At one point during the third and final weekend of Summerfest, I was considering buying a toe ring. At another I was screaming along to one of my favorite songs in the rain. At another I was being offered a spliff. At another I was drunk. At another I was riding the Skyglider. At another I was a dozen feet from Jenny Lewis. At another I was seeing The Gufs.
More than any other three-day installment of Summerfest 2023, Weekend 3 was, for me, the most wonderfully random and life-affirming. It was the weekend packed with stuff I desperately wanted to see—Jenny Lewis! Built To Spill! Japanese Breakfast!—and stuff I wouldn’t mind seeing if I happened to be passing by—Collective Soul! Here Come The Mummies! The Pretty Reckless! And shit, I didn’t even make it to the final night (though social media informed me that everyone else in town was there, enjoying a classic Summerfest cocktail of Ne-Yo and Imagine Dragons and Smokey Robinson).
All in all, Summerfest 2023 felt good, you know? The weather was gorgeous. The crowds were solid but not suffocating. The intoxicating smell of hot roasted nuts and shitty cigars and Saz’s sampler platters was especially intoxicating. Was the overall lineup kind of weak? Will attendance be better than the last two years but still nowhere near the blockbusters of the ’00s and ’10s? I’m at a point where I don’t really care about the last two questions anymore. I enjoy Summerfest for what it is. I go as often as I can and have an uncomplicated good time.
Speaking of a good time, here are some personal highlights from Weekend 3:
• Seeing Jenny Lewis play an intimate 2 p.m. set at the American Family Insurance House.
• Seeing Jenny Lewis play a big-stage 5:30 p.m. set, and securing some friend-of-friend pit passes to do so.
• Enjoying a set from Milwaukee’s own The Gufs, because why not.
• Enjoying the sight of Milwaukee’s own Pat McCurdy leading his dedicated fans in a round of “The Hokey Pokey,” because why not.
• Making a free, flared-out fanny pack at the American Family Insurance House, because why not.
• Almost hitting a deer while biking home on the Oak Leaf Trail Thursday night. Okay, not really a “highlight,” but a good reminder that there’s a small but real chance of hitting a deer while biking on the Oak Leaf Trail.
• Taking in a particularly funny and unhinged NEWSKI performance on the Generac Power Stage. Where to begin? With bassist Sean Anderson tossing out a bag of Taco Bell to a random onlooker, and said random onlooker contentedly chowing down throughout the set like it was something that happens all the time? With two dudes in hot dog costumes coming out from backstage and crowdsurfing the pit? With Brett Newski himself venturing out into the crowd while still playing a guitar solo? Though Newski and company have played Summerfest numerous times before, they were a last-minute addition this time around. It was a great addition.
• The generational turnover between the Built To Spill and Japanese Breakfast crowds. So long, 40- and 50-year-olds; hello, 20-year-olds! Circle of life, etc.
• Speaking of Built To Spill, seeing Doug Martsch and band (Melanie Radford, Teresa Esguerra) cap their fantastic Friday-night set with “Carry The Zero,” with a little bit of rain making it even more sweeter.
This was the “screaming along to one of my favorite songs in the rain” moment referenced above. Was it a personal Top Summerfest Moment Of All Time? Yeah, I think it was. Hope you had one, too.
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