In Festival Guide Commentary

The sound from the Uline stage is particularly good from the water. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

The BMO Harris is less audible because it faces west. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

The Summerfest smile is visible from far away. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

Captain Michael Spott. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

The mighty sail. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

Crankin' and bankin'. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

The mouth of the harbor. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

Interesting perspective on the Hoan. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

Toni's on board! (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

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Ropes. City. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

Sailing is a group effort. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

The Amp in the distance. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

Waiting for Rush. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

In Festival Guide Commentary

Summerfest sunset. (PHOTO: Royal Brevvaxling)

No ticket required: The Big Gig by boat

I have attended Summerfest every year of my life – thanks to my father, a Summerfest fanatic who even schlepped me there when I was five weeks old.

Most likely, I have stepped on every inch of ground at the Big Gig. I have consumed a ridiculously large number of red wine coolers and plates of fried eggplant. I have heard hundreds of bands on almost every stage of the past and present.

And yet, before yesterday, I never experienced Summerfest in action from the middle of Lake Michigan.

Hence, when my friend Toni invited me onto her family's boat for an evening of sailing and Summerfesting, I was ecstatic.

We left the dock around 5:30 p.m. Toni's husband Michael is the main coxswain of the 37-foot Beneteau sailboat, named the "Sweet Spott" which is a play on their last name, Spott.

Toni and Michael's son, Perry, who is a member of UW-Milwaukee's Boat Racing Team, and a few others friends were also on board and helped with the sails and navigation.

This was one of my favorite aspects of the experience. It had been decades since I was on a sailboat and I had forgotten how interactive it is for everyone on board. Those who knew how to sail turned cranks, unfurled sails, took turns steering and called out "boat at 2 o'clock" to ensure that the boat pilot was aware of another approaching boat.

Those of us who didn't know how to sail moved from seat to seat, making room for the sailors who jumped from one side of the boat to the other to maneuver the sails.

"It's a game of moving around," said Toni.

Even sailing-related words that I kept hearing were as active: fall off, boom, bang. (The latter two seemed particularly apropos because it was the Fourth of July.)

When I wasn't changing seats and moving around, I was marveling at the majestically blue scenery, daydreaming about pirate life and stifling my urge to bust into the song "I'm On A Boat."

With Toni's encouragement, I piloted the boat for a few minutes and since we didn't sink or crash into anything, I'm going to say it was a success.

After sailing around for about an hour in what I was told was perfect sailing weather – windy, but not too windy, as well as sunny – we sailed back to the north end of Summerfest and dropped anchor in front of the Uline stage.

While we anchored, we drank wine, ate a feast of homemade foods prepared by Toni including hummus, quinoa, guacamole and chips, brie and crackers, fresh vegetables, olive tapenade and more.

We all remarked how amazing the sound was. I actually think it sounded clearer from the boat than it would from the audience. One person on the boat said the distance between us and the stage gave the sound a chance to breathe. I'm no expert on sound travel, but I liked the thought of that.

Once we sailed beyond the Uline stage, the sound became a jumble of applause, voices, bass guitar and the occasional cymbal clang, creating a Summerfest symphony of sorts. Hearing this made me feel both a longing to be in the middle of the fun and grateful for the chance to witness it from afar.

Perspective is fascinating. This first occurred to me years ago when I traveled by train from Chicago to New Orleans and, while watching the world chug by, I realized I was seeing the country from a place that no one could ever witness unless they, too, were on top of the tracks.

I had another "perspective is powerful" moment when I had the chance to climb on top of the Wisconsin Gas Light Building and stand next to the flame, the same one I had seen from a distance as a small blue or red or gold teardrop. It was suddenly massive and whenever I see it now, always from a distance, I remember what it was like – how different it was – up close.

The visuals of Summerfest from the water were particularly cool. So many lights, waving smiley-face flags and people lined up against the fence of the Marcus Amphitheater, waiting to hear Rush. Toni compared this visual to sheet music: the people looked like the notes and the fence was the staff.

Another boater compared sailing to tuning a guitar – the ropes like the strings and both the activities a combination of skill and intuition. This made particular sense to me considering we were, after all, sailing around one of the world's largest outdoor music festivals.


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