Milwaukee has many icons. The Milverine patrols our streets, the Milwaukee Lion may or may not still prowl the north side, the East Side Turkeys steer clear of college students, and the Brewers have that ugly dog. The city’s music scene has—well, had—a mascot, too, and his name is Leo Hayashibara.
If you’ve been to any street festival, bluegrass bash, or rock show within the city limits, you’ve probably seen Leo. Distinct with his short stature and kooky dance moves, he is a standout member of any crowd. One could say that he has contributed more by means of attentive listening and cover fees than anyone else not directly affiliated with the scene. His support was evident last month at Riverwest FemFest, where he danced and head-banged throughout multiple days of music. Ehson Rad, frontman of Devil Met Contention, says of Leo, “He’s our barometer of if it’s going to be a good show or not.”
Leo is a quirky guy. His idiosyncratic mannerisms genuinely parallel his signature dance moves. You could say he talks with his hands. Sometimes his stream of consciousness takes hold and he’ll go off on a tangent; other times he responds with the utmost brevity. He’s also no longer a Milwaukeean: Since this interview was conducted, Leo moved to southern California for work. We can only hope that he visits in the future, and that we’ll see him once again in the crowd.
Milwaukee Record: Are you from Milwaukee?
Leo Hayashibara: I’m not from Milwaukee, I’m not from Wisconsin. I’m originally from California.
MR: What brought you here?
LH: I got a job here so I relocated in the winter of the polar vortex. I work in higher education. I had multiple part time jobs in California, which is what a lot of people in California actually do. They call them freeway flyers, where people just drive around from job to job, which is possible because there’s essentially a community college every few miles. The ones I [worked at] were dozens of miles apart, so I spent a lot of time sitting around on the southern California freeway. I figured to have a single job in Milwaukee was better than having multiple part time jobs in California. So I figured I could get a full time job in Milwaukee, walk to work, and then be free after work and do whatever.
MR: But with the cold weather, maybe you’re not so much of a fan?
LH: Yeah, the first six months were not so good. After that, summer rolled around and I was just fine. You find stuff to do in the summer. There are as many free concerts as you could hope for. It’s quite doable.
MR: Do you have a favorite street festival?
LH: I try to get out to most of them in the couple years I’ve been here. I’ve been to most of the ones in Riverwest. I did Summer Soulstice, and, you know, the Bay View Bash. The Brady Street one.
MR: Have you been to Summerfest?
LH: Yeah, the first year I was here I went to Summerfest. This year, they had a fair number of string bands and whatnot, so I went to see a fair number of strings bands. That’s what I did when I lived in northern California, I went to go and see string bands because that’s what they would book in the middle of the summer when it’s a hundred-and-some-odd degrees outside. In this case, there was a major venue to go to, which happened to be a big brewery that had string bands during the summer because they were somewhere between Bay Area/San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, so they’d stop there.
MR: What is the scene like in southern California, versus northern California, versus here?
LH: Southern California is very spread out, so I’m not going to walk to any shows. You have to be very careful about what you pick. You have to pick the particular thing you want to go to, and [the show] can be kind of expensive, [as well as] the cost of transporting yourself from place to place.
Now, northern California is like a college town. There’s maybe a few bars or clubs where they have shows, or a brewery or another independent venue, and that’s about it. Then there’s the whole city festival thing during the summer. You can go see various sorts of festivals if you want to go up in the mountains somewhere. If you’re into that, northern California is good.
Then, Milwaukee is like a small concentrated area. By this time when I moved here, there was such a thing as the Internet and you could look stuff up. Once I got to know enough people, they’d ask, “Are you going to go to this, that, or the other?” and I had to think about it. What are the details?
MR: Do you have any genres you lean more towards? What did you grow up listening to? What do you listen to now?
LH: I used to listen to loud, fast stuff when I was a kid. I went to a lot of string band/bluegrass/alt-country shows [in northern California], so you develop a taste for that, because it’s what’s available. And it’s available here in Milwaukee, too. Maybe not so much the original guys like .357 [String Band] or High Lonesome or whatever, but the people who are affiliated with them are still around, and other bands like [Grasping At Straws] or whatnot are playing within that genre, and that’s great.
MR: Do you have a favorite show that you’ve seen in town?
LH: The one that trips me out the most was when I went to go see Polka Floyd down at the beer garden. Now, what would you think about seeing polka versions of Pink Floyd music? I’m just standing in front of them, doing my thing as normal, and all of a sudden I’m just dancing around a bunch of small children, [and they’re] following me around. It’s like the pied piper. This goes for the entire show. Where are you going to see something like that? To me, that’s just trippy.
MR: Do you have a favorite non-local act?
