Monthly Archives: June 2018

The Best Years Of Our Lives

Friday came in hot, like a flaming trash truck.


but the Big Backyard stage had booked a day-long reggae fest, with the bands until the 10 PM headliner all being Wisconsin bands.  So, what could we do?

We made it down for the Tritonics at 2.  They were pretty damn good, with a nice mix of originals and covers.  They even did an instrumental dedicated to local dive bar Circle A where I saw Deano Waco a couple of weeks ago.

Next up was a wide-ranging touring band called Unity the Band from the Fox Valley.  The band was from all over, and the singer from Fiji.  The bass player had a severe case of Bass Face:


The singer tried like hell to convince us, over and over, that reggae music was comprised of every other musical style including bayou blues and disco.  He didn’t convince me.  But the music was still really good.  But he also kept re-iterating that the music was about love and, yes, Unity.  Also, some really cool reggae-fied covers, like Down Under and All Along The Watchtower…

As such a hot day, we elected to go with Lienie Summer Shandy and although this is not to be considered an ad or an endorsement, this was a relatively light weiss style beer with lemon citrus flavorings that went down pretty well on a hot day.  However, after a few of this mixed up with straight water hydration, I was kind of sloshing like a goatskin.  So my only recourse was to tamp it down, and Water Street Brewery had just thing; they have a new beer this year, Midnight Lager, and it is fucking DELICIOUS.  It’s a Guinness-style beer with a rich thick foam head, and it tastes good warm so the warm weather worked in its favor.  A couple of this made all the other beers behave….

Next up was local long time stalwarts Kojo.  I remember the first time I saw this band, many years ago, and how muscular and beautiful the music was.  And that’s why when they started with three muted, mushy sounding songs made us blanch and nearly made us wander off.  “Wait” I said.  “She said this is the last (whatever) song before they kicked it off.”  And they did, and at the end of this misguided mess, the drummer kicked it in and like a shot of nitro in a car, it woke up the elderly lead guitarist and kicked the band into the stratosphere.

THIS was the band I remembered.  Every single member sang songs and they, like every other band, alternated between originals and covers, and announced the origin locale of each song, taking us on a trip around the country and around the world, ending, of course, in Jamaica.


King Solomon had the ‘official opening slot’ at 8 PM.  Stu, the lead guitarist is a friend who we met on a trip to Ireland – our kids knew each other from Little League and grade school.  I shouted “HI!” at him, but never managed to see his wife, who I apparently barely overlooked because I walked right in front of her.

The band was blisteringly hot (in both meanings), and very loud.  In addition to several singers, they had a ‘toaster‘ who is from Ocho Rios and sounded like Cookie Monster when he wasn’t singing.

They added a guitarist and a pair of sax players for the show, which made them sound HUGE.  And I had only seen them on the stage of a local bar, where they were pretty cramped, but even with the added members, it seemed like they were miles from each other on this full-sized stage (Stu is on the far left):


There was a HUGE enthusiastic crowd for them, far exceeding what I expected.  I know they’ve been playing out quite a bit, but it was still impressive.  And the audience seemed to spur the band to higher effort; in particular, Stu’s solos were RIGHTEOUS.

But at this point, we had been sitting in the heat watching an all-day reggae party for 8 hours or so, and I was seriously flagging.  I called for the escape hatch, and glad I did; our choices were Third World or Social Distortion, and both of them were going to be standing events, with a massive exodus mob at the end.  But it served; I woke up today without aches in my feet and back, and feel like I can tolerate another day in the heat.

It was a completely awesome and enjoyable day, heat or not.  The bands were all simply great, as good as anything I’ve seen and I’ve seen Ziggy Marley, UB40, and Steel Pulse.  The crowd was cheerful and polite and enthusiastic and were all receptive to the messages of inclusion and peace that the bands felt like putting out.

Throughout the day, although the Orange Motherfucker’s name was never mentioned, the message was clear from every band:  Resist, keep resisting, love each other, find joy where you can, and work to make the world better. Kojo ended with a rousing version of Get Up, Stand Up, and the crowd understood, singing and shouting along.  The bands and the crowd were completely multi-cultural, and we were all in love, at least for one day.

