Music perception can be seen by many to come with age or the appreciation of it. Some believe it happens in your youth with a myriad of different influences. The key is being cross generational: those who can branch the consciousness but also inform others how to appreciate their own uniqueness and impact their past which, in turn, permeates the future.
Summerfest, held in the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, lisping on the shore of Lake Michigan and hidden under the concrete of towering overpasses and bridges, works in congruent form not just because of its headliners but in its ability to key in new talent, many of it from the local and regional arenas.
Location of course always is key. Being situated at the Comfort Inn Downtown Lakeshore, walking or shuttles make it easy to make the trek to Summerfest wherever your mood takes you, late night or otherwise.
All times visited provided projection in terms of talent with rock taking the veritable center stage. However it was the smaller visions of new bands, off the beaten path, that really blew the expectation while the musical legends provided the volley to show that the intensity and worship was not undeserved.
Circle Of Fifths headed the pack with an early afternoon set at the Harley Davidson stage. Buoyed by a killer singer mixing essences of Aaron Lewis, Chad Kroeger and a bit of Hetfield, the quartet belted out a hard raging blow out that rivaled the instrumentation of many of the top professional headlining bands. They played for over an hour and a half encouraged by the sound manager while wrecking through some great artist homages as well as essences of their own. From their older “Here We Go” to the roaring possibilities of new tracks from their upcoming album including “If I Fall” and “Whip”, there is a distinctive sound that keys in from bits of Metallica but with a slightly more hard line rockabilly function which makes them kick.
Between the intrinsic guitar solos, the band jumped in the fray with some great covers, two of the best being Led Zeppelin, which are the hardest to do, in the vision of “Immigrant Song” and “Whole Lotta Love” which had the drummer craving more in the best Bonham kind of excess. Metallica’s “Seek & Destroy” and Alice In Chains’ “Man In A Box” revved up the audience even further as the crowd continued to swell.
On the other end of the time spectrum in the late night, Roster McCabe set the lakefront ablaze in the small cauldron of the Tiki Bar. Located in a small shack away from the main stages, this treasure was discovered after a headliner ended at 11pm and the Leinenkugel Amber from the Captain’s Deck motivated a group of young twentysomethings down the path of ruin over a pack of smokes. Like the swirling beauty of Burning Man or lurid bonfire hallucinations, McCabe had the young crowd swooning and moving with hard grooves.
While at times slipping into reggaeton, the hard guitar revving along with synth progression and slamming drums had the integers of all sexes dancing in a circle of energy. The jams undulated for fifteen minutes at a time bathed in the blood reds and burnt oranges as the skin blazed in the cool night air.
In the essence of the afternoon, the Refugee Tent, akin to the Tiki, brought the temptation in a different way. While not as resolutely popular at McCabe, The Last Rhino showed its enthusiasm with a mix of acoustic revelry to attack the anti-septic tinge of a Weezer cover mixed with the right amount of country gusto.
The percussion-infused tribal elements that sounded through brought to mind a mix of Stevie Ray Vaughn mated with the old school jams of Dave Matthews without the saturation. Again the gravitational perception of these multi-generational connections continue to surprise. While the twenty-somethings twittered along, an older gentleman approaching the apex of his life on the back end was beating along with the drums like a bat out of hell.
The younger progression was seen within the conception of “Emerging Artists”. Geri X, spotlighting a mix of Avril Lavigne but with an actual punk background and requisite tatoos to show her dedication, played to a decidedly committed teenage audience. Epitomizing the essence of angst but with requisite aspiration in tow, her songs detail that that paradox. Originally from Bulgaria but now esconsced in Tampa, Florida, she, along with the bassist, her respective other, replete with full beard and background vocals, let the essence of Chris Isaak speak through her in female form. The songs from “Found A Pearl” to “When I Die” show the definite conflict of emotions inside and around the green streaked jet haired singer’s head while odes to her father like “Stubborn Man” show the element of connecting with her young audience’s changing focus. Admitting that she was a bad girl as a teenager, she says that time gives clarity when you reach a supposed age of reason. While her instrumentation had a edge to it, her crystal sweet voice needs more emotional richness or harshness to it as the proponent of her onstage persona has potential which needs to transcend yet maintain her fans’ obvious fervent attention.
The real eye opener in terms of expectation and affirmation was the winner of a high school band contest who played the Casino Stage. Arts & Crafts, despite being barely 18 if that, had their potential down pat. Despite some overarching persona issues which always get either worked out or not, the level of technical prowess especially on the part of the lead guitarist and drummer rocked the house. Aided by another lead guitarist, effective but in full Guitar Hero mode, as well as a female bassist obviously enjoying herself with the boys, the influences which clearly had an impact on the judges were richly impacted within the mixed house which was more older generational. From the funk of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” to sheer rapid nature of The Who’s “Something Loose”, the impact of requisite 60s elements all the way to the guitar harmonizing of the Eagle’s “Hotel California” integrated the proceedings to a differing level. But it was their original songs which used tonal shift that really showcased the talents.
From the journeyman guitar riffs reminiscent of the real John Mayer brilliance within the essence of “The Drifter” to the slow jazzy riffs-turned-metal underpinings of “Stopping Out” to the acrobatics of “The Only One”, Arts & Crafts showed the possibilities of talent in the youth in current form. You could see the perfectionism in the mind of the lead guitarist which shows technique and passion in congruence while the drummer, arguably the youngest in the band, who simply slaughtered with a drum solo not capable of some people twice his age. A “Chemical Romance” might dwell within the hearts of these performers with full intensity at their fingertips but it depends on the ability to transcend the barriers, including college.
Bookending these smaller acts on the side stages intrinsically partaking the day, the headliner acts on separate stages the first night showed the diversity of programming initiatives.
Showing his stamina and ability to levitate into the guise of all, Buddy Guy, affluent in his ability to mimic guitar styles, fully jammed out his constituents on stage whisking his fingers across the guitar like glass. But as the witching hour approached, the glow of neon and voices of fans stomping along illuminated the view as the Leinenkugel flowed. Staind, massive performers in their own right, first came on the radar a little more than 10 years ago. Having seen them in The Roxy Theatre on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles back in the day, the complication of the lighting rigs might have grown but the down home gruel infused richness of the guitar weight combined with singer Aaron Lewis’ steely and emotional voice still hit the audience like a hammer. In a deafening singalong with “Awhile”, the roar of the crowd toasting beers upward and out made the sea of souls revel in unision.
The major headliner gave the intersection of young idealism with the propensity of a lifetime of conflict and advocation. Just the ideal of Bob Dylan has influenced the generational consciousness in terms of sociological upheaval from both and emotional and intellectual standpoint. Coming out onstage in the iconic black hat with his band in congruence, Dylan started out guitar riffing before making his way behind his old school piano synth. Any misconception of man playing the essence of old is sorely mistaken. Despite a different style of pace, Dylan maintains an ultra modern cool without the presumptuous arrogance that infuses so many successes. Dylan recognizes the relativity of the play. As Chris Isaak once mentioned when he watched Roy Orbison performing for a large audience, the essence was the mystery. Too many performers tend to over talk. Dylan lets the music speak. As the performance revolved from be-bop influenced zoot riffs to almost psychedelic symmetry as jagged shapes floated behind the band, the power of the man is clear. The crowd surged to its feet with the jam-induced eminence of “No Direction Home” bringing the connection fully into being as the influence of this man echoes razor sharp.
The key when in a city like Milwaukee for a festival of epic proportions is late night angles, food availability and geography in place. While the late night after Dylan revolved into a darkened rooftop revolving with kamikazes, Guns N’ Roses covers, youthful girl interaction and Randar, the master of ceremonies, the need for consumables rang apparent. Steps away on the winding road, the Astor Hotel on Juneau Street, is replete in the diminishing beauty of its 1930s glory. Entering its halls, manned with a Shining-like dexterity, the ghosts pull at the doors. Caddy corner down the street, 1260 N. Prospect has the distinction of recently being featured in the Johnny Depp-starring, Wisconsin-shot gangster biopic: “Public Enemies” as John Dillinger’s apartment. But, alas, a late night urge tugs at the thirst.
At 2am, the only spot open was Victor’s, affectionately nicknamed “Scarface Disco”. Replete with black leather, dingy corners, glowing blue rocks embedded in the walls, the Spotted Cow was milked smoothly as Emily, the bartender encouraged a dice-fueled drinking game that painted the walls.
Daily interactions for the lunchtime centered have a selection in play of the necessity. After an immediate jump off a red eye, Bloody Marys were needed Wisconsin style. The raised vision of Sobelman’s Pub & Grill emerged from the industrial landscape. Prepped in advance with multiple pony glasses of Schlitz for the taking, the beauty of the cocktail’s mason jar presentation draped in cheese and various other ornaments made the spicy smooth as shrimped torpedoes bathed in batter crunched in unison with a tangy cocktail sauce.
The Third Ward, by comparison, opens up the freshness as a long corridor of organic products and stacked-to-the -ceiling pubs give new meaning to the term “lunch meeting”. Sitting down immediately upon entering at the St. Paul’s Fish Company, the lobster and crab claws bathed in garlic hits the scent. Schlitz, as a rule of thumb, begins the pour. The shrimp and sausage gumbo hit with a twang though not as tangy as necessarily envisioned. The mussels bathed in white wine jumped the scales in consecutive order. The Milwaukee Fish Fry replete with grouper battered in Schlitz flaked with every bite in wonderful richness.
As a last stop persuasion, when all else fails, beer is an undeniable equator. As the brews flow in lovely symmetry from the effortless taps of Lakefront Brewery, the Dark starts the journey. The story becomes almost as inventive as the end result. With an operator utterly consumed in her job and a mug of beer at her side, the basic nature of the business was broke down into the essences of life with R-rated frivolity thrown in for good measure. Audience interaction is key but rewards are given. Drinking up is a way of life. Beer buddies were needed and found directly as a vat overflowed in good natured excitement with its froth showing.
Summerfest offers a destination of revelry for everyone with a grand perspective of the young blasting through as the elders of yore maintain their status. With new discoveries of particular note in Circle Of Fifths and Roster McCabe, the programing aspect seen in a cauldron of possibilities shows the potential of this festival as a blasting off point for new young bands while still offering a bevy of both classic rock and popular acts to fuel the fire. Food and the night pull continuously as the celebration continues. Leaving in rest as the plane banks away from Milwaukee into the sky , two Wisco party girls, hats in hand, toast some Jack Daniels to salute the future of Summerfest as it rocks ever more.