LH: I did get my opportunity to see some Japanese noise rock bands. I got to see Boris. I got to see Melt-Banana. They actually have other acts affiliated with them. Like with Melt-Banana, they played with Rio Turbo. You know, that was all right. I get to meet the guys from Rio Turbo because they’re all just bouncing around in front of the stage. Here, people aren’t going to bolt because they’re done playing the show. They’re an opening act and they’ll just hang out. Boris was interesting. They play with other noise rock/metal type acts. I made a mistake of getting caught in a mosh at that one, because you know these guys are twice my size and half my age. They helped me up, there’s no damage done. Those are the actual shows that I have shirts from.
MR: I’ve heard that you hang out at the beer garden in the summer.
LH: Well, there are the traveling beer gardens. I’ve never been to the one in Wauwatosa, so I’m probably not going to do that now. Of course, there’s Estabrook Park which is affiliated with the Old German Beer Hall, and they’ll occasionally have little shows that you don’t have to pay for and can bounce around to, and to me that’s entertainment. It used to freak me out going to the Old German Beer Hall because you’re just packed in there like sardines, whereas out in the open you can move around and do stuff. Depending on who happens to be playing, sometimes they’ll have standard old-time polka guys, which is great. Sometimes they’ll actually have what I call “alt-polka” bands. They can play extraordinarily fast and loud. I like that because I can do that.
MR: Do you have a favorite beer?
LH: A favorite? Well…
MR: You can throw a few out there. I really like IPAs.
LH: Well, that’s a west coast-y kinda thing. That’s totally seasonal if you live somewhere where there are seasons. I lived in southern California where there are essentially no seasons. So going back to something like that, I’m not going to buy huge imperial stouts most of the time. They’ll make them, though. They’ll actually sell you an imperial stout in December or January. It might be 75 or 80 degrees out. I try to support the local guys and their local beers. In Wisconsin, we have New Glarus and whatever. Going back to southern California, I’ll drink whatever they happen to have there.
MR: Do you have a favorite brewery in the area?
LH: The thing is, now that Sprecher gave me my free X concert, I have to give them credit for having a traveling beer garden. X is actually from [my hometown]. They all live in Orange County now. Exene, John Doe, Billy Zoom! It was a free show, and it was raining, but oh well. That just makes it more epic.
MR: I have to ask about sports. Do you have a favorite sports team?
LH: Who is it that pisses off Chicago more? The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim or the Los Angeles Kings? People in Milwaukee are fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, but are totally diametrically opposed when it comes to the Chicago Bears, even though it’s closer to Chicago than it is to Green Bay. If you can have a hockey team in Los Angeles, a hockey team in Anaheim, multiple teams around New York, why is it they’re so opposed to another hockey team in the Midwest? Why do they have hockey teams in the deep South and in the desert? Why not have more hockey teams in the Midwest where you can actually see kids skating? That’s crazy.
MR: What are you going to miss the most about Milwaukee?
LH: I’ve been here for a couple years, and I know many, many more people than I did when I lived in northern California for twice as long. People here are pretty open and pretty friendly. It’s your typical stereotype of midwestern people. It’s pretty much true. That I will miss. Winter, maybe not so much. Then, there’s the whole concept of being able to drink outside. If you go to a bar or venue in southern California, they crack down pretty hard on that. There are no beer gardens, per se. They might have something called a beer garden, but it’s part of a restaurant and it’s not the same thing. And here you actually have the four seasons. In northern California, it would rain for several months out of the year, and maybe a couple months where it’d be nice, and then a couple months it’d be brutally hot. You go back through the cycle again. In southern California, it’s relatively more constant than that. There’s going to be dried up weeds and rocks for the most part.
MR: But we barely have four seasons. We have, like, winter and…
LH: Road construction, I know. There are seasonal activities, especially if you’re into the whole festival thing. There’s the festival season in the summer, and then late summer/early fall, there’s the whole sort of German music thing. Oktoberfest in California is completely different. It’s confined to a little area. It’s not like in a public park where you have people drinking outside. I can go down to a public park here and people know who I am. You walk into a bar here and people know your name. That’s a completely different experience when you live around 10 million people. I’ll be completely anonymous again, and that’ll be kind of freaky.
MR: Anything else you want to add?
LH: I’m trying to find someone to take over my apartment. If you’re interested in living on the East Side, next to shops and restaurants, within walking distance to UWM, get a hold of Maggie and she’ll get a hold of me and we’ll work something out.
Also, since I know pretty much what is going to happen in terms of higher education in the state of Wisconsin…I would tell somebody that if you’re going to work in higher education, go to a state where the governor actually finished college, because that’ll tell you what his or her priorities are.
MR: Can we blame Scott Walker for you leaving?
LH: It’s not so much him. After watching Scott Walker at the national debates, I’m thinking no, that guy was not the guy who came up with these things. There’s someone else behind the scenes pulling the strings.