Thursday, June 29, 2006

St. Rita, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the State of Music Today and Love Summerfest

You'd think, being the musical snob I am, that I hate Summerfest. You'd be wrong.

I love Summerfest.

I used to hate it. I hated it when I was in a band, I hated it when all my friends were in a band, I hated it when I went to Lollapalooza to see a bunch of great up and coming bands. I hated it when I'd go just to get some time in and hear the same freakin' cover bands play "Summer of '69" for the six hundredth freaking time, even though I stood out in the rain to hear Richard Thompson an hour later. Yes, I am a music snob, and I used to hate hate hate Summerfest, because the lineup would be a painfully accurate object lesson in why the state of popular music in America is so freaking sad.

When did I start loving Summerfest again? When I had this glorious epiphany to stop thinking of Summerfest as a "music festival." Because Summerfest is NOT a "music festival." It is, in fact, the worlds biggest and best church festival.

It has everything you want and get at a church festival: rides, bingo, cover bands, tons of food, stuff for the kids to do, crappy toys and souveniers to waste your money on, hooligan teenagers moving about, lots of yelling and screaming, drunks, little kids having a good ol time, and the occassional really excellent band that makes you smile with pride and say "How'd they book them?" Summerfest just does this on a magnanimous scale, so that there's a handful of really excellent bands that make you smile, there's a horde of little kids having fun, there's a plethora of reasonably priced food, and there's a platoon of hoolgans and drunks to watch. I love it. And I started loving it again when I realized this: stop thinking like a music snob and trying to find a true music festival here, because you won't. Musically, its trying to be too many things to too huge a middle of the road audience, and that's a sure recipe for uninspiring dreck.

Summerfest is festival with a lot of music, but its not a "music festival." The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a music festival. The Chicago Blues Festival is a music festival. The Reading Festival is a music festival. What do these all have that Summerfest doesn't? An agenda to satify people who are passionate about music, people who live for music, people who demand great music played by musicians who share their passion, instead of listening to that same phoned-in run through of "Everybody's Working For the Weekend." Sure, Summerfest gets big names to play, but really, do they play Summerfest saying to themselves "Wow, I want to play Summerfest because of the prestige of participating in a magnificent festival." Probably not. Its more like "Hey, we're on our summer tour anyway, and we'll be in the midwest in late June, early July, and there's really no point in playing anywhere else in Milwaukee during that time because everybody will be at Summerfest, so yeah, book us for the Leinenkugel stage or (if we're a huge national act) that Marcus Amphetheater thingy and that will be our Milwaukee stop for this summer's tour. Oh, the contract says we can't play Alpine Valley within the next two weeks? Oh well, then we'll do Milwaukee Summerfest this week and we'll get the Chicago audience at that Navy Pier summerfest-trying-to-be thing they do there."

This is opposed to, say, the Monterey Jazz Festival, which any pot-smoking jazzbo worth their de-tuned guitar knows is the place to be if you at all want to be considered with it in the jazz community, and any Jazz lover has on their list to save the money, book a flight and a hotel, and get thee out to the California coast sometime in their life. People outside of Wisconsin or Northern Illinois do not save their money and time to come to Summerfest. They have all these same acts coming through Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, heck, lots of them will hit the Big Ten college towns like Madison, Champaign, Bloomington, Iowa City, etc. Really, if you live in Cleveland, and you love country music, are you flying out to Milwaukee to see Kenney Chesney? No, you're going to wait and see Chesney at the Cleveland Civic Center. Especially since, if you're into Chesney, you're probably into country and might like to see some other country acts, and the day Chesney is at Summerfest, there aren't really any other country acts playing except for maybe Elvin Bishop (but Bishop's on a different stage while Chesney is on, so you're out of luck.) You MIGHT fly out somewhere where there's some massive country music festival headlinedby Chesney, but backed up by about 20 or 30 bands you may or may not have heard of, but are all country music acts, some of which are obscure but excellent. You'd spend a whole day basking in music you're likely to love. And that's only if you're PASSIONATE about great country music. This is why jazzbos do indeed find a way in their life to hit a jazz festival. Indianapolis has this amazing little jazz festival that isn't necessarily for purists, but it's still excellent. Worth at least a drive to Indy for something other than racing.

