As a busy summer destination for tubing, camping and concerts, the Village of Somerset has sometimes gotten a bad rap for the crime these events may bring to town. That is especially true for the Summer Set Music Festival that occurs in mid-August. But Village President Jeff Johnson admires how far the concert venues, village, emergency services and law enforcement agencies have come in the last few years in working together to maintain peace while fostering economic vitality within the community.
“My first instinct is to be defensive in what we (the village board) have accomplished,” Johnson said. “The reason is because of all the time and effort to create and apply the interim conditional use permit. Many hours of discussions, meetings, as well as observing firsthand, have been spent to address the multitude of concerns.”
What are those concerns? The number one concern, in relation to the Summer Set Music Festival (SSMF) at the Somerset Amphitheater, has been the number of drug arrests made during the weekend of the event. Along with those arrests come resident concerns for their children, themselves, their property and the sort of visitors the festival brings to town.
“What’s to stop individuals from jumping over fences?” resident Don Kern asked Somerset Plan Commission members at an Aug. 25 meeting. “We got two little kids in town. There’s other individuals in town. The safety of the children and the drugs. Those are the two biggest concerns and they happen within 10 feet of my property during this event. I know it’s only three days but it’s three days I can’t deal with anymore. … This town doesn’t need more drugs.”
Many residents have voiced their displeasure over SSMF at various village meetings, ranging from noise complaints, trespassing violations, the number of drug arrests and preserving the small town feel of the community.
Village works with Somerset Amphitheater
The Somerset village board works tirelessly to lessen the impact of thousands of people descending on Somerset each summer by working with Amphitheater owner Matt Mithun, Johnson said.
“Traffic is addressed along with parking signs dispersed throughout the residential neighborhoods,” Johnson said. “The days and hours of operation were put in place to address school days as well as those who return to work on Mondays.”
Village Trustee Dave Carufel said several things were done this year to protect citizens, including adding more police officers to staff the event, using drug dogs at the site and putting up fencing around the additional camping areas to keep people both in and out.
“I took a tour of the concert grounds on Saturday night of the concert to see that the improvements we requested were being implemented,” Carufel said. “I was very impressed at the effort made to improve the parking, the spacing of lanes and the medical facilities’ improvements. What I was more impressed with was the people that were attending the concert. These kids were very respectful and well-mannered. It was not really what I was expecting after hearing people talk. Most were there to have a good time and listen to music. I feel it would be a shame if they were rolled together and labeled druggies.”
Johnson said he has worked closely with Mithun since he purchased the concert site four years ago and respects how he embraces the use of security personnel, police and K-9 units to provide a safe environment for concert-goers and village residents.
“As with all large gatherings, about 1 percent of those attending will bring attention to themselves in a negative way,” Johnson said. “Police presence is a big deterrent. Mithun treats everyone with respect. He is honest and sincere in all his business dealings with the board.”
Carufel noted that Mithun has made an effort to bring more family friendly events to town, like the Iron Cowgirl event held Sept. 7.
Extra precautions have been taken in the past couple of years to make SSMF and other events as safe as possible, Mithun said. This includes designing the concert site to place everything within walking distance, adding fencing around the site and campgrounds and purchasing additional property to build permanent facilities for concert-goers near the amphitheater.
“In years past we had several campgrounds open in the village to deal with the amount of people in town for the concerts,” Carufel said. “These were just rented and opened for the event.”
Mithun purchasing the extra property and building facilities has kept the majority of people contained to one side of town.
“Not having thousands of people walking through town to get to the event has cut down on the public interaction with these people,” Carufel said.
Mithun noted other benefits he’s added to maintain safety include lighting throughout the entire venue, bathrooms, water stations, RV stations, signage, shuttle services and extensive medical, security and police teams.
Another key factor in the success of the festival and safety is maintaining year-round communication with Police Chief Doug Briggs, the Village Board and public safety committee, Mithun said.
