Sometimes you hate Summerfest. Sometimes you get to the grounds on a late Sunday afternoon and note that there are more people waiting to see Paris Hilton in four hours than there were to see Public Enemy all of Thursday night. You make the requisite Summerfest lap and see nothing but doofuses smoking cigars and wearing PornHub T-shirts. You’re not in the mood for a beer, so you walk to JoJo’s Martini Lounge and get a fruity cocktail, which is $11. A cover band at JoJo’s is doing Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” Somewhere in the distance, another cover band is limping through a tepid Queen medley. You want to go home.
Sometimes you love Summerfest. Sometimes you wander past the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage and see Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound. Cebar is wearing green pants and leading his band through a smooth-as-silk cover of The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better.” You’re reminded that Cebar is a formidable talent and an irreplaceable Milwaukee treasure. Hell, he sometimes scats the weather before your talk show on WMSE. Your faith in Summerfest and humanity is restored.
Sometimes you hate Summerfest. Sometimes you resign yourself to “people watching” and think of an old Gene Siskel quote: “When they left home this morning, they thought they looked good in that.” A bedraggled woman is sitting on a picnic table and smoking a cigarette in front of her baby. The Paris Hilton crowd is growing. You want to go home.
Sometimes you love Summerfest. Sometimes you see Field Report perform on the Miller Lite Oasis immediately after husband-and-wife duo Mates Of State. Chris Porterfield and company open with the title track to their excellent sophomore record, Marigolden. The crowd is on its feet, enraptured. “Michelle” is beautiful, “Cups And Cups” is devastating, and the normally even-keel “Decision Day” jumps to life near the end thanks to drummer Shane Leonard. Halfway through the set Porterfield brings on Vic And Gab. The sisters provide beautiful backing vocals to beautiful songs like “Fergus Falls” and “Home (Leave The Lights On).” You’re suddenly hungry so you grab a Saz’s combo plate and eat it on a picnic table while you watch Field Report on a jumbo LED screen. You slowly realize that you’re sitting next to Mates Of State and their two young daughters. They’re eating, laughing, and taking pictures. You think about approaching them and thanking them for playing a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End.” You decide not to. You think about your own wife and daughter. You miss them, but you smile.
Sometimes you hate Summerfest. Sometimes the band you’ve come to see, The New Pornographers, take to the Miller Lite Oasis at 10 p.m. without Neko Case or Dan Bejar. You tweet about this unfortunate development with the hashtag #hurumph. An eruption of noise to your left confirms that Paris Hilton has finally arrived. You’re annoyed and disappointed. You want to go home.
Sometimes you love Summerfest. Sometimes you bump into your good friends at The New Pornographers show. You recount the events of the previous night, which include getting drunk and sunburnt at the Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party, ordering Toppers, and watching Dirty Work. You settle in and watch The New Pornographers, who are pretty great. The Canadian indie rockers open with the title track to their incredible new album, Brill Bruisers. It was one of your favorite albums of last year, and your heart leaps a little when you hear some of your favorite songs: “Dancehall Domine,” “Another Drug Deal Of The Heart,” “Champions Of Red Wine.” Frontman Carl Newman makes some laconic cracks about all the Miller Lite signage (well, it is the Miller Lite Oasis, Carl), and the United States finally catching up to Canada in the gay marriage and healthcare departments. Singer and keyboardist Kathryn Calder is amazing. This is a great show.
Sometimes you hate Summerfest. Sometimes you and your friends walk over to the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse to see the Paris Hilton madness firsthand. She’s dancing around on stage while the massive crowd punches pink “Paris Hilton” balloons in the air. This seems about right. When you get back to The New Pornographers, you catch the last few seconds of your absolute favorite Brill Bruisers track, “Fantasy Fools.” Fuck.
Sometimes you love Summerfest. Sometimes you and your friends head over to the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage to see Charles “Screaming Eagle of Soul” Bradley. You’ve never seen Bradley before, but holy shit you’re glad you are now. The 66-year-old is on his knees, mic stand over his shoulder, wailing like a madman. His seven-piece band is spot-on. Your friends remind you that Bradley was discovered in his 50s while working as a James Brown impersonator, and that a documentary on his life, Soul Of America, played at the 2012 Milwaukee Film Festival. You like those fun facts. His performance tonight is incredible, all old-school R&B, throat-rendering screams, and pleas to God. He’s dancing like a man half his age and seems possessed. The crowd is glowing. This is the best show you’ve seen at Summerfest this year.
Sometimes you hate Summerfest, sometimes you love Summerfest. It’s the second part that will stay with you the next morning.