Category Archives: Daily Reports

Good Night for Bad Decisions

Ooh, Friday.  Remind myself that this is the onset of the Last Weekend; As Something To Do says, “Everything ends it’s a simple fact…” and by Tuesday, I am going to be feeling like something is missing.

But today, everything was in place.  Favorite bands at the fest, and we went down a little early to catch a band at the Rebel Stage, the Roving Scallywags.  Somewhat predictably, the stage was behind schedule and we had to leave to get good seats for the next band, on an adjacent stage.

But at the Rebel Stage, were some friends who knew that they were likely to find me there.  They are smart friends!  So we all wen over to the next stage, and got front row seats for Something To Do.


They’ve got a new album out (Design For Living) and haven’t been to Summerfest for a couple of years.  They looked snappy in their tradition ska two-tone clothing, and the horn players were peppy.  In fact, I could never get a picture of them all jumping around, because they were moving to fast for me to get my phone out….

More friends showed up during the show, and we all pop-ska rocked the afternoon way.  Later, after a pitstop, we hung out at the merch tent chatting with the band.  Next up they will do a nice long set at Bastille Days, where they become French.

Since we had a decent group that hadn’t seen each other in a while, we went to the rooftop deck at Water Street Brewery where I had a delicious Midnight Lager, and we argued about things like the Brewers and the streetcar.  I, of course, as the only resident of the city proper, was in firm favor of the streetcar, while the guys who lived in the suburbs thought it was a waste of money.  Huh.  Who could have predicted that?

And while I am asking questions, why was I the only guy who brought his wife along?

After a bit of this, we rolled back to the Rebel Stage where a pirate-punk-Irish band called Brave the Sea was scheduled.  Of course, the stage was still running way behind, so the other guys who had more of a drive home, headed out after hugs and kisses.

We hung for Brave The Sea and they turned in an energetic, if shortened, set of punky Irish sea chanty-shouty ….things.



We were looking forward to Whiskey of the Damned, of course.  It seems like everybody else was, too:


The stage area filled in as much as I’ve ever seen it.  people standing on tables, out in the circulation path, on the rocks….everywhere nearby.

Then the band started.

The sound was awful.  It started out with feedback that couldn’t seem to be tracked down, so the volume was turned way down and the packed bodies made everything mushy and indistinct. By mid-show, the sound had improved to barely tolerable.  It had gotten chilly, though, and since we couldn’t see the band OR hear them, there seemed little point.  so we pulled the rip cord and headed home.  We had seen them play better AND louder, and we knew we would see them again somewhere; best not to taint the good with a one-time bad performance.

It was still a good day at Summerfest.


Wait So Long

Well, that escalated ….OK, not quickly, it kind of took all day.

I decided to go down for lunch, and there were a couple of things to watch for entertainment.  I rode the bus, and it was Children’s day, so free entry (I have the 11 day pass, so whatever, but still cool) and definitely needed a Martino’s Chicago Dog.  Got a beer and Ate it while watching the First Robotics demonstration.  WOW that was good.


I want another one RIGHT NOW

I remember Pat McCurdy when he fronted a New Wave band, the Men About Town.  That was a long time ago, and they lost (barely) to Sawyer Brown on Star Search, so he abandoned the Rock Dream and since then, he’s been mining a solo sardonic music comedy show.  As he says on stage “it’s a ridiculous way to make a living, but I’ve been doing it a long time and I have a house!”  So I usually see him once a year at Summerfest, he has been there almost as many times as Sigmund Snopek.  I watched him for a while and had another beer.

Also, walked through the merch building.  No good t-shirts this year, but I got a pin and some nice fridge magnets.

Next, I went way north on the grounds and found a local band I hadn’t heard of, the Gleasons; an Irish-Americana-rock outfit that sing songs about Wisconsin and Ireland and drinking beer.  Sign me up!

From there, I rambled one stage over for the Whiskeybelles.  We first saw these ladies at Locust Street Festival of Art and Music, sitting right in front.  They are amazing; doing country acoustic versions of covers and originals with an infectious charm and enthusiasm for, yes, whiskey.  They even sell a flask!  As ever, they were great fun, with an excellent cover of Ring of Fire and a set-closing All Along The Watchtower.

