Social media can be a man’s best friend.
Saturday night I had gotten home from work, ate take out, and planned on watching Wet Hot American Summer. It was going to be a pretty uneventful night. That all changed within 15 minutes.
Tooling around on Facebook, I read that Public Enemy was playing at the Red Dot in Wauwatosa with ’90s alternative band Sponge. Then, not long after, Vanguard co-owner Chris Schulist posted he had heard rumors about the show, too. Five minutes later he posted he was going. At that moment I realized that although it seemed like a crazy rumor, I’d rather drive across town to find out it was a hoax than find out one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time had actually played just down the street from where I grew up. I immediately changed, threw on a hoodie, and ran out the door.
As I approached 68th and North, I spotted squad cars and barricades. North Avenue was blocked off, making the entire thing way more believable. I parked and went over to Red Dot. It was packed inside, there was security around, and Chris was standing outside. There was a band playing covers inside, and a lot of people coming and going with Public Enemy shirts and backstage badges. This was definitely happening. But we had no idea why it was happening here. None of it made any sense, but who cared? It was Public Enemy!
The two of us stood around for a good half hour as Chris tried getting a bartender’s attention through the door. No luck. He realized he knew the general manager, so we thought that would be our ticket into the event known as “Lampapalooza 2015.” It was just a waiting game. When security was finally able to get the GM’s attention, the door guy came out to tell us he couldn’t do anything about it. It was a private event and he had no pull. Defeat set in.
By now Public Enemy was pretty much set up. The security was extremely friendly, and they didn’t mind that we stood around outside as long as we weren’t causing trouble. We were ready to just take the entire thing in from the sidewalk. Fair enough: we didn’t really know anyone inside, and through the open door at the patio, we could hear pretty well.
Chuck D came on and they got going. This was really happening.
After “Rebel Without A Pause,” we watched Flavor Flav enter from the outside. Flav came on stage, and that’s when we found out this was somebody’s family reunion. What the hell?!
The group then went into “911 Is A Joke.” We watched from a near distance and enjoyed ourselves. As soon as the song ended a heavily tattooed man jumped on a chair near the patio door and yelled to the bouncer “Hey! Let these guys in!” The bouncer looked back at him, puzzled. The guy immediately fired back “I SAID, LET. THEM. IN!” Chris and I soon found ourselves in a packed room, roughly 25 feet from the stage. PE went into “Welcome To The Terror Dome.” We were floored. I needed a drink. Chris needed a drink.
Everything quickly got taken to a new level. The event had an open bar! This was the greatest family reunion ever, and I had no clue who anyone in this place was.
PE played all the hits, while Chuck D successfully pronounced “Wauwatosa” a good dozen times and gave shoutouts to the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Bucks. After a solid two-hour set, Flavor Flav gave a heartfelt speech about ending violence and racism before exiting the stage as DJ Lord played the chorus of Edwin Star’s “War.”
Growing up, I never thought that Tosa would see a group bigger than Street Life play at Tosa Fest. 15 years ago all there was on North was a gas station, a McDonald’s, Walter’s, and Johnson’s bike shop. Now North Avenue has Public Enemy on their resume, too. Just incredible.
I just really want to thank Anthony and his family for setting up one hell of a party and allowing us to be part of it when you certainly didn’t have to. You guys are the best.
Update: Chris Schulist also provided an account:
I heard about the show through some rumblings on Facebook. When it was confirmed, I just jumped in the car and went there alone. I tried using every “in” I could think of. I’m friends with one of the bartenders there so I thought that could get me in. No dice. I waited with my friend Corey, who met me there because of my post inquiring about the show. We waited for about two hours trying every way to get in legitimately. We didn’t want to piss these people off.
As they were starting, there was still no one out on the sidewalk. It seemed like no one cared, or knew what was going on. The security was cool with us just watching from there because we weren’t being pushy dickheads. Finally about four songs in, a roadie from PE saw us watching there and demanded that we get in. And that was it! It was insane. The whole time I couldn’t get over the fact that I was seeing these hip-hop legends in, well, let’s face it, a restaurant in ’Tosa! It was pretty awesome. The best part of the whole thing is that they were not phoning it in. They even said they could go another hour and a half. They were full-on high energy. It didn’t matter that they were playing a private party. They went for it. I’ll never forget it. I don’t know who the guy is that threw the party, but he seems like he freaking rules.