer’s dancing got the whole crowd going. The new tracks were a pleasant surprise for older fans, and it’s impossible not to sing along to “My Body” and “Cough Syrup.”
Though there were some sets that I wasn’t particularly keen about, they just made the good ones seem even better. 107.7 The End’s 2016 Summer Camp had an incredible lineup, but looking at previous years, it doesn’t seem as if this is anything new. The festival managed to create a very friendly environment that was easily enjoyable and welcoming, just as summer camps should be.