At this point, my wife showed up and at the end of the set, Kyle.  Kyle doesn’t get to Summerfest too often anymore, so we make the most of it.  We got some Famous Dave’s BBQ, and then moved on.

We rolled down for a bit of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, who are fun in a back porch country blues kind of way.  He also thanked Summerfest for a slot in 2007 that got double-booked, allowing them a slot opening for Flogging Molly (I was there).  He also said “This is the kind of band you’re dealing with; we’ll set our friends on fire”. But my wife traded the washboard for a violin at the neighboring stage, a bluegrass band from Madison called Wheelhouse.

Now, this was probably my mistake in going over the schedule, because I forgot that we saw, and liked, Wheelhouse last year with Paleotectonics.  Now the important thing here is to remember in addition to being an excellent band, they have their own whiskey.

We parked for the remainder of their set, and Kyle had to leave.  Like I said above…. Wheelhouse finished their set with a rollicking cover of “Comfortably Numb”.  No really!

Let’s keep in mind at this point it was only 7:30.  I went over to an adjacent stage, where Jason Isbell was slated to play later, but the stage was MUCH bigger and seemed to be filling up pretty well already.  So we stayed where we were at, where we had snagged a pretty sweet table location.

So we were camping out for the headliner, and Dead Horses came on.

Dead Horses is a local band (again!) based on the songwriting of Sarah Vos and a tumultuous childhood and young adulthood, including losing friends to heroin (thus, ‘Dead Horses’).  A band I had not heard locally, but they’ve been receiving accolades and it was about damn time I rectified that, don’t you think?

At first I thought the music tended toward the mopey, but as I listened closer, I could see the depths waiting below, like it was a calm day on Lake Michigan, concealing the power waiting below.  By the end of the set, I was strolling to the merch booth, looking for at least the latest CD “My Mother the Moon”.  Alas, all they had were t-shirts, so I rectified it on my computer when I got home.

After this was another band, regional this time, that I like quite a bit:  Trampled by Turtles from Minnesota.  I first became aware of them when I stumbled across “Wait So Long” video on the internarfles, which became one of this songs you kind of ignore at first, then perk up somewhere in the middle when it really grabs your attention and then you have to listen to it four or five times.

Story has it that the band formed when the singer’s rock band equipment was all stolen except for his acoustic guitar; when he looked for people to join his new gig, he looked for people who also were not traditionally folk or bluegrass artists (the villain player was a drummer in a thrash band), and the band hit the stage like they were a thrash band.  Thrashgrass.  violent, frantic and propulsive, they refused front lighting so we could hardly see them or what they were playing.

For the entire set, they barely slowed down, once or twice, allowing me to sits my poor feet.  They played a short encore, featuring Petty’s “You’re So Bad” and another slower song to calm everyone down; my wife said “they probably shouldn’t even come out for an encore, they are probably exhausted”.

But they finished their set with that song that got me started, and holy shit I had forgotten how much I like this band:

We went home.  I went to bed.  Dammit.

That, I think, may have been the longest day I’ve ever spent at Summerfest.  I didn’t put a stopwatch on it (because Summerfest!) but it was 11 hours, give or take.  I saw seven bands and a bunch of robots.  I am glad we stayed, because HOLY SHIT Trampled by Turtles are really damn good.  But although I am not a youngster any more, I can still run the race with them, even if I don’t sprint.

Oh, and since the day was cloudy with possible sprinkles, I forgot sunblock.  So it got warm, humid and sunny, as it will.  Although it usually happens earlier in the run, as they say in Shaun Of The Dead, I’ve got some red on me.

The Legendary Band (That’s Still Together)

As I said a post or two ago, I was pretty much decided that I would skip this day because of the heat.  But then, Mike Benign posted on Facebook that the heat was not so bad with a decent breeze.  Then, I reviewed a bunch of his, and Trapper Schoepp’s songs.  And so THIS is what I posted in response:  ” I was gonna skip it because of the heat, but listened to a couple of your songs, and some of Trapper’s, and said “Dammit! I’m going!” About to get on the bus…

So, this was the view as I waited for the bus:


yeah, It’s a Beautiful Day….

