Authors: Maureen Duthie and David Heinrich
Wisconsin’s largest music festival came and went again this year with its usual charm and excitement. It was a wonderful week of engaging community and fun music along the Milwaukee lake shore and Henry Meier Festival Park. This year, they boasted a fresh lineup and some newly renovated elements of the festival grounds. Summerfest has been diversifying their lineups in recent years, bringing in acts that you wouldn’t typically associate with the festival. The summer block party vibes are definitely still prominent, but there are increasingly bigger spaces for indie heads and rap fans. This is a step in the right direction for the festival and it bodes well for the future.
Here are some quick thoughts on some of the acts that wowed us this year at Summerfest.
Appearing on the last day, one of the most anticipated “Emerging Artist Series” performances was by the 20-year-old from Nashville, TN, Sophie Allison, a.k.a. Soccer Mommy. Garnering a growing listenership on Bandcamp, her career as a musician began in 2017 after a record deal and deciding to leave college to pursue a career in music and grow as an artist. At the show the crowd filled the bleachers and standing rows of the smaller Johnson Controls World Stage. Playing mostly songs from her newly released album, Clean, fans enjoyed the band’s laid-back vibe and soothing bedroom indie rock guitar riffs, recognizing popular songs like “Your Dog” and “Cool.” Allison also played a three-song solo set without the band, giving the audience a beautiful one-on-one interaction that brought us back to her start on Bandcamp where she would upload songs she created and wrote for herself, not thinking she would gather a following. This is an artist to keep your eye out for and many are excited to see her growth as an artist in the coming years.
Early Eyes were visiting Milwaukee from the Twin Cities for Summerfest this year. You might be familiar with them if you caught their WUD Music show here in Madison. They’re one of the most up and coming young bands from Minnesota. Early Eyes was another “Emerging Artist Series” performance, playing the set after Soccer Mommy. Forming their college band “for fun” in 2016, these five boys from the University of Minnesota gave a wonderfully energetic, indie-pop show that fully rivaled the acts before, tying them for second place on Summerfest’s Twitter poll for favorite Emerging Artist of the day. The band’s bright energy, dancing and smiles were infectious and so was their music with new song releases like “Penelope” and “Coffee.” Having a similar recognition and boost by the local radio station, The Current, that was given to Hippo Campus around 2014, I have a feeling Early Eyes could see huge growth in their listenership. Definitely another band to watch out for!
A classic and a favorite, Spoon graced the Harley Davison stage on the first Sunday night, visiting Milwaukee for the second time in under a year, their previous performance being in October at the Pabst Theater. Having gone to both performances the Summerfest one fully exceeded my expectations! Thinking the performances would be very similar to identical, I was sorely mistaken and thankful I stayed for the entire show instead of leaving to see another band (being in the front row was hard to give up as well). Unknowingly, I and other fans got to experience Spoon performing the last show of their 15 month tour and man did they rock out! They were not going to follow the album tour motions for their last performance and had as much fun as they could. Playing only a few songs from their most recent album Hot Thoughts, Spoon played more crowd favorites and some “oldies but goodies” like the “The Underdog” and “Don’t You Evah,” as well as songs they said they had not performed in a while (which I unfortunately cannot recall which ones). Needleless to say for a band that was formed in the mid-1990’s, before I, a 22-year old college student, was born, Spoon is a quality band with quality performances and ever increasing, quality music. I’m sure they will enjoy a nice break from touring but I will be excited to hear and see what comes next in the future.
Performing for her first time at Summerfest, having attended in the past as a teenager from Illinois, Elisabeth Corrin Maurus, or better known by her nickname, Lissie, headlined the Johnson Controls World Stage on the first Friday night. For fans of Lissie, like myself, it was an intimate setting that showcased her folk/country rock music beautifully. Standing front row you could see Lissie was very comfortable and at home on stage, rocking out barefoot, which really fits her laid-back, natural style. Playing a variety of songs from all her albums, including old and new favorites like “Best Days” and “When I’m Alone”, she also played an awesome cover of the “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi, which she said she has too much fun with it and will probably never “retire” it from her set. She also shared a fun story about her time as a teenager coming to Summerfest from her Illinois hometown where at the show of one of her favorite bands she kept jumping on stage, continually getting kicked back into the crowd by security. After the show her and her friends went to find the band’s tour bus where they met the band and she was able to play a song of hers for them. A dream come true for her. Overall it was a truly fun show and you felt just as comfortable as Lissie on stage. A perfect vibe for that Friday night.
BØRNS played a fantastic set on the Miller Lite Stage last Friday night. His alt-pop style was really versatile, fun and easy to enjoy for fans of any genre. His high falsetto had the crowd swooning and his general demeanor was really intimate and casual. He thanked the crowd for turning out in such big numbers, as it was one of his first headlining slots at a festival. He gave his all and danced through a great set featuring cuts old and new. His new stuff from Blue Madonna was fun to dance to, but the real magic was off of his first record Dopamine. Throwback cuts like “10,000 Emerald Pools” and “Holy Ghost” really resonated with the crowd. There were more day one fans than I expected, and at times the crowd was singing over Garrett and doing the work for him. This was especially memorable during “Dug My Heart” and the emphatic closer “Electric Love”, one of the best indie rock anthems of the past couple years. It was a set that was both moving and made you move, a triumph from one of the most talented voices in alternative music today.