The Big Gig
Milwaukee Summerfest. It's what you want it to be. Some call it too sterile, too commercial, too tidy and not what they call a rock and roll festival. Summerfest is something of a musical enigma. It is a tremendous family event until the sun begins to set and then it evolves or devolves depending on you perspective. Having children with you as darkness approaches probably constitutes poor parenting bordering on child neglect. It is a place where you could be passed a flask of electric wine during a Imagine Dragons show or catch a whiff of sweet smoke coming from the rocks along the lake or rising from the heart of a large crowd in front of one of the stages. And of course in the alcohol flows freely. But as it should be, the music always remains the attraction. You can catch surprisingly capable bands on one of the small stages alongside the lake. The Tiki Tent and the Refugee stage. Bands playing for no compensation and only for tips and exposure. It is pure and sometimes even magical to the point where you don't give a damn if you miss seeing a national act. If Public Enemy with Chuck D. and Flavor Flav isn't for you (damned good performers) truck down a little bit and see a Peruvian salsa band come from the stage with their wireless gear to lead the a totally absorbed audience in a rollicking line dance. Lindsey Stirling? I was curious but skeptical and damn if I didn't become a fan. If you have a chance to see her show she will convince you she is the real deal. The first of the two nights we were there this year featured Kaskade, Sheryl Crow, Trombone Shorty, Dirty Heads, Magic, and Mavis Staples along with dozens of other bands from noon to closing. I managed to catch a taste of all of them. For 18 dollars. My weak complaint is that there is almost an embarrassment of riches. If you want to catch the entirety of a favorite act you will have to give up seeing a lot of other fantastic music, but somehow it always gets rationalized. I have stayed the distance for Phil Lesh and Friends, the Flaming Lips and the Foo fighters. But hell, if you like it, they got it. Big Smo your thing? Gary Clark Jr, EDM, jam bands, country (and western), Americana, blues, ethnic, electronica, hip hop and more and more. I wrapped up Summerfest this year watching the final two songs by Trampled by Turtles. Some bands are meant to be seen live and if you get the chance to see them, take advantage. They covered The Weight by the band and then came out to encore with Wait so Long. They achieved that rarely seen Grateful Dead X-factor type vibe between themselves and the crowd. And the kicker was that as the band left the stage, the moment the lights came up, Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant began blasting from the pa system. It was magic upon magic. I don't know if it was by design or just dumb luck but it fit like a glove and I have never seen an audience leave a show on such a high note. It would be nice to see a local band give it try. I've cued up Electric Avenue to play after a variety of styles of music and it works with everything. Hell, all the area bands should give it a try.