The Miller Jazz Oasis at Summerfest (yes, remember when it was actually called that, and it actually lived up to its name?) used to be this great little jazz-festival-within-a-festival like this. I remember spending a day in the front row, hearing great stuff that was capped off by the evening's headliner, Stanley Clarke. Remember when ALL the Summerfest stages had definite themes? You had a rock stage, a country stage, a jazz stage, but now its all mishmash, with no real theme, because god forbid somebody plays something that isn't instantly familiar to the general public, or drive away that same public because five bands in a row were all of a cult genre, like the blues or something. Now the Miller Jazz Oasis is the Miller Lite Oasis. I coulnd't have staged that name change to reflect the format change more perfectly if I tried.

I've heard great bands at Summerfest musically, but again, its these spots of light in a generaly horrid mishmash of cover bands and mainstream dreck designed not to offend anybody. It's music for people for whom music is wallpaper. I remember one time we ran into a fellow music enthusiast who was keeping track of how many times he walked past a stage and heard "Mustang Sally." At 4 pm on the first day of Summerfest last year, he was already up to 5. That's a really sad statistic. He said he hated "Mustang Sally" for this very reason.

But he brightened up when I told him my philosophy: "Stop trying to think of this as a music festival. Pretend you're at St. Rita's. Do it! Close your eyes, click those black patent leather shoes together, and think 'There's no place like mass, there's no place like mass, there's no place like mass.' Now open your eyes. Isn't this the greatest church festival you've ever been to?!?!?!" YES, he cried. Ride, Sally, Ride!

We'll be at Summerfest on July 3. And we'll eat some fried eggplant. And ride the sky glider. And eat some barbequed pork. And eat some of those weird dippin' dots. And play a game of bingo. And people watch. And sit on those rocks by the lake and snicker at the goth kids while reminiscing about our goth years. And frolic in the fountain with our kids. And let 'em stay up late. And watch the fireworks. Oh, and maybe we'll catch Alice Cooper (he did manage to fit Summerfest into his summer tour!) at the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard (that's formerly the Country) stage.

Why we're not going to see Blue Oyster Cult at Summerfest tonight

  1. Because nothing can top two of the most surreal rock and roll evenings of my life, both of which involved Blue Oyster Cult. Back in, oh, was it 2000? (Stella was about 2), we went to go see Blue Oyster Cult, at, get this, Old Heidelburg Park for Sprecherfest. If you're not from Milwaukee, Old Heidelburg Park is exactly what it sounds like: its this little bavarian park with little game stands, a swingset, and a big ol' outdoor beer hall stage which usually plays hosts to oompah-bands. The guy who takes your tickets still is wearing lederhausen, and you're expecting the St Pauli Girl to bust our of her shirt and serve you up a couple of steins. The place where the audience sits is rows and rows of picnic tables, on which you can set down your steins of pale ale and your little baskets of bratwurst and wienerschnitzel and fries. We're sitting at such a picnic table, and I'm changing Stella's diaper (she was exhausted from a day of playing and swinging) and right next to us sits this badass looking biker couple, with whom we strike up a conversation about the pros and cons of a 401(k) plan vs a Roth IRA. Then Allen Lanier walks past us with a guitar case. What, Blue Oyster Cult carries their own gear?!? The guys take the stage, and I've got two year old Stella on my shoulders and we're all singing along, fists and brews raised and swaying above our heads as though it were a old bavarian drinking song: "I'm burning, I'm burning, I'm burning for you!"

