Summerfest 2017 Review

Authors: Jake Walczyk & David Heinrich

On its 50th anniversary, Summerfest made the world’s largest music festival into even more of a spectacle this year. Expectations were high, but they certainly did not disappoint. Boasting arguably their strongest lineup to date, each performer seemed to have realized that they were part of something special this year. Through the pouring rain and the burning sun, fans let little get in the way of their fun.

Activities
Summerfest chose to take the opportunity to give back to its fans, having deals nearly every day. Whether that was a daily theme, discounted drinks, or free admission, there were always deals to help put attendees’ financial worries at ease.

It was an honor to participate in the annual Summerfest parade this year. Fully dressed in a costume resembling a bee, I marched in a swarm of other bee advocates, circus performers, a drum line, street acrobats, and a band of 7 crammed into a trailer pulled by a pickup truck. Taking a full lap around the festival as a part of such a lively crowd was a truly unique way to experience the festival. Anyone can join in on the parade fun, so next year just hop right in when you see it pass by!

The fireworks on the second day of the festival was a wonder in itself. Seeing Hippo Campus play in front of an exploding sea of colorful light made for a memorable night. The quality of the fireworks was as high as I have seen, and the ambiance is simply unmatchable. Shops lined nearly every sidewalk that was not covered with a stage. Here you could find anything from a necklace to frankincense. It took hours to get through every shop, but with each of their unique offerings there was never a dull moment.

Food
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The food stands at Summerfest have worked their way up to be one of the many consistent traditions of Summerfest. The stands that seem to return every year served up the same great food as they have for years, and for reasonable prices. The half chicken right off the grill at Charcoal Grill is a Summerfest Staple, most likely due to the fact that you can smell it nearly everywhere on the grounds.

As one would expect in Milwaukee, the kegs were putting in work each of the 11 days. The local Lakefront Brewery boasted a wide selection of moderately priced craft beers. The beloved Leinenkugel stand was a crowd favorite once again this year. Their lines blocked the entire main walkway during the half off beverages day for the Wisconsin classic. Wisconsinites will be Wisconsonites.


Music

Flume
Flume provided the backdrop for what turned out to be a wild night for my friends and I. The conditions were not ideal for a show, as a severe thunderstorm was approaching and a tornado watch was issued on Milwaukee County and the Summerfest Grounds. The crowd was getting packed, though, and no one wanted to miss Flume. Luckily, they didn’t cancel the show, and we all got to see anticipated act. Flume put on a great DJ set, cycling through hits and deeper tracks from his most recent album Skin, tracks from his self-titled Flume, and different remixes here and there. One of my favorites was his remix of Lorde’s “Tennis Court”, as well as “Smoke and Retribution” with Vince Staples on the track. Both really got the crowd going, but perhaps not as much as his closer. The transition between “Say It (feat. Tove Lo)” and his remix of “You & Me” by Disclosure (a crowd favorite for sure) was sleek and entertaining, and then closing with “Free” was a move I didn’t see coming, but it was a welcome one. Combined with trippy visuals and high energy lights, booming bass, and a crowd that just couldn’t get enough, Flume is a show I won’t forget soon.

Whitney
Whitney’s intimate set at the Johnson Controls stage was one to remember as well. The weather was perfect and warm, the sun was setting, and the crowd was soothed by the happy and sweet Whitney vibes. I think Whitney was impressed with the support that came out. More people knew all/most of the lyrics than I had expected at a Summerfest show, and lots of Whitney tees and hats could be seen as well. Max and Julien looked to be having a blast up on stage, and wowed the crowd with the full Light Upon the Lake album (including my namesake “Dave’s Song” and other favorites like “Polly” and “Follow”), as well as an assortment of covers. Two of these were released as an EP earlier this year, and one was a 45-second cover of the theme song from Golden Girls. Everyone was grooving and dancing and having a great time, it was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to. My friends can attest that when I wasn’t singing, I had the biggest grin stuck on my face.