So, my timing was perfect, even counting being buttonholed on the approach street by a contractor I work with (who laughed at me because I didn’t recognize him in normal person clothes), and I rolled in with enough time to piss and buy a beer.

I’ve been seeing Mike Benign in bands since I came to Milwaukee.  IN college, one of my friends (Scary Joe) did sound for most of his bands until Joe moved east. Although I don’t recall seeing Mike in his first band, Umbrella Man, I was an Early Adopter of his follow up; Arms And Legs And Feet.  They had a complex alternative sound that owed not a little to early Talking Heads and as an English Major, Mike’s lyrics were dense and complex.  Also, Mike’s voice tends to be kind of mid-range and broad, so Joe’s mix to bring the vocals up without obscuring most of the instruments was crucial.

This became even more important in Mike’s next band, Blue IN The Face.  They were more pop-oriented, and they added a three piece horn section so the mix was much more difficult.  At this point, we all suddenly had careers and families and Mike hung up his rock jock.  For a while…

After his kids were grown a bit (I met his kids yesterday at the show) he returned with The Mike Benign Compulsion, and last year returned with “Kid” easily one of the best local releases of the year (As I told him last year at a show, I have to give the top spot, however, to The Wooldridge Brothers’ “Starts At Dusk”.  He agreed).

So yesterday they had a tight 60 minute late afternoon slot at a stage where many of the crowd were waiting for Phil Vassar to headline later.  Mike said from the stage “I know you people don’t know these songs” to which I said to no one in particular “Some of us know these songs” and a young man sitting in front of me said “I’m his son, so I know these songs TOO Well”.  I replied “Maybe some of us are sick of these songs, huh?”  He laughed and knocked his beer over.

Mike’s set tended toward his brighter and more accessible songs, like “Haley Daley” and “My Michelle”.  There was mention of their drummer, who is going for rotator cuff surgery and this is his last show for a while.  There was a shoutout to a particular zombie, as a stalwart supporter of local music.  Mike’s daughter & wife were celebrating their birthdays, and his is on Wednesday.

And we all had a wonderful time.


It is an odd year, as evidenced that I skipped Opening Day, and further shown by it took until this, the fourth day, for me to spend any time at my favorite stage, The Rebel Stage.  Caught the end of Pretty Beggars and most of The Young Revelators.  None of you hav ever heard of those bands; hell, I never have.

Trapper Schoepp was playing at the worst stage on the grounds.  The miller stage is too flat, the seating has no dish to it at all, and the seating bleachers are unnecessarily long.  It seems to attract the kind of people who feel like they have to stand on the bleachers even if they can see fine and even if they don’t care about the band that’s playing.

I saw Trapper the first time several years ago in a sparsely attended mid-afternoon slot that completely blew me away.  They had an self-released album at the time and an indie release that re-released about half of the first.  They had all the fire and spit of a band of kids that had nothing but energy and passion and, apparently, a tremendous gift for songwriting.  Been a fan ever since, and a high point was when I traveled to Minneapolis to visit Snag and Paleo and see a star studded tribute to Big Star at First Avenue.  Guest musicians at that event included Trapper and Tanner Schoepp as well as Brian and Scott Wooldridge.  Who I am seeing at Summerfest today.

The first part of the show was devoted to Trapper’s concept album about Green Bay’s legendary amusement park, Bay Beach.  Where Elvis reportedly hired for an entire night, and spent from 1 AM to 6 AM riding the Zippin Pippin nonstop.  But after this, the show really took off as they played some of their best, including “Tracks”, “Mono Pt. II”  and “Settlin’ or Sleeping’ Around”.

