It's become something of a summer tradition: school is out, the temperature is rising and local radio station KHITS (KHTT-FM 106.9) throws a giant party and concert for its younger audience. The moniker has changed over the past few years ("Summer Smash" and "Big Splash Bash" come to mind), but the M.O. is the same: throw a party with a few rising stars at a waterpark full of kids and lock in a demographic of young listeners.
In past years, the show has locked in the likes of Justin Bieber with Girls Like Boys (2009) and Jason Derulo with We The Kings (2010), so a precedent has been set. There will be a few misses and acts that will quickly disappear, but there will also be a few direct hits and artists that stick around -- maybe longer than we'd like. If you're a teen (or have teenage kids), however, it's one heck of a party.
This year is no different, so when "KHITS' Summer Splash 2011" takes over Big Splash this Saturday, June 25, the music selection will make the girls swoon. The boys largely shrug and enjoy the scenery while the parents shake their head in bewilderment.
You can count me amongst those shaking their head at the headliner, Big Time Rush. If you've got kids, this needs no explanation. If you don't -- well, be glad. Manufactured boy bands will never go away -- the packaging just changes and Big Time Rush comes to your courtesy of Nickelodeon. Yeah, you heard that right: Nickelodeon. If Disney Channel can pre-package the pop (and it has for decades -- The Mickey Mouse Club was only a precursor to today's machine), Nickelodeon can go toe-to-toe and has recently produced one of the biggest boy bands of the past decade.
Take one part 'N Sync, one part Hannah Montana, one part High School Musical and blend it with a dash of Making the Band, and you've got Big Time Rush: four photogenic guys with a little talent, auto-tune and a TV show. Never doubt the power of television, because the kids eat this stuff up.
How much, you ask? When the group's debut CD came out last October, it debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard album charts, selling 67,000 copies the first week, and went on to Gold record status. It's not like this is a new marketing ploy, I just don't foresee Big Time Rush having the shelf life or impact of The Monkees.
The silver lining of this show actually turns out to be the "special guest": The Ready Set. Armed with a relative hit with the full length debut; I'm Alive, I'm Dreaming and a follow up single in the recently released "Forever Young," The Ready Set is positioned to become the next "big thing" on the pop scene.
In reality, The Ready Set is Jordan Witzigreuter, a young 20-something from Fort Wayne, Ind., who took on a band name for performing. Upon graduating early from high school, he started booking his own shows and began building a sizable following by spending six to eight hours a day on MySpace to network and build an online presence.
Up to this point, Witzigreuter had been writing and recording his songs on his own, but he put a band together and as he described it, "Drove around the country for a year and a half playing to 30 people a night."
The hard work paid off as the constant touring led to the young musician finding a manager and eventually entertaining offers for a record deal. Ultimately, he signed with Pete Wentz's (of Fall Out Boy) Decaydance Records with distribution via Warner Brothers.
The debut CD for The Ready Set, I'm Alive, I'm Dreaming, was released in June of 2010 and peaked at No. 3 on the album charts, spawning a Top 20 hit with the single "Love Like Woe."
When discussing the transition from being an independent artist to being signed to a label with widespread distribution, Witzigreuter said that it didn't really affect his approach to music that much.
"Up to then I'd been building my following on my own and writing with my laptop and a keyboard," he said. "The biggest change when the new CD came out was just working with bigger name producers."
Lest you think this latest buzz act is just a one hit wonder, think again. A new single, "Forever Young," was released in April and quickly generated a buzz, making The Ready Set a hotter commodity than ever. The new single isn't included on the debut album and when I asked about new material, the artist said that he's hoping to release a new EP within the next few months.
"It's pretty much done already," he said. "I've got about 30 songs done and completed, so now it's just a plan of action: how and when to release them."
For most artists, that type of prolific songwriting would be an issue, but Witzigreuter is constantly writing and demoing material as inspirations strikes, even while on the road.
"I've got a mobile studio in a big case that I take out on the road with me, so I can record demos as I go," he said. "When it comes time to record, I just fly out to L.A. and spend the day tracking what I've got."
Signing with a label hasn't given Witzigreuter a license to slow down at all. If anything, he's only picked up the pace once his debut disc came out. When The Ready Set plays at Big Splash this Saturday evening, it will be the band's second show of the day after performing at the Vans Warped Tour in Houston in the afternoon and hopping a flight to Tulsa.
"Yeah, I asked to play first that day so I could guarantee I'd be able to make it to Oklahoma to play this show," Witzigreuter said.
As a result of the travel schedule, The Ready Set will play a completely different set in Tulsa than it does on the Warped Tour.
"I'll have my guitarist and drummer with me, so we'll have a little acoustic guitar and percussion and play more stripped down versions of the songs," he explained. "We've been doing that more lately because it makes it easy to get in and out for these shows, but it's cool because we get to play and meet people and still keep it easy and fun. Plus, I think the kids like seeing the songs like that because it makes everything a little more intimate and special."
Even though the songs on the album are primarily electronic pop, as directed by his writing on keyboards, Witzigreuter wants to make sure that people know that the songs can stand up on their own.
"The singles have been very electronic, with auto-tune, which can be fun, but I've also made a point to do acoustic versions to let the basics be heard as a song, not just a cool arrangement," he said.
With a stack of solid songs and a relentless work ethic, The Ready Set promises to be one of the current crop of buzz bands with the potential for an extended career. That's part of the fun in keeping an eye on KHITS' summer show: watching who sticks around and who fades away. The only thing that's missing from the equation is a local opener, which as of press time had not been planned or announced. After seeing Stars Go Dim open last year and be included in KHITS' Jingle Ball, it would be cool to see another local pop act like Chase Stites or Apollo get the nod for an opening slot as the audience flows in.
Either way, it will still be a fun night for the young audience and a chance to enjoy the heat, waterpark and the latest pop sensations -- all part of a summer tradition in Tulsa. Tickets are $30 and still available online at expsosquare.com or at the show. Gates will open at 7pm for the 8:30pm show, which is scheduled to be wrapped by 10:30pm.
Share this article: