In A-side/B-side, two Milwaukee Record writers tackle various city issues in an informal, crosstalk style. Insults are hurled, feelings are hurt, and everyone learns something in the end. Maybe.
Matt Wild: We’re exactly one week away from the start of Summerfest 2018, Lauren, and the excitement is palpable. New stages and entrances are being built. New food and drinks are being rolled out. Taped Music is being, well, taped. Oh, and the music! Like the 50 Summerfests before it, this year’s Big Gig (June 27-July 1, July 3-8) features approximately 8,000 bands and artists from across the musical spectrum. Want big names like Arcade Fire, Janelle Monáe, and The Weeknd? You got ’em. Want retro favorites like The Wallflowers, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Candlebox? No problem. Want some modern country? Eh.
Anyway, let’s get to our annual question: What do we think of this year’s Summerfest lineup? Like the current crop of Star Wars films, it’s impossible to reach a consensus (people really liked Rogue One?), but it seems like a lot of folks are proclaiming 2018 to be the BEST LINEUP IN YEARS. If you consider the year a pre-MAGA Kanye West performed here to be a recent high-water mark (2011), then I’d have to agree. There’s a LOT of good stuff coming to the lakefront this year, and there’s a lot of good stuff I’m personally invested in.
But before we get to that, what do YOU think, Lauren? As always, I’m interested in how the nearly two decades separating us color our thoughts and opinions about Summerfest. As a 40-year-old white man who’s excited to see Pixies and Matthew Sweet, have I finally “aged in” to the Summerfest demographic? Is the Big Gig offering enough options for 20-somethings like yourself? Does it score or lose points for musical diversity? Who’s seeing A Flock Of Seagulls with me July 1 at 6 p.m. at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage?
Lauren Keene: Well, as a 22-year-old girl who is equally excited to check out the Pixies, I’m excited to say I wholeheartedly agree with you. We know Summerfest is famous (er, infamous) for trying to appeal to everyone, and I think they’ve finally succeeded.
The big-name headliners the festival snagged are admittedly noteworthy, particularly the ones you’ve already mentioned. The two acts I’m most excited to see are Janelle Monáe and Kesha. I’d like to personally applaud Summerfest for the Kesha booking—many of us missed her sold-out Rave show in 2016, and I appreciate the chance to finally see her. A lot of my (very HIP and COOL) friends are especially thrilled about Monáe, too. She’s never played Milwaukee before and tours very sparingly. We’ll definitely be arriving early for that show—it’s undoubtedly going to be packed.
I never, ever thought I would say this, but I’m very impressed with the Big Gig’s newfound focus on my favorite niche music genre: power pop. Fans of the pop/rock hybrid will notice genre greats like Nick Lowe, Matthew Sweet, The Posies, and Cheap Trick on this year’s Summerfest bill. It’s definitely a bummer that some of these legendary acts are performing at weird times (4 p.m. on a Sunday?), but I appreciate the opportunity to check them out in the first place.
Speaking of Cheap Trick, we can’t neglect to mention the artists who seemingly return to Henry Maier Festival Park every. Single. Year. Looking at you, Dave Matthews Band, Third Eye Blind, The Fray, O.A.R. I digress. I can’t help but wonder if Milwaukee music fans will ever finally tire of seeing the same bands every summer.
My only gripe with this year’s lineup is the lack of local talent. In summers past, we’ve witnessed some of Milwaukee’s most cherished artists share the stage with big-time talent. How could anyone forget New Age Narcissism opening for The Roots? It seems like the Big Gig has a penchant for booking church festival cover bands instead of acknowledging Milwaukee’s freshest crop of rappers, rockers, and rollers. A lot of Milwaukee musicians would greatly benefit from the exposure of a gig at the Big Gig, and it’s disappointing that so many are being overlooked this year. This isn’t to say there aren’t any local artists on the bill—Abby Jeanne, Chicken Wire Empire, and Evan Christian all have time slots—but I’d definitely prefer to see more.
What about you, Matt? What are your hopes, dreams and fears for Summerfest 2018?
Matt: I’m with you on the relative lack of Milwaukee talent. Yes, a few local artists will be holding down primo slots this year (B~Free directly opening for Janelle Monáe comes to mind), but am I the only one who misses the all-local (or mostly local) stage from a few years back? I had mid-level hopes when the new Klement’s Sausage & Beer Garden was announced—it would be focusing on local music!—but the lineup is clearly not my thing. No offense to Lil’ Rev and the WAMI Youth Showcase, of course.
I’m glad you mentioned the surprisingly strong power pop showing this year, as well as the somewhat random slots many of those bands are filling. Frankly, I’m glad I’ll be able to see, say, The Posies at 4 p.m., or Matthew Sweet at 6 p.m. I’m sure diminished star power has plenty to do with those afternoon gigs, but does EVERY top- and mid-tier act have to play at 10 p.m.? (Pixies and Kesha playing at the same time on the same night makes me sad.) Here’s to seeing Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets in the middle of the afternoon!
(Oh, just wanted to mention in the least “ACTUALLY” way possible that Janelle Monáe HAS played Milwaukee before, in 2010 at the Pabst Theater. She opened for Of Montreal and blew them out of the water.)
So what are my hopes and dreams for Summerfest 2018? Seeing all the acts I mentioned above, plus random stuff like Meat Puppets, Fastball, Spoon, Flaming Lips, Greta Van Fleet, Gin Blossoms, Phantogram, and Soccer Mommy. My fears? Solo Steven Tyler. That’s it. See you at the Big Gig, Lauren!