Thursday, January 6, 2011

Milwaukee isn’t a city known for launching bands or a vibrant music scene, but

Words by Marc D'Amour
Photos by Marc D'Amour

Milwaukee isn’t a city known for launching bands or a vibrant music scene, but for eleven consecutive days during the summer, its beautiful 75 acre lakefront property hosts the Guinness Book certified World’s Largest Music Festival.

After ten years as an Angeleno, I still look forward to my annual trek to the Midwest for Summerfest. Fried cheese is everywhere, smells of bratwurst and kraut fill the air, and any type of beer imaginable is available within 100 yards. Top that off with a night of awesome live music and gorgeous weather… it doesn’t get any better.

Teenage music sensation Justin Bieber was headlining Summerfest on the evening I attended. When I first arrived, the line to get into the main stage stretched a half mile across the entire festival grounds. I typically tend to distance myself from the latest pop sensations, but there was no denying this was the 2010 equivalent of “Beatlemania.” It only took 30 minutes for all the girls (and their patient enough to wait in line all day mothers or fathers) to file into the Amphitheater, and once they did I was ready to dig into my schedule of live music.

Taking a tip from the Ice Cream Man’s own Pat Kauchick, the first band I checked out was Paper Tongues. This Charlotte based band really impressed me. Lead singer Aswan North hopped down into the photo pit during the first song so he could high five the front few rows of the crowd and get them amped up. That intensity continued for the duration of their hour long set and my evening was off to a great start.

Next up was Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Robert was all smiles for his headlining set at the Briggs and Stratton Backyard Stage. The stage has a really unique urban vibe as it’s positioned right underneath a Milwaukee interstate overpass. Robert sat behind his steel guitar for the majority of his tunes, only getting up during a select few to teach the crowd some of his dance moves. Robert is out supporting his cover heavy new album We Walk This Road, produced to perfection by T. Bone Burnett.

Every music lover has a favorite band during their college years. A group that they follow ferociously and tell all their friends about. For me, that band was The Gufs. I was really excited when I heard that the Milwaukee locals were headlining at the Harley Davidson Roadhouse stage the night I would be attending Summerfest. Although only playing local gigs a few times a year, the Gufs have never sounded better. They infused new tracks like “Stars” and “Extraordinary” from their latest release A Different Sea into the setlist, but they really hit their stride with older classics like “Crash (Into Me)” and “Smile,” both tracks having received solid regional radio play in the late ’90s.

Summerfest is a music lover’s playground. There are stages that feature all genres of music and over the course of eleven days, there is something for everyone. I’ve included a few pictures from each of the bands I mentioned above, as well as a few general Summerfest shots that I felt captured the essence of this perfect lakefront evening.

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