    Then last summer we find out that BOC is playing at, get this, "Lakefest" in Sheboygan. So we loaded up the car and drove north. Turns out its this little Lions Club/Kiwanis festival, with a bunch of local food booths, about 5 or 6 of those blow up "rides" for the kids (you could get an all day pass for five bucks and the kids could jump on those things to their hearts' content) and there's a giant tent about the size of your typical church festival tent. All afternoon there's people walking around aimlessly, wondering if they're in the right place, reassured by the little B.O.C stickers being handed out and the 5' x 25' hand painted poster advertising such, with opening act Lou Gramm. Then the sun starts to set, and Gramm actually shows up and reminds us all who the hell he is by belting out some old Foreigner. "Oh, yeah, him," we all nod, while he's wailing "You're As Cold As Ice." Well, he obviously took care of his voice, too bad his band and songs were lame to begin with. The families with their lawn chairs and blankets arrive and set up shop. Then, just as the night stars come out, from New! York! City! Please welcome BLUE! OYSTER! CULT! And they're just as blistering and incredible as they were back when my big brother borrowed my mother's credit card to go to Ticketron to get tickets to see them at the Chicago International Ampetheater in 1975: On Your Feet… Or ON YOUR KNEES!!!!!!. Stella is waiting to hear E.T.I. (which many people know as "Agents of Fortune") and Sammy is winding his way in and out of the standing crowd in front of the stage, met by smiles. He comes out later and we see the truly generation gap closing moment when he meets the GenX and GenY kids: I'd never seen anybody pogo so high as Sammy and the Gen Y teens were, as they kept challenging each other to jump more while moms, dads, teens, little kids, Kiwanis, punks and bikers are all screaming together in perfect unison: "Oh no, there goes toe-kee-yo, go go Godzilla! Yeeeeeeeeaaaaah!"

    Honestly, for ambience alone, do you think I'm going to be able to top either of these two moments at the Mountain Dew Rock Stage at Summerfest?

  • We're road tripping tomorrow and are leaving good and early to avoid the construction traffic in the Armpit of America (otherwise known as Chicago Skyway Merge with the Indiana Toll Road). Bummer too, since I'd really like to see Elvis Costello on this fab tour he's doing with Allen Toussaint but it won't be the first time I missed an incredible live show. Oh well.
  • MIS word to the webmaster

    If you go to the website, and click on "music" you get a drop down box and one of the choices is "summerfest daily lineup." The link doesn't work. It doesn't even give you an error. It just doesn't work, and I'm running IE 6.0 on a T1 line. You have to click all over the site to find another place to get the daily schedule. Fix it. Its pissing me off.

    Wednesday, June 28, 2006

    Looking for Indy Style Sushi, Racing, and International Drama

    So, this year, we're once again headed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for yet another try at the US Grand Prix at Indy. We're F1 fans. There's a certain je ne se quois (did I spell that right?) about F1 that you just don't get with stock car racing. The drivers are more, uh, worldly. Its the international charm, right here in Middle Amerika!

    I mean, here's an exchange I had at the second USGP-Indy, while sitting on one of the observation mounds, that should be filed in some McSweeney's List titled "Conversations You're Not Likely To Overhear In The Bleachers At A NASCAR Race":

    Me: Yeah, out here in middle America, the summers get really hot and you need a lot of sunscreen.
    Brian: You didn't spend a summer in Indy, did you?
    Me: No, but I spent about five summers in Champaign, which is almost the exact same latitude as we are here.
    Race Fan Sitting In Front of Us With Distinguished British Accent: Champaign? U of I? Love that place!
    Me: You went to school there?
    RFSIFUWDBA whose name turned out to be Julian: Well, grad school. I did my undergrad work at Oxford, but I worked on my dissertation and got my PhD at Champaign.
    Me: Myself, I majored in English and Journalism, but only undergrad. But for the weather, Ah, then you know what to expect!
    Julian: Yea, but I didn't expect this -- nowhere near the huge F1 crowds like in Europe, I've got a beautiful view up here on this mound, and if only Couthard could take the lead, my joy would be complete!

