Wednesday’s Summerfest lineup scared up a wealth of immensely popular and internationally known talent (and DJ Pauly D) that included the likes of Dave Matthews Band, Ludacris, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, the Wailers (sans Ziggy Marley), The Airborne Toxic Event, Berlin, and Jake Miller. We saw none of them.
Instead, we sampled from the bevy of locally sourced entertainment options that were also on hand to help brighten up the Summerfest schedule on an otherwise hazy hump day. July 2 was an especially stacked day in terms of in-state acts taking the stage, with an array of bands from Milwaukee (and elsewhere in Wisconsin) appearing on a variety of stages over the course of the entire day. In fact, there was a great deal of overlap. We did our best to avoid out-of-state performers in our search for an entirely local day at Summerfest.
Ethan Keller took the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse and played a funky set, especially for being so early on a dreary and brisk day. With a skilled full backing band in tow—featuring Soul Low’s Sam Gehrke on bass—Keller fared much better than he did at his Summer Solstice appearance less than a fortnight ago. After Keller and company concluded, classic-rock/jam band hybrid No One Souldier—the pride of Trevor (near Kenosha)—elicited a respectably sized crowd and an assload of dollar donations with a 3 p.m. Rebel Stage performance that was well-timed to bilk punctual Dave Matthews fans out of munchies money with solid stoner jams.
Around 4 o’clock, winner and never-to-be-defeated champion of the (unofficial) worst band name at Summerfest contest/playful(?) Facebook direct message harassers, WIFEE and the HUZzBAND, followed Keller at the Roadhouse. The nine-piece Sturgeon Bay-area outfit was big, brassy, and brought an exceptionally warm, fun presence to the stage with them. “WIFEE” (Ruby James) commanded attention from passersby—many of whom probably made a previous mental note to avoid temptation to walk anywhere near the stage DJ Pauly D would take that night—with her powerful vocals and impressive energy, especially factoring she had a massive cast on one leg. “HUZzBAND” himself (Stephen Cooper) wailed on the sax, making up a quarter of the horn arsenal. Bonus: his hair was gelled to look like that alien conspiracy expert on the History Channel. In short, the band was exponentially better than its awful, awful name. It was a performance that called for a 5 p.m. Chicken In A Waffle Cone and torch-juggling unicyclist show.
The 6 p.m. slot was a bit of a quandary. I’m Not A Pilot was playing the latest gig of its ongoing every spring/summer local event domination, so they were easy to pass this time around. However, Nineteen Thirteen—the latest project of former Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo—was playing the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard just as Klassik was in the midst of a big pre-Ludacris Miller Lite Oasis performance. To complicate the decision even more, it started to drizzle enough to force people to take shelter beneath beer stand canopies. With a “fuck it: Summerfest” mantra, we took in both acts and welcomed the rain. First, Nineteen Thirteen provided an apt soundtrack to the conditions. An instrumental “chamber rock” trio is an odd pairing to entertain teens before Jake Miller came to rap poorly about homework or some shit, but DeLorenzo (who played Marcus Amphitheater less than 400 days ago) and the rest of the band made it work by way of pretty songs performed well.
Meanwhile, Klassik brought a live band element into the mix for his biggest show since opening for Talib Kweli at last year’s Big Gig. The energetic emcee knew most people already camped out on the vast sea of bleachers weren’t there to see him (even saying as much), but didn’t let that stop him from putting on a great show that was emblematic of his overriding positivity. Hoping to combat the precipitation, Klassik got behind the keyboard and played “Sunshine” and, later, brought out WebsterX to perform his “Desperate Youth” remix.
At 7:15 or so, northeast Wisconsin expats and Milwaukee’s proud adopted sons The Sleepwalkers played to utterly empty bleachers at the KNE New Music Stage…due to dampness, not disinterest. A modest turnout stood around the wet seating as the garage-tinged power-poppers laced into a set heavy in tracks from its celebrated April release Lost My Mind In Stereo, and cracked self-admittedly cheesy jokes about the weather. By the time The Sleepwalkers finished, Milwaukee’s resident impressive national act opener YO-DOT was hyping a now overfilled Oasis that was spilling Luda fans into the concourse. He more than did his part to set the table, while wearing a “Bitch, I’m from Milwaukee” t-shirt, no less!
Fittingly, the exclusively local day of Summerfest was brought to a satisfying and fun conclusion by Maritime, one of Milwaukee’s most beloved and nationally accomplished bands. Not surprisingly, a few hundred people stood in the thin corridor facing the KNE New Music Stage as the veteran indie rockers battled early technical difficulties to manage a set that started heavy in songs from their latest album Human Hearts (by default…finish the new record already, guys!) before bringing in old favorites like “For Science Fiction,” “Parade Of Punk Rock T-Shirts,” and “Tearing Up The Oxygen” along with some new material sprinkled in as well. The between-song banter by Davey von Bohlen and Dan Hinz highlighted the great and exceedingly rare Maritime set, as they continually goofed on their presence on a “New Music Stage,” lamented having to open up for a ferris wheel, and screamed “We’re from Milwaukee! Woo!” between nearly every song. Most people knew the band’s hometown, but even if they didn’t, Milwaukee would have been a wise guess. A ton of great acts at Summerfest Wednesday either hailed from Milwaukee or came from close by.
Sometimes the most appealing bands at the “World’s Largest Music Festival” come from right here.