Another Summerfest has come and gone, leaving in its wake the usual assortment of sore feet, tired legs, sunburned shoulders, increased alcohol tolerance and empty wallets.
Before we look forward to Summerfest 2009, it's appropriate to reflect on the festival that just finished. Here are one writer's random musings about the hits, misses and in-betweens that marked this year's version of The Big Gig. Use the Talkback feature to add your own.
Hit: The redesigned Harley-Davidson Roadhouse -- Virtually everyone we talked with raved about the sleek, open concept of the new stage. Traffic patterns and sightlines were greatly improved, the VIP area was outstanding and the video screen enabled fans to watch the action from some cool tables right in front of the lake.
Miss: The older stages. Now that the Miller Lite Oasis and Harley-Davidson areas have undergone facelifts in recent years, some of the other stages are looking a bit tired by comparison. Rumor has it that the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard may¬† get an overhaul next. It could be part of a much-needed makeover for the South Gate.
Miss: The Amphitheater entrance -- Speaking of the South Gate, the entrance to the Marcus Amphitheater before sold-out shows is frustratingly crowded and the process seems to take longer than necessary. Hopefully, a redesign will address that problem.
Hit: The Red Shirts -- Maybe this is a function of our friends getting older and "slowing down," but the security guards seemed to be a little less combative and a lot nicer this year than in years past. It can't be easy to deal with a bunch of over-served louts every night.
Hit: Cooler near the lake -- For about the 20th consecutive year, the Summerfest wine cooler provided a refreshing palate cleanser between rounds of beer. Let's hope they don't change that recipe.
Miss: The wall of sound -- This may be another concession to age, but the volume at several side stages seemed too loud, particularly during less-crowded portions of the day. I used to like checking out music at the Chipotle Rhythm Kitchen in years past, but two attempts this year revealed guys cranking way past 11.
Hit: Musical highlights -- The easiest thing to do is complain about the music lineup, so we'll leave that to others and talk about some of the highlights we saw on the grounds. Eli "Paperboy" Reed put on a rousing set before a crowd that was much smaller than his talent deserved. Ditto for Old 97's. Drive-By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo were outstanding during a July 3 bill that featured the equally enticing Paul Thorn and Lucinda Williams. Seeing the Zombies on the final Saturday was a treat. Matisyahu won raves, too, and my spies indicate that while I was busy reviewing the Jonas Brothers, 311 put on one of the more powerful shows in recent memory.
Hit: The food -- Sabor's skewered grilled garlic beef was a hit, along with Crawdaddy's jambalaya and the standards from Saz's, Venice Club and others.
Miss: The weather -- Nobody can control it, but nothing dampens morale on the grounds more quickly than rain and chilly temps.
Suggestion box: The music industry is in such a state of flux right now that booking bands for an 11-day festival has to be one of the tougher jobs in town. Summerfest is never going to make everyone happy, but I know some perceptive, music-minded people who think that contraction should be considered. They feel that removing a stage (or two) and reducing operating hours on some weekdays (maybe open at 3 p.m. instead of noon) would make a stronger festival. Other friends have suggested "theme nights" at the Amphitheater, such as a multi-act blues jam or a "guitar heroes" series. I know that stage sponsors want to appeal to all demographics, but there did seem to be fewer complaints when the stages stuck to certain types of music (Miller Jazz Oasis, Old Style Heartland Stage, etc.)
OK, it's time to share your thoughts. After all, the next Big Gig starts June 25, 2009.
They should change the dates of the festival to coordinate with the pitchfork festival or Lollapalooza which are now yearly events in Chicago. Some of the best bands touring in the summer make it to those festivals, but not to Summerfest. I would think some of the great bands that make to those festivals could be convinced to stay in the area and play Summerfest a day or two after they do a show for those festivals.
I'm a college student, so it is highly probable that most readers will disregard my opinion as youthful. However, I would like to highlight that in past years I have had several friends who I attend school with fly in from as far as New York and California to attend Summerfest, and I know of other students who host their fair share of out-of-state visitors during the Fest. This year, the number of out-of-state students that I perceived to be coming into town for Fest was drastically reduced, primarily because of the "older" lineup - which is an obvious attempt to deter violence, underage drinking, etc. While I respect World Festival's decisions in hoping to thwart the aforementioned activity, I personally was more upset than satisfied with this years lineup, and instead of going every single day (literally) last year, this year I attended Fest three days. Much of this was in part to my friends not wanting to head down due to a music lineup in which a Top 40 artist was sparse. That being said, I think the Marcus lineup was solid, and I realize that college students are not the primary demographic for Summerfest...after all we're troublemakers, hate spending money on beer, and there are very few colleges in the Milwaukee area (sarcasm).
Miss--Summerfest agreeing with stupid, anti-war, hippy, wack-job groups and forcing the Army to change its demonstration game. What a PR fiasco!
Good stuff: Venice Club Pizza Lorena, Fuzee (although they got rained out and cut short), Tim McGraw, Blondie, The Roots, many acts. I did get to meet Speech and his family--they were SO nice and talked for a good long time. Laments: Speech was there, why couldn't we get Arrested Development for a show? I would like to see some more urban acts--in years past...Summerfest booked some killer acts before they blew up. Case in point: Chris Brown was phenomenal, Black Eyes Peas were also amazing. We did miss Morris Day and the Time this year and that year LL Kool J played it was amazing. On the alternative tip, The Cult had been phenomenal down there too in the past (but the reincarnation before Rock Star of INXS was kinda weird and I don't ever need to see JD Fortune with that band). Wish list: REM and Beastie Boys would be my DREAM Ampitheater Acts to see down there. I think they should try a "back in the day" local rock music group reunion for the big haired guys and gals of TA Verns, STarz on 100 and The Haven...Vinicetti, Freudian Slip, Bender, Cosmic Debris, bands with lots of XXs in their names...all those crazy big hair local bands with a headliner like Slaughter or Extreme for the end of the night. That would be a weird scene but could draw out people to relive the big hair for one day and night (if they could get a sitter). Poison or the Crue could be on the Ampitheater. I'd like to see Prince in the Ampitheater too again someday. Is Tina and the B Side still together? They were fantastic and would be made for Summerfest I'd think, if they were still rocking.
There should be a karaoke stage at Summerfest. A few weeks before Summerfest, people could sign up online for a karaoke spot. Maybe they'd have to pay a fee of about $10 to $20, but they'd get to perform with a real band and on a Summerfest stage! I think it would be a big hit. I am not sure if it would be something to take place every day of the festival, but at least for a couple of nights it would be cool.
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