    Also, here's some scenes not likely to take place in, say, Bristol, Tennessee:

    • Going out for sushi the Saturday night in Indianapolis (and yes, Indy has an excellent sushi place) in 2004 and ending up waiting in a packed line and this rather short, elderly gentleman brushing past us on the way out, and its, its, Yes, its Bernie Ecclestone, the head of F1 himself! This must be some kind of good sushi, if its good enough for Bernie "Women are washing machines not drivers" Ecclestone its good enough for us!

      But wait, there's more!

    • So, Brian and I finally get seated on the patio, and suddenly there's a huge to-do at the door, and then coming down the sidewalk surrounded by an entourage is German driver Michael Schumacher, the highest-paid athlete in the world! Brian stands up, greets him him German, and Schumacher replies "Good evening to you" in English. I didn't take a picture. It would have ruined the moment.

      But wait, there's more!

    • So, last year, we decide to head back to the Mikado, that great sushi joint. There's a huge line again, and we're figuring it's based on the reputation. No, this year it's because Juan Montoya has chosen to take his crew to dinner there. There's this jerk in front of us in line who's giving the hostess a hard time because, well, he's Columbian, and isn't that enough to get him an audience con Juan Pablo? Yeah, right, I'm part Polish and that didn’t get me any special dispensation with John Paul II. Jesus. Anyway, I say to the hostess with a sympathetic look on my face, "Anywhere, anytime you get a chance" and of course our courtesy and understanding were rewarded with being seated within 30 minutes, more than a reasonable wait on a packed night like this. "But then again," I said to her as she led us to our table, "You can't name your restaurant after a tragic Gilbert and Sullivan opera and not expect some drama now and again." And drama we saw later: Brian spotted the head of racing at Mercedes-Benz on the patio as we left, polishing off a big bottle of some strong stuff. Odd, we thought, getting wasted the night before a race. That flashed back to us the next day, when the race became the debacle it was.

    We'll be at the Mikado this Saturday night, too. I'll file a report when we get home. Who do you suppose we'll run into this time?

    Friday, June 23, 2006

    Been too busy with the little ones...

    Wow, I just realized that I've been really missing in action. Has it really been a month since I posted here? I guess so!

    Well, I feel better about the fact that lots of moms' blogs (and not necessarily blogs focusing on motherhood, just ones written by people who happen to be moms) were sparce this past month. It’s the end of the school year and all, and we've been busy. But I've noticed that while I wax poetic on Stella a lot, I haven't mentioned my little buddy, Sammy. He's just starting to talk now, so he'll have clever precocious things to say and I'll probably document that here, but I was just pausing to think that perhaps I should capture him here and now, while he's still my sweet little boy, before he turns into some mouthy adolescent who curses my name.

    Because now, he is the sweetest little boy in the world. There are times when he keeps me up all night with this sleeplessnes and his fears, times when he's tugging at my skirt or pants leg for attention while I'm trying to get other stuff done, but I forget that every day in the late afternoon, when I walk in the door from work.

    That moment when I open the door and walk in the house is a daily moment to treasure. He doesn't holler yippee or hooray, but rather pleasure. "Mama!" he pants when I come home, with a timbre somewhere between Elvis Presley and Pierce Brosnan. "Mama!" He yells and toddles over to me, with a smile so big I'm afraid his adorable head will crack open. "Mama!" he says, with his arms outstretched, like Little Nutbrown Rabbit in Guess How Much I Love You, stamping his feet, doing the happy dance until I finally manage to put down my purse and day bag, take off my jacket, and pick him up to hug and kiss him. Then, and only then, may I acknowledge anybody else in the house, including my husband and 7 year old daughter.

    "How was school today, Stella?" I ask. "Whatever," she mumbles.

    "How was your day, hon?" I ask my husband. "OK," he grunts.

    But then I turn around and see Sammy again.

    "Mama!" he smiles, as if to say "To hell with them! I will sing your praises from the moment you walk in the door, for you are home and you belong to ME now! Mama!"

    Reliving my roots on Locust Street

    The Locust Street festival is sort of like homecoming for me. I used to live in Riverwest, but I ended up getting more house for the money on the South Side (and a little safer neighborhood) but there you go. Sometimes I wish I still lived in Riverwest, and its always Locust Street Day that gets me all nostalgic for that time in my life.