During “Settlin'”, a little kid, wearing a “Rock Kid” shirt,  adorably took the stage with a ukulele strung like a guitar and sat in on the song.  He was amazing!  He not only had the strum pattern down, but he knew a fair amount of the vocals and had his own rock moves, kicking and doing rock poses at the front of the stage to delighted roars of approval from the crowd.  I could only get a pic from the screen:


Their set was a bit short, as they had to clear the stage for Third Eye Blind (pfagh).  Admittedly, most of the crowd was there to see them as headliners.  Meh.  I bailed, but not before spending a little time talking with a friend:


And with that, satisfied, I called it a night and left, but not before running into friends Pete and Deb at the front gate.  no time for anything but hugs, they were coming in and I was going out, but it’s always good to see the Ramirez’s.  And I am sure we all had a wonderful time.

Also worth a mention is that Summerfest has partnered with Uber to set up a pickup/drop off zone not far from the main gate.  For the number of rides they have to wrangle it is impressively run, where they align available drivers into several rows, and you just have to walk down your assigned row to find your driver.  Rather than trying to scurry around adjacent streets to locate someone.

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.

Among Other Foolish Things


This was a day when we saw Sammy Llanas  and I have a more in depth post about that.  I’ll wait.

This was a very focused day.  It was Brain Fallon, leader of the Gaslight Anthem on a tour for his solo album, Sammy Llanas, and Trapper Schoepp and the Shades.

During the course of the day, we managed to sneak up to front row seats, and were promptly insulted by a neighbor for ‘not liking this music’ because we objected to her drunken splattering all over every neighboring person.

BUT HERE. Brian Fallon was great.  Sammy was great (see link above) and Trapper Schoepp was pretty damn awesome.  It was a lovely day of of good, straightforward rock and roll.  I loved all of it.  We made friends with the people next to us, and gave up our spaces when we left — Ray LaMontagne was next.

After all that, we were satisfied, and left bearer the headliners.  Knowing when to leave is an art…

Reason To Be


Whoof.  It’s been quite a year.  Much time working on lifestyle changes, more exercise, better food, moderation moderation moderation and an entertaining new regimen of medications.

My standard line is that last year was the first time in decades (i haven’t kept track) that I haven’t been at Summerfest Opening Day.  So walking through that gate was…victory.  Also was my first (new) birthday…I don’t care what people say; when I was sitting in the ER with like seven people working on me and I still couldn’t breathe, I figured it was all over.  Even the ER doc said in his report he could see me stopping breathing….

But after all that, my docs kept me an extra day so they could fuck up my internals one more time, because hey! his wife has great insurance!  And so they let me out late on Wednesday and frankly, I was in no condition to go own to the Fest.  However, after a bit of rest at home, the next day was a go…

Anyway.  I returned to form to go down for lunch, albeit late.  We wandered the grounds for some time, making a couple of trips from one end to the other.  The Rebel Stage was visited.  We chatted with Unexpected Friends.

But you know, the big deal was Weird Al.  I really expected Weird Al to be WAY more packed.  But it wasn’t, and did we care?  Fucking bogroll we did. I love Al, not just because he is an architect who found a better career but also that he has an amazing band that he has been with pretty much since the first day he recorded a song in Dr. Demento’s toilet…

That lunatic wandered through the crowd while doing his parody of Happy, and from then on he did a dizzying mix of old and new, changing costumes more than Bette Midler in her fever dreams, and backed up by one of the best bands I have ever seen (and I have seen a few).  The bumper videos show his ability as a comedic actor, and I kind of LIVE for his accordion solos.

But in the end, a Weird Al show is nothing but fun.  For his first gig at Summerfest, he dodged the driver at the airport, found his own way to the grounds, then climbed over the fence and got pinched by the Red Shirts.  We saw him one time on a stormy afternoon when every other stage was closed, but this one was left, because it was protected from lightning by the freeway above, and when the event people told him he didn’t have to go on, he gestured toward us drenched drunks and said, how can I not?

He played so much I loved, and I only missed “Weasel Stomping Day”  But then, as a zombie, I would…

Gosh, what do you want from me?  I spent the afternoon and night on the grounds of my favorite location on the planet, and we had some beers and food that makes our doctors quiver; but we spent our time enjoying ourselves and then seeing our culture’s predominant musical satirist comedian ex-architect.

