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.


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