Tales From The Bootlegger’s Ball

Well, I know I’ve been AWOL.  So I am going to have to work on the schedule of what I want most to write about, rather than be strictly chronological.   To help, I will use a numerical value to help understand which day of the 11-day Summerfest I am referring to, to wit:


Today was a bit hot, and I had work to do, so we got down a bit late; but in plenty of time to catch our first target, local ska stalwarts Max and the Invaders. They’ve been playing in various incarnations around town for 30 years; I’m sure I’ve seen them here and there, because I’ve been seeing live local music since moving to Milwaukee in 1983.

Man, they are fun. Reggae, ska and calypso, with a rocking “O-bla-di” cover.  And they were winging CDs into the crowd, which came in pretty hot but no one was injured.  They also threw monkeys into the crowd during “Monkey Man”.  Here’s my catch, along with my other swag from the night:

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They had a great slot, nearly two hours before local reggae long-timers King Solomon and one of the Marleys was up after that.  King solomon was also really great.

I am not much of a food blogger, but I want to mention that I was a bad bad zombie, and I had something called a Twister Dog. 1/4 lb hot dog wrapped in a spiral cut potato, deep fried and covered with cheese sauce, beer-candied bacon, a jalapeño sauce and a sriracha drizzle.  Fuck YOU, traitorous cardiovascular system!  Messy, yes, but really quite tasty.


Also, we tried the Deep Fried Brandy Old Fashioned.  Is there anything more Wisconsin than deep frying an after-dinner drink?  the answer is none.  None more Wisconsin.

So after eating that delicious, bad food, and listening to some great reggae, we moved to our favorite place:  The Rebel Stage.  Local music, volunteers, fun and only occasionally some morning puke; right on the lagoon and in some wonderful shade, and directly adjacent to the Lakefront Brewery serving tent.

There was a band called Uncle Ferguss’s Magic Whiskey Band.  They played pop and rock hits as Irish folk reels and jigs and they were GREAT.  Right after we got there, they play “Heroes” then “Hurt” then “Whiskey in the Jar” — the Metallica version.  And they finished with a mashup of Freebird, Carry On Wayward Son, and Come Sail Away.  Fricking GENIUS!

And after that was a Milwaukee Polka/ Hip-Hop band.  Yes, you heard that right.  November Criminals.  This is VERY NEARLY more Milwaukee than the deep-fried Brandy Old Fashioned (see above). I took a video, but FYWP wants me to pay actual cash zombie money to embed upload my own videos, and until y’all start paying for my bloghosting, you’ll have to find it on FaceHell or Twitter. But  They were very very fun, and I responded by buying the new Whiskey of the Damned CD and got some stickers….

We went on to see the Gin Blossoms.  We were supposed to catch up with one of my old college roommates, but he got waylaid by his teen daughters and their friends and he had to hang out in a far less-cool place.  Most hilarious text exchange: “wife couldn’t deal with the crowds, so I am in charge” “LOL. WHAT crowds?  This is an empty night…” “[thumbs down emoji]”

Gin Blossoms were good, as they always are. Two quibbles; the sound guy was fucking up the lead guitar, which was all but inaudible.  And the follow spot guy could not grasp the idea that sometimes you spotlight the guitarist or the drummer or whoever is doing something other than singing.

Yes, I know this is pedestrian and blow-by-blow music wangdoodling.  

But here’s the thing.

This was a Tuesday at Summerfest, the day after the Fourth of July. And after a good day of work, we saw an amazing array of bands.  Mixed genres, genders and races and a lot of fans that did, indeed, look like America.  I had someone apologize for standing in front of me, which is actually their right. We had a few beverages, some pretty good food, and awesome awesome music both local and national (and in some cases, international). I heard some new stuff, and learned some new stuff.

I mean, I fully understand that I am a complete outlier when it comes to loving live music and local music and art and things like that.  But I believe that this festival is something special; 11 days of music and food and sun on the shores of one of the great inland seas; in a moderately sized city that makes tolerance and patience and politeness a standard rather than an anomaly and we all get along in a crowded, noisy, chaotic environment.  As someone (I think it was either Hunter Thompson or P.J. O’Rourke before he got stupid) said, “fun is like a virus; it is spread through human contact”.

I have been to the Fest 6 out of six days in 2016.  After the Event of last year, when my cardiologists saved my life and then made me miss Opening Day for the first time in well over a decade, it feels really good to have my health in some kind of control and to feel good after the halfway point. And I will be going down tomorrow as well.  And, zombie willing, the rest of the days as well…

So tonight, like I said, it was a relatively light attendance.  I would guess 65-70,000 people.  And yes, yes indeed we had a WONDERFUL time.




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