Friday, July 13, 2007

Viva La France via Milwaukee


Florida Yard Dog
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Bastille Days really is one of my favorite street-based summer Milwaukee festivals, if not on the short list of favorite Milwaukee summer festivals, period. Maybe it's because they're French and all, but they seem to take it up a notch, the music is better, the food is the best, and the Franco connection seems to ensure a fine wine selection as well. Even the street vendors are great -- I've bought more jewelry, dresses, and other knickknacks at Bastille Days over the years than any other festival. It's got a great musical history with me as well: it's where I saw the amazing Sun Ra and his Arkestra before ol Ra hopped on the mothership and blasted off this planet. It's where I saw that infamous Oil Tasters and Haskels reunion, and being a new Milwaukeean at the time, understood what the fuss was about.
We had the kids with us, and before we caught a bit of the Florida Yard Dogs, Marcus Monroe, fire juggler extraordinaire, captivated Sammy (as Sammy loves anything to do with fire). Monroe is a great Gen X/Y street performer with that Jim Rose Sideshow smirk but yet an amazing act. His schtick is simple: he juggles, but he starts out with the standard juggling pins, moves on to machetes, smokes us out with fire sticks, and his master finale is him, on a 6 ft unicycle, juggling knifes attached to torches (He called them a knorches!) while wearing a helmet with a roman candle on top. Cracking jokes along the way, and definitely worth the dollar I dropped in his Tony Danza-adorned bucket. ("If you don't like me," he explains, "Everybody loves Tony Danza, so give him a buck.")

After we ran into Whispering Jeff (another guy you can depend on to be EVERYWHERE), we sat down with the kids for some food and took in the Florida Yard Dogs, some guys who obviously spent some time in Nawleans, built some funky instruments, drank a few beers and said, "Hey guys, let's start a band." They're well named, and they answered the question, "What if a bunch of white guys attempted Cajun music?" Fun stuff. I was particulary happy to see that the accordionist's instrument sported the Milwaukee-based ol' Baldoni imprint. (Hey, what's Ivo doing these days since they closed their Brady street shop?) Stella and her best friend snacked on chicken tenders and the waffle fries were the best darn waffle fries I have ever had -- perfectly crisp, flavorful, but not over or underdone. I had the pecan chicken sandwhich, which overflowed from its bun. Sammy enjoyed a garden variety sausage. We ran into Paul Cotter and eldest daughter Cecelia, fresh from a little girl haircut, enjoying a real crepe that looked delicious, but was too rich for my post-triathlon tastes.

Robin Pluer channels Edith Piaf
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Once again, though, as she continues to do and build upon every year, Robin Pluer summoned the ghost of Edith Piaf and pretty much ruled the main stage, backed up by the amazing Mrs. Fun. Knowing it was a festival stage, she jazzed up the numbers (particular fun was "Jezebel") to facilitate a French street dance, which entralled both my kids (and friend) and the audience as well. She did that stunning rendition of "La Vie En Rose" and pretty much spoke her flawless fluent French all night to introduce her songs and band. It kind of reminded me of seeing Los Straightjackets speak only Spanish, but somehow we all understood every word they said. Same with Pluer -- I don't speak much French, but I knew what she was saying and what she was about.
Pluer pretty much developed this act for Bastille Days, and its grown bigger than both of them -- she now does the Edith Piaf thing in other venues and she's moved from a side stage novelty to the main event stage at the prime time on opening night where she/it belongs. Basking the shadow of the MSOE-constructed Eiffel tower (so much better than that blow up thing, which miraculously enough is still there!), she really is a personification of how well Bastille Days brings a little bit of Paris to Milwaukee every year, as the Strom The Bastille 5K runner go milling about, the grownups drinking their wine, and the kids running about. My Sammy found a "Girlfriend" to dance with all night, and Stella and her Friend had a glorious time dancing -- sometimes jazzy, sometimes ballet. Its a vibe I get a few of the other ethnic festivals, probably because it's truly on the street, and it celebrates a time when the disenfranchised claimed their streets back. There were no bands in particular I came to see. I just knew if I showed up, something good would run by me, and i was right.

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