So, I will leave you with the best Devo song they never wrote:

Good Things

2016.3 / 2016.5

I moved to Milwaukee in late 1983, and after a few months finding my feet in an urban environment, started getting into the local music scene, which was amazing at the time.  And in 1986, in the last gasp of what was called the Clamshell at Summerfest, clamshell.jpg there was an epochal local bill:  R&B Cadets, the Bodeans, and the Violent Femmes.  On a night after the previous days rain, so it was muddy as fuck. (coincidentally, as I write this, it is raining)  And really, the night was as awesome as fuck.  Every one of those bands was at the height of their young, spit-filled hormonal young power.  It was what was considered the Main Stage at Summerfest at the time, and it was a display of the great music that was percolating in the city at the time, and it was amazing and we had a stellar, muddy, drunken time. My!  Didn’t we just!

At this point, I want to step back a bit.In 1985 or so, my roommate took me to a dive near the River to see “Da BoDeans” in a small sweaty room with like 20 other people.  They did not yet have a bass player, but the feral, vital songs and the interplay between Kurt and Sammy’s vocals was already amazing, even in that environment. The amazing chemistry was there.  The amazing songwriting was there.  It was raw (LOL. Like I find that as a problem) but man, it was hot and sweaty and so rock and roll that it hurt.  I have been a fan ever since, and we have seen the BoDeans in so many different places, and different incarnations; I saw them as a duo playing as He&He in an East Side Bar.  We’ve seen them at the Marcus Amphitheater, as massive rock stars.  The Bodeans are always a good show…

And then, they had what seems to be an irreconcilable separation between Sammy and Kurt, the primary members of the BoDeans.

So on Friday, the 3rd day of Summerfest, we saw Sammy Llanas playing in a sweet spot between Brian Fallon (of the Gaslight Anthem) and Trapper Schoepp.

I will confess up front that since the first days of the band, I preferred Sammy’s vocals – the raw, unprocessed and emotional aspects of it.In fact, when the first album came out, there was much discussion about how much we disliked that his voice was mixed down…funny, in retrospect.

Another personal note.  A few years ago, we went to the Zoo for A La Carte, and the BoDeans were supposed to play.  But Sammy had dropped the bomb on Kurt like three days before, so he did the best he could with the band he could drum up….

So, it was mordantly amusing and more than a bit weird that we saw both primary members of the BoDeans were playing at Summerfest this year, on different days.  And it deserves a Delicious or Disgusting  dammit sorry, 3Bulls leaking through to reality-  but a review that compares them.

Sammy had a small, stripped down and pretty great band.  His voice was great.he worked hard.  He played a couple of his solo songs, but mainly focused on the songs he did with the Bodeans band. but man, was he good.  His voice was a bit lower than in the day, but it served the songs well.  And although I did not miss Kurt on “Naked” (more on that later) I felt the biggest lack of another vocals was during “Still The Night”

Kurt retained the name, and the Bodeans show was much bigger,  on a bigger stage, with bigger lights, a bigger band, better sound, and much more production.  But then, I always though Kurt wanted to be Bruce Springsteen…

The sound for the ‘official’ Bodeans show was great, and the band sound was really awesome.  It was very big. They had Kenny Aronoff on drums, which was a secret weapon.  I kind of hated the fact that Kurt played guitar with his fingernails, rather than a pick; I have done that and  I HATE IT.  But his guitar, which I suspect is custom, is gorgeous .  So balance.

In all, both shows featured some really great songs. I figure that it mainly organized itself by whoever wrote whichever song.

And here is what I saw and heard: there was one band that had stellar musicianship and sounded like a star cruiser making liftoff; and there was one that had the songs.

And that the songs, when presented, are much better served by a simpler presentation, with a more straightforward approach.


I have been a part of the BoDeans life for so long, and they have been a part of my life for since forever.  Let me tell you; when they released their first live album “Joe Dirt Car”, it was named after one of my good friends.

OK, so let’s get down to it.  Kurt’s band was amazing and really well rehearsed and good with what they did.  On the few songs they did that usually had Sammy vocals, they ….well, let’s not say they sucked,, because they didn’t.  But they certainly were…lacking.

