Center Street on Schedule

Kids, behind the white line NOW!
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
OK, so it was a bit disorganized, Center Street Daze was. Everything crucial was in place, we just really didn't know who was playing when unless you happened to know sombody in one of the bands, and organizer Whispering Jeff, I'm sorry, but I shouldn't have to be sleeping with a guitar player just to find out when the band's playing. (To be fair, Jeff Platt organized the "big picture" stuff -- getting permits, vendors, etc -- it was up to the individual stage sponsors to promote their stages.) But as I kind of predicted, Center Street Daze wasn't about the music. It was about the neighborhood. It reminded me much more of what the Locust Street festival was, say, 20 or so years ago: a bit disorganized, a bit mish-mosh, a very counterculture feel to it, and a lot of fun. I'll even go so far as to say that while Locust Street is now the establishment, Center street is the hip, irreverant outsider. They had all the necessary elements: a great mix of music (old and new, cover and original, rock and punk and funk), plenty of visual and performance artists, excellent food and drink selection, and attracted a mixed up enough crowd to satisfy the most jaded of people watchers.

The pushcart races, emceed by Dr. Chow's Frank Chandek, set the tone, with entries showcasing the wide spectrum humor and imagination of the neighborhood's residents, if not an object lesson in the value of considering function over form: the most interesting looking entries weren't necessarily the most efficient racing machines. A late rule change resulted in two separate lanes with the excitement coming at the turnaround point, where the entrants were almost guaranteed some exciting crash action. I should have put two and two together when I heard a member of the "Hell on Wheels" pit crew ask a friend of his (standing near me in the audience) to "hold this blanket, and if anything goes wrong, just drop this on it -- you know, like stop, drop and roll." Hmmmm. Stop, drop and roll. Isn't that what the firemen tell you do do when there's a fire? And fortunately, "Hell on Wheels"'s opponent in that (carefully selected word here) heat was "Rubber Duckie" -- a pushcart which features a tub of water (complete with bather in it!) so at least there was water available. I finally did the math and realized what was going on -- as Hell on Wheels sped off, I noticed some liquid being spilled in its wake -- three seconds before somebody lit a match and suddenly I grabbed hold of the kids and really enforced the "You stick by me behind this white line dammit" rule. Whispering Jeff clutched anxiously to the liability insurance documentation in his pocket, and I figured now wasn't a good time to give him a hard time about the lack of a posted band schedule.

Nevertheess, it was all good clean fun. The Polka Playing Pushcart showed up not only late, but didn't switch lanes and that brought on a Judges' conference, which resulted in the crowd voting to have three teams all at once in the finals. I don't even remember who won, and I'm not sure anybody cared. We all won, having cheered and laughed along with the teams, and scattered about for post-race festivities.

I missed Dr Chow's Love Medicine anyway, despite my relationship to the second guitar player. I had a kid to schlep to and from ballet, where I ran into another rock and roll parent who asked me to make sure her husband knew he needed to be home early. This message I passed on, while he was on stage.

The Fabulon Vootometer
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Voot? Is Voot playing? Depending on what time of day it was, and who you were talking to, different answers abounded, but if Voot Warnings was going to play anywhere, we knew it would be his haunt, Center street anchor The Uptowner, home of the Beautiful People. And beautiful he was, with Dave Rake on guitar and Vic Demechei on drums, inspiring the name The Fabulon Vootometer. Oh, if this wasn't a time for "spotted in the crowd" Boris and Doris-ness, no time was. There was pool shark Mary Ellen Freundl, powerding up her cue for the billiards tournament. There was Steve Whalen -- spotted in the crowd, pshaw! Spotted on STAGE! There was Rusty Berg, who heard "Crippled Mentals" from his apartment and thought to himself, "Hey, is that Voot?" and ventured out. And there was Russell "Rustle of Luv" Martocci, who I heard actually played on stage earlier. Damn you, people too lazy to put out a schedule, did I have to miss that? Rustle of Luv was a wonderful troubador-style busker whose choices of covers and terrific originals used to be such a fixture on the scene. He dropped out to attend to higher priorities, but it was great to see him back. Chatted with him briefly: he's painting now, incorporating semi-precious stones into his work ("that should give it some value" he jokes) and I'm looking forward to seeing what he puts forth. And clearly I wasn't the only one glad to see his face. All reports say his set sounded great, that despite it being a long time since he's played, its like he never left. Rustle -- let's see more of this!

Back west, we camped out on the lawn of House of Frank n' Stein for another set from favorites of this blog, Floor Model. This one had special guests on trumpet and poetry reading, across the street from an artist by the name of J. Bird (but he pronounced it "jaybird") beginning a mural paying tribute to businesses that are making Center Street a destination. Further across the street a renegade band played on the porch of a house, another ad hoc band formed to jam the blues at the Uptowner, Circle-A-Café bartender Sarah Wilson good-naturedly got herself dunk-tanked for charity, and Stella got to sit on a luxury motorized couch which zipped up and down the street shortly before the sun set and we headed over to the tiki-bar-extrordinaire The Foundation for an acoustic set with the Bikini Beachcombers.

You couldn't have told me it was September in Wisconsin when the family settled in for a few songs on Bremen just north of Center. Tiki Torches? Check. Hula Dancer? Check. "Tiki Road Trip" author James Teitelbaum autographing copies of his book? Check. Hawaiian Ukelele Band The Bikini Beachcombers? Check. OK, order up a Mai Tai and let's go. Admittedly, we couldn't stay too long (and had to miss the Cocktail Preachers, who reportedly turned in a terrific set later that night). The Beachcombers do need to have a bit of amplification -- while we could hear them, there's only so much volume that can come out of an instrument the size of a breadbox, and sometimes the ukeleles were overwhelmed by Jonny Z's stand up bass and their own voices. Sometimes I got the idea that even they might have had trouble hearing each other. But overall, all the pieces put together point to a group of people who both love the Tiki misc-en-scene and know where the irony stops and the culture begins. I'd like to blame us having to leave on the increasingly tired and cranky kids, but we were pretty dragged out ourselves, plus we had a birthday party to rest up for. We'll be back next year. That's a full year to get a schedule published, guys. Get on it.


Erin said…
Hey Vron! eshea from MM here! We had an awesome time, too! Next Riverwest happening I am going to just walk up and down streets calling out VRON!!!!

I thought your article/blog was great-

Popular Posts