The Rhythm Of The Heat

A quick update for the fourth day of Summerfest.

It is likely I will not go, even though two favorite bands, Mike Benign Compulsion and Trapper Schoepp are playing.  It looks like the temps in Milwaukee may top 100 degrees today, and without a wind off the lake, it is hard to take.  Further updates as events warrant.

And on a downer note, esteemed science fiction writer Harlan Ellison died this week.  Writer of A Boy And His Dog, the best damned movie Don Johnson ever made, and thousands of other things, including short story anthologies Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions.  Driftglass has a wonderful remembrance at the beginning of the Professional Left podcast, available on iTunes or here.

To end on a better note, here are videos of the two bands I would go see today, if I was seeing bands today:



Dammit, now I think I’ll go.

Up On The Sun

Well, that was unexpected.

We knew that this Thursday was going to be an Impossible Day.  Too many bands, too many overlapping slots, spread out over the entire grounds and the entire day’s schedule.

It was Throwback Thursday, and beers were half priced until 6 PM.  The first throwback band was the northernmost stage, a Milwaukee bunch from the 80s, X-Posed 4-Heads, a new wave outfit that had local hits like “Nice Guy” and a very fervent appreciation for the B-52s and Devo.  They even did a cover of “Whip It”!  They did it good!


I bought what will become my favorite shirt, from the excellent Rebel Stage:


Then we slopped down to the southern edge of the grounds to a covered pavilion for Pet Engine, a local alternative power pop band from the 90s, who put in an energetic set and even brought out Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to help out on a couple of songs.  At this point I discovered that local brewpub Water Street Brewery was offering a new beer called Midnight Lager, a Guiness style concoction that was fucking delicious.

Next Up was Matthew Sweet.  As I told my buddy Zelmo, there’s no way he approaches the level of when we saw him do all of Girlfriend from right in front of the stage.  But he was pretty good, if a bit by-the-book and he didn’t say very much.  Spent a lot of time facing his amp, shunning us like a cat.


Next we moved BACK north, just past the midpoint, to another covered pavilion to see former Milwaukee boy Kevn Kinney and his band Drivin’ n’ Cryin’.  He name-checked a few passed Milwaukee musicians and landmarks, including Kenny Baldwin and the Starship; but mainly he seemed to be content to largely channel the barf ‘n’ boogie southern crunch rock stylings of his adopted hometown.  I have much more appreciation for his folkish and country and punk leanings, so I was a bit disappointed.

At this point, we headed toward the Rebel stage, but since we were eight people at that point, the Physics of Summerfest (specifically the Rule of Six) took immediate effect and as soon as we left the pavilion, the group split up.  And then we got to the Rebel Stage to discover that their last band started at 8, and they were breaking down.  I warned these guys, but you know how people feel about experts.

BACK NORTH again.  We wound up at the northernmost stage for 2 George Thorogood songs.  He was….well, what do you expect from Thorogood?  That’s what it was.  So….on we go.

Back to the mid-point pavilion for the Meat Puppets.  The place was so empty (although it filled up later, with pleasingly energetic youngsters), we felt kind of sorry for the band.

I had seen the Pups quite a few years ago, at a 300 seat club, and they were so blisteringly good, the songs filled with desert and psychedelic vocals, and the solos swooping, soaring and stabbing directly into my brain.  It made me feel like I was tripping, just from the music.

This night was almost as good, the band was so tight. The rhythm section kept things completely together while Kirkwood and the keyboard player wove instrumental tapestry around each other.  And the only time they properly ended a song, rather than just decaying into feedback and guitar solo feeding into a new riff, was at the end of the show, when they made about seven false stops to “Lake Of Fire”.


They played my Favorites;  Backwater, Sam, Coming Down, Up On The Sun, Plateau…they tore the paint of the place, then painted it back with the colors of the desert.  I had a vision of Curt Kirkwood, living in a run down ranch in the middle of nowhere, walking out onto his porch naked and playing these songs for about twelve hours at ear-splitting volume into the desolation.

And that was it for Thursday.

So here’s what was unexpected.  In the course of that day, having seen six different bands at three different stages, I never expected that Matthew Sweet would be the second-most disappointing (relatively) band of the day.