Bob Dylan
To close out the festival, American Family Insurance Amphitheater hosted a star-studded lineup for their Outlaw Music Festival Including Nathaniel Rateliff, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan. It was quite literally an all-day festival within an all-day festival. You can’t find that anywhere else. Though Willie closed out the night and the entire festival, everyone seemed to have their sights set on Dylan. This should be no surprise, as he is one of the most recognizable faces of music. This set the bar extremely high for the 76 year-old. Speaking for myself, the show was nothing like I had imagined. How I thought of Bob Dylan was of his classic tunes from his younger years, as many do. However, this was a very different side of Mr. Dylan.

Instead of being center stage with his guitar, Dylan spent most of the show behind the piano. When he would stand up, he played the guitar a couple of times, but mostly swung his microphone stand around resembling a ballad singer. Though he certainly still has the magic on the keys, it was difficult to make out the lyrics that he sang. His accompanying band was incredibly talented and proved worthy to be playing with the legend. The song choice was also a bit surprising. He did not play many hits, and those he did were barely recognizable. His rendition of “Tangled up in Blue” sounded so different from the original that the audience did not let out a cheer until Dylan made it to the chorus. He also played “Make You Feel My Love”, which was another reminder that Bob Dylan has written every one of your favorite covers.

Though Bob may not be the performer that he used to be, it was a surreal experience to see one of music’s best in concert. Every artist that played the Outlaw Music Fest that day tipped their hat to Bob at one point in the show and explained the impact that he has had on their careers and personal lives. Jason Isbell even referenced a tattoo he had on his arm with Dylan’s lyrics inscribed forever. Artists as influential as this don’t come along every day, so when they do, they should be celebrated.

 

Authors: Izzy Fradin & Audrey Bachman

The Shins
This weekend, Milwaukee was graced with the presence of indie rocks finest New Mexicans, the Shins. Although on tour for the release of their most recent release Heartworms which came out in March of this year, the group delivered on a crowd-pleasing set with a healthy mixed bag of tunes new and old. Speaking of old tunes, for the majority of their set, the Shins toyed with the audience, playing the intro to “New Slang” before each song, teasing the mainstream fans with a good-spirited chuckle. While any other group pulling a similar stunt would have easily been taken as frustrating or disrespectful, the Shins executed their joke with a tongue-in-cheek playfulness that kept the night lighthearted and easygoing.

We got lost in the ether of slowed-down versions of songs like “Gone for Good” which in their new state, played like a lullaby and swept the audience into a trance- so much so that at one point Audrey literally got lost in the crowd. One of the most remarkable aspects of the show, was the band’s humility—and their hats. The band played to the fair-weather as well as the die-hard crowds, honoring the fact that this was in fact summerfest, but there were more than likely a few kids who really loved their music somewhere among the indistinguishable faces. As the cameras would focus in on various audience members during their set, never would they showcase the beautiful, obnoxious fans in the front row, but rather found the most ordinary looking people they could and gave them their simple, candid moment in the spotlight- and it showed. The reactions of the couples dancing to the slow ballads discovering that they were on the screen was that of pure joy and surprise. There was nothing performed about it. It was pure. It was real. They were real.

For a band who’s been around as long as the Shins have, we really have to credit the freshness that the songs maintained over the years. Listening to classics like “Caring is Creepy,” which was made famous by the classic indie film Garden State, felt like hearing the song for the first time. There was something very organic and beautifully orchestrated about the ways which the group approach each song, asking the question-how do me keep it interesting? It’s so refreshing to actually see bands respect themselves, their fans, and their music the way that most bands should be.

The Shins put on a great show-bottom line. James Mercer proved he’s still got it. They finished with a cover of “American Girl”, which in all honesty was the only way they could have wrapped up the set-not to mention the entire festival, the song in many ways felt like the climax of the evening.  During the guitar solo of “Kissing the Lipless” the moon gave the gift of its presence to the audience and the entire crowd was at once filled to the brim with the essence of life itself. The song that came from that Zach Braff movie came on and lifted our spirits to future dimensions. We were truly one after all.