Picnic and Soul in the Park

Ah, there is nothing like a summer night in the park with Deirdre Fellner and the Whole of Soul. (Full disclosure here: I am a friend of Deirdre's -- in fact, we were roomies in the early 90s.) Nonetheless, she is a superb jazz/soul diva whose musical repertoire has grown by leaps and bounds in the 15 years I've known and known of her work. Back in the early 90s, the Whole of Soul was a decent enough crack ensemble and she used her incredibly well-trained and maintained voice to push out straight-up covers and a pile of bluesy originals. But last night reminded me she's more than that. They opened their set with a downright trippy number, that until maybe about 2 minutes in didn't reveal itself to be jazz-based -- it sounded like something Brian's band might put out.

She's still got a wonderful knack of telling a story over a song intro, and over the years its gotten even more comfortable, to the point where its lyrical, flowing in with the music, at times almost machine gun, as in the example of the beginning of the song "Red Lipstick and A Cocktail Dress." (that may or may not be the actual title, but it was the main chorus that we all remember). She tells the story of the song's origin, recounting one of those dragass days in almost a machine-gun manner that evokes the feeling one gets when they've spent a whole day busy with nothing to show for it but exhaustion …. "and so that sounds like a song…" I know personally that Deirdre is a great person to go and chew on this over a few drinkie-poos, and now the crowd does too. Her narrative phrasing has caught up to her vocal phrasing, which was always spot on.

What a perfect summer evening. I'd stopped at the Milwaukee Public Market on the way home for some picnic snackies to nosh on. The spicy tuna roll from Sushi A Go Go was particularly tasty-- the spice wasn't just wasabi, but other flavors got their way in. I had a tub of the Basil pesto from Aladdin, and a tub of absolutely the best baba gonoush (email me with YOUR spelling of this, I've seen as many spellings for this as the name Mohammad itself) I've ever had. It had a smoky, roasted garlic overtone to it that put me in heaven. As the Humboldt Park bandshell is on a hill, I made a mental note that I need to get something like these wine holder sticks for the ground for a picnic for the side of a hill. I was wearing a Deirdre T-shirt, and now I have a red zinfandel stain on it, which is actually slightly prestigious, but that's just less wine in my mouth. Putting the wine glass in my shoe to hold it up was risky. I do like that a majority of the benches they had on the hill had been removed, and the remaining ones pushed to the sides, so that blanket picnickers can be more toward the front and center. It really does increase that "We're not quite Jazz In The Park yet but we're getting there" factor; it supports an ambience of relaxing, evening music with good food, drink, and conversation, instead of just a "we play you listen" lecture setup. And I like it more than JITP. JITP is getting TOO popular and hip, such that its packed, and almost impossible to keep your kids from getting lost. Here at Humboldt, they could run around to their hearts content and I could still keep an eye on them AND enjoy the music and hang with my friends.

A guy from Milwaukee County Parks was snapping pictures, asking people in the crowd how they liked the music. I replied that I was enjoying the increased hipness factor becoming evident at Humboldt Park -- the previous years' schedules were packed with oompah bands and the American Legion band, which, admittedly, packs 'em in. He basically replied that they're taking baby steps this way. Well, clearly Deirdre wowed over this crowd so I hope they continue in this vein. Bring it on -- this approach works at Boerner Botanical Gardens and should work here as well.

They started at 6:30 and played straight into 8:30 -- no breaks. I know they wanted to make sure the impending storm didn't get them (it started sprinkling right when they finished their set) but still, 2 straight hours without a break was amazing. I'll tell you, I have many musician friends but I don't shower the praise publicly unless they really blow me away. Deirdre babysat for baby Stella a few times, and even coming home, hearing her lullaby Stella to sleep, blew me away.

Anyway, I just love the whole Milwaukee County Concerts in the Parks series, and this year they've expanded it substantially. Here's my picks for the rest of the summer:

  • July 28: Blue Oyster Cult at State Fair Park (well, this isn't free, nor is it a County Park, but I have to get my BOC fix in somehow this summer) and then off to the Dr Chow CD release Party at Linneman's.
  • August 2: the Swing O Matics at River Rhythms (Pere Marquette Park). River Rhythms has a great lineup overall this summer.
  • August 3: Paul Cebar at Boerner Botanical Gardens, or if I don't feel like schlepping all the way out there, might catch some salsa at Alterra Lakefront before going to see the Eels at the Pabst. Boerner's lineup is hit or miss. I liked it better when they were in the field by the trees. This is close to the old outbuilding, and the audience sits downhill from the band. However, I have a wonderful memory in my head of the Five Card Studs, playing to among other attendees, a cadre of Red Hat Society women, and they ate each other up.
  • August 8: King Comets at Humboldt Park
  • August 10: The X reunion tour with the Rollins Band at the Rave (well, this isn't free , nor is it in a park, but Exene and John Doe are at least together again for a tour and its worth a mention…)
  • August 18: Deirdre and the Whole of Soul at Sherman Park
  • August 24: the Swing O Matics at Boerner Botanical Gardens


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