Here’s How It Works

So Thursday was a Bad Wave that reached out beyond the Fest grounds to grind things to a halt.  A Black Wave, if you will, and it was complete horrorshow.  And would Friday be better?

Wasn’t auspicious.  Wife Sublime had stuff to do with no estimate on completion time, so I skated to the office for the morning, intending to make it the rest of the way down for lunch.  Once I got there, I discovered I had forgotten my pass, and was THIS CLOSE to just paying for a ticket, but $18 was kind of a steep stupidity tax, and since WS texted that she was ready, I swung by home and got both so we made it down by 12:45 or so.  Lunch.

We walked the grounds, and decided to park at an upper deck that had a couple of nice beers available, a Black IPA and a good Oktoberfest.  Since it was kind of foggy, we sat in the sun and those of you who have followed SFB can probably guess what happens now.  Yes, that’s right, by the end of the day my traditional Fest-Burn was well on its way…

Anyways, the music.

Nothing much was compelling until we stopped at the Emerging Artist Series for Friendly People, an East Coast band with a kind of retro-REM influenced sound; but there was a clear dichotomy in their songs, and talking to the guys after the set and while buying the CD, they said that yes, there was a lot of new stuff there that hadn’t been played to such a large crowd yet.  But there were some really good songs.

We saw a friend and her daughter, and traded beers for a while.


Then, a Friend of SFB was playing two stages over.  Mike Benign is one of my favorite local songwriters, literate and tuneful with a distinctive voice, and I was really pleased when he formed his third band, The Mike Benign Compulsion a couple of years back.

Here they are playing a cover of another band covering a song, with a guy from some obscure band from Georgia:

At 9 PM, we were at the “local” band stage for another of my favorite local bands, The Championship.  A friend of ours joined them on keyboards for last year’s show, and the intervening time really showed; his parts were a much bigger part of the band’s sound.

They have a rootsy, alt-countryish sound and Joe Crockett has a great voice, at times reminiscent of Springsteen in delivery and subject matter.  He sings of lost loves and lost dreams and the bleak Wisconsin winters with the voice of a weary romantic.  His lead guitarist fills the songs with nimble, tuneful leads and fills, and the drummer does a great Animal impression.  I love ’em, I do, and you should check em out.

They finished their encores just before the adjacent 10 PM headliners were going to start soundbleeding all over the stage, and the smallish crowd was enthusiastic and I hope Joe and Co. sold a bunch of CDs.  Fuck, they deserve much wider reknown, I hope they find shit-crazy success.

There were plenty of bands to choose from at that point:  Third Eye Blind, Five Finger Death Punch, Tegan and Sara, Bleachers, ZZWard, Atmosphere….but we had been there for 10 hours, and the sunburn was feeling crispy so we beat the crowd out of there and headed home, tired and happy that Summerfest 2014 seemed to be back on track.

For many years, Summerfest had been criticized by local bands for not having enough local music, but one of the first shows I remember there was a triple bill on what was then the main stage of R&B Cadets, Da BoDeans, and the Vioent Femmes. I think the success of the Fest has been rough on the local acts, because there have been an increasing number of bands from around the country competing for the slots – it’s a festival, yeah, but it’s a huge number of fans, and it is more stylistically diverse than things like Lolla or Bonnaroo, so there’s a lot more ability to spread your music across boundaries; and I think the crowds are much more willing to find something new also.  And since the festival has permanent grounds, the stages are nice, and the facilities in general are so extremely well run that bands like to play there.

But the Emerging Artists Series and the Express local music stage have done a lot to open up some space for local bands, and there are several ad hoc stages along the lagoon edge that offer places for locals to busk. 

Ahhh.  A pleasing and tiring local music day at summerfest, I have to say it was an effective antidote to the previous day on any number of levels.  Ahhh.


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