    That time in my life: living in an apartment within walking distance from my favorite bars (and having more than one favorite bar), not being a mom, not being anybody's wife or girlfriend, but being somebody's bitchy roommate, living from paycheck to paycheck working for nonprofits, wearing pajama pants as a fashion statement to walk to the corner store to get some canned soup for breakfast. Knowing not my immediate neighbors, but knowing a good portion of people in the neighborhood, seeing them while going to see bands, art exhibits, parties, etc. The boho life! Loved it and wouldn't have traded my years in it for anything. But why did I move? Worried about the crime. (though I'lve seen more shootings in my "safe" neighborhood than I did in Riverwest.) The night before I actually moved sealed it. Somebody tried to break into my apartment (while I was home); a passing cop who saw the guy climbing up the railing was the only thing that stopped it. I moved the next day -- I was originally going to wait until the weekend but that incident got me to move.

    I was always secretely jealous of those who stayed and bought houses and fixed them up and built up this neighborhood, which goes up and down and up and down. Its on the way up again, despite those recent things you've heard about crime on Center street. I'm walking to the festival two weeks ago, passing this little park that used to be a dumpy little place with a swingset and a teetertotter, but local artists got hold of it, got nicer playground equipment, and turned it into a lovely, inviting, joyous little playground for kids, with bright colors, wonderful artistic stepping stones and nice landscaping. I get to the festival, and there's the same, comfortable things going on that have gone on for years, the stages with their mix of up and comings and tried and true bands. The Cocksmiths (perfect name for them!) caught my attention with their almost earnest rendition of AC/DCs "Whole Lotta Rosie." Woodland Pattern Book Center didn't have anything visible going on, unusual for them. Usually they're repainting their mural, or have poetry readings. Got the requisite flyer handouts from the Peace Action Center, as well as some people fighting some kind of secret concentration camp in China. The Track stage -- (the Tracks being the former token piece of real estate in Riverwest for political conservatives and frat boys) pleased us all with the stylings of The Five Card Studs, all of whose songs are "for the ladies", ensuring us all a very sexy, sexy Locust Street festival.

    But in general, we usually spend it walking back and forth down Locust street, eyes peeled for those people we only see this one Sunday every year. Very nostalgic.

    Oh, and BTW, to relive my bohomian Riverwest Roots, I'll be joining Darrell "The Brains" Martin as a guest DJ at The Foundation Saturday July 22. I'll harp on this more later, for you can count on me to shamelessly promote myself. But the Brains says people in the music scene need to know I'm still out there, and this is as good a way as any to ease myself back in. Next stop, putting those guitar playing callouses back on my fingers!

    I WANT

    I want a new google game to pass the time while waiting for an audience with my boss.

    So a friend suggested this to me: go to google, type in your name followed by the word wants, and post your results somewhere. Might as well be a blog. So here goes:


    Veronica wants to be a fairy.

    Veronica wants to continue receiving her mail but at a different account

    people are equating who's at the door with who Veronica wants to be with.

    Now Veronica wants to find her family in the capital of Luanda. …

    The jocks are killed, and that is when Veronica wants out

    Veronica wants to take revenge against two guys who have boasted of having sex with her,

    Veronica wants to bring some fresh ideas for affordable housing

    Veronica wants next Council meeting to be more productive and less informative

    Betty needs new shoes, and Veronica wants to run right out and shop with her

    I think your Veronica wants to play with you before dinner

    Veronica wants to explore the possibility of marrying an American, hoping for more freedom and less cooking

    I'm for chocolate, but Veronica wants canoli....but we can do anything else too.

    Veronica wants to do 21 things.

    Veronica wants to help her friend find Christ


    Oh, I was going to do "Veronica Needs", except when I re-did it, I found another blogger who already did. Why take up net space when I can link (and yes, I agree with her commenter that she missed the favorite one...), anyway, here's the link.