“For as long as I can remember, Somerset has been a destination for concerts, camping and tubing,” Mithun said. “While we love seeing the positive effects of tourism, we must always monitor what our visitors are doing.
“Of course, certain aspects of the festival keep us on our toes. When you have nearly 20,000 people congregated for any type of event, you must be on high alert. No place of business can predict or control every person that tries to enter through its doors; a music venue is no different. While 99 percent of patrons may respect the rules, you work tirelessly to prepare for those who don’t,” Mithun said.
According to Briggs, 30 people were booked into the St. Croix County Jail for offenses committed the weekend of SSMF, Aug. 14-18. Of those booked, Somerset Police Department arrested 15; The St. Croix County Drug Task Force apprehended 12; and the Wisconsin State Patrol arrested four. Additionally, the police department issued 26 citations during that same period.
“Arrests were up this year, but that was intentional,” Briggs said. “The event promoter (React Presents, a concert and promotion production company from Chicago) brought a more efficient security function. Mithun brought in a new person with experience working big concerts that made the law enforcement’s tasks much more efficient. They were doing their best to keep controlled substances out and stopping it at the gates.”
According to Briggs, 31 separate charges for controlled substance violations were lodged against 15 people arrested by Somerset Police. That weekend, the police department handled 114 calls for service throughout the entire village; 69 of those calls were on Somerset Amphitheater property or campgrounds related to the event.
Each year representatives from the the village, police, fire departments, Regions Hospital, ambulance services and the Amphitheater meet to discuss what went right with the large concert events, what went wrong, what could be done better and any new issues that come up.
“Our goal in the year’s ICUP was to reduce the amount of medical issues, many of which were caused by drugs,” Carufel said. “We had additional police officers on hand. We had five drug dogs working the parking lots, campgrounds and concert venue. In addition to that, all attendees were searched before entering the concert grounds. The net result was less medical issues and more arrests, which took drugs out of the area.”
According to Somerset Fire Chief Travis Belisle, medical issues associated with the concert were cut by at least half. EMS saw about 85 patients over the three-day span with issues ranging from lacerations, sprained ankles and drug overdoses.
“We deploy between five and 17 EMTs that are either mobile or stationary providing EMS throughout all events that Matt hosts,” Belisle said. “We also straff a truck outside the event to respond to any emergencies that may occur in the community, so that we are not taking away from serving our community.”
Briggs said to have enough officers on hand not only for SSMF, but the entire summer season, he hired 35 casual call officers in addition to the five full-time officers. During the peak hours of 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. at the concert, Briggs has up to 30 officers on duty working overlapping shifts.
According to St. Croix Criminal Court Clerk Edie Ferrill, on Monday, Aug. 18, the clerk’s office processed 34 new complaints from SSMF.
One big question many residents ask is: Do all the extra village, county, police, ambulance, fire and other services incurred by the concert come out of taxpayers’ pockets? The answer is no.
“All governmental services are 100 percent paid by the Amphitheater,” Johnson said.
This includes anything from officers’ wages (both village and county), recruiting, training, gas, food, overtime, water, vehicle maintenance, everything, Briggs said. The amphitheater is required to pay a $10,000 start-up fee each year, which covers prepping for the summer season, including training of officers and equipment. If any is not used, it is reimbursed to the amphitheater, Briggs said. The Somerset Amphitheater’s total bill for SSMF to the police department, fire/EMS and Sheriff’s Office totals $58,033.51, according to deputy clerk treasurer Andrea Otto.
As for the money brought to the village and the concert venue by SSMF and other events, the number goes into the millions, said event promoter Zach Partin of React Presents.
“The festival creates dozens of jobs for the community and residents,” Partin said. “The producers of the event, as well as the staff, are also frequently in town preparing for the event.”
Mithun said he employs 150-200 at the venue for big events.
“Most of our businesses need a big summer tourism crowd to be able to make it through the winter,” Carufel said. “These concerts and events help create jobs in the summer and help businesses survive the slow winter months.”