Sammy’s set, was, IMHZO, much better, and he was able to deal with the lack of Kurt’s vocals.  I need to say right here that Sammy can pull off ‘Naked’ on his own and Kurt can’t.  But the one I thought was lacking was “Still The Night”.

This, of course, comes down to a personal choice.  With the difference ideas we have about music and our different histories regards to the BoDeans, Wife Sublime and I still both agree that Sammy’s show was better.

If Summerfest ever books them both on different stages at the same time, I will opt for Sammy, no hesitation.

It is truly a real life demonstration of the adage “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and regardless of how talented the two are in their own rights, the work they did together was elevated into another realm.

Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed both shows.  Nothing to complain about.

But knowing, and having experienced, the history of the Bodeans, I knew at a very basic level that the magic and collaborative spark they had was something special, and it is kind of tragic that they ended in a way that is very difficult to reconcile.  It’s sad for us fans, and it’s sad for them; they were once good friends and great partners.

I will leave you with a song (clearly influenced by their time spent opening for U2) in a local venue and yes, we were there, and yes, this is available as a live release:




I tell you, I will NOT be missing those aluminum benches anytime soon.

A few years back, I had a run of 50 consecutive days of Summerfest.  But late that final year, I read an article that interviewed one guy who had over 100 consecutive days, and another that had been to every Summerfest day in this century, and suddenly the whole thing seemed…well, kind of pointless.

And then last year, I was in the hospital and the cardiologists kept me for an extra day, so I missed the Opening Day of 2015.  Although I was no longer pursuing the full attendance, I was always happy to make opening day.  In fact, I can’t remember the last year I missed opening day.  More than a decade, for sure.

That’s why the first announcements of headliners was so gratifying.  Usually, I don’t find a ton in the headlining slots that attracts me, but this year, there was something pretty much every day.  On top of that, the daily acts and the Rebel Stage offered much for all the other times.  It was almost like Summerfest became alarmed when I only did 7 days last year and decided they needed to step it up.

Well, they certainly did and so did I.  I attended every single day of Summerfest 2016, all eleven days.

Take today, for instance.

It was the kind of warm, partly cloudy day with a nice cool breeze, one of those Wisconsin summer days that make you think that the winter suck is maybe tolerable.  I slept in a bit, then did some chores, then a little Klark Kent duty, then we went down.

Local 90s crunchy guitar power-poppers Pet Engine were on.  They had a few regional hits, and were one of the bands that narrowly missed the brass ring during the final days of when major labels actually mattered.  But their songs are still good, their new songs are better, and their covers (Divine Inspiration, Can’t Hardly Wait, a bit of The One I Love wrapped into one of their own songs) were lovely.  So glad to see them come back out…

Then, we wandered aimlessly (a Summerfest Art in itself) for a bit, getting some food and watching various bands.  And then, local traditional country ladies The Whiskeybelles played, singing songs about drinking, and cheating, and drinking.  Special highlights are the cover of Jolene, the cover of All Along The Watchtower, and the original Must Have Been The Pills I Took.  They are fun, and kind of nice to watch.

At this point, it is worth noting that even with the loss of the KNE/Cascio stage, we still saw a large amount of local music this year.  Not because there was a lack of national and international talent (hello, Neil Finn!) but that the local talent compares so favorably.  Between the Rebel Stage and the other stages that had Milwaukee bands on them, including resurgent careers of the Bodeans, Sammy Llanas, and the Violent Femmes, it was a pretty good Summerfest Year for Milwaukee Music.

To round out the night, and the Fest, we saw Ryan Adams and The Shining do a fine set on a cluttered stage that included comically oversize amps (that I figured they got from an old Crazy Horse tour), several video games, a Dr. Pepper soda machine, a stuffed tiger and a peace flag.

It seemed to want to rain, so after a great day and a wonderful 2016 Summerfest, we bid a fond farewell to the festival for another year.  But on the way in, we go 2 free tickets to next year’s gig, the 50th anniversary, so see you then!