7.04.2018

Summerfest 2018, take 2

As disappointed as I was in the Summerfest lineup this year, I decided to take a gamble tonight. We had been settled in at Kates’ parents since Sunday night and I nearly decided to stay put, doubting it was worth the 2 ½ drive over to Milwaukee, essentially to hear two songs.

But Foster the People was playing, and I really wanted to hear two songs live and have the unmatched Summerfest experience. A night to myself, to be me.

So I went. I dropped my stuff at Orrin’s and Kelli’s house – which has become our de facto Airbnb when we visit the state each summer. I rolled into downtown around 6 p.m., found a parking garage and began my walk to the grounds.

With the lakefront fireworks set to launch at dark, a crowd was filling the grounds surrounding the art museum. It was a festive and gorgeous night downtown. But what night at Summerfest isn’t?

I took my time strolling through the grounds tonight, more so than usual, wanting to soak up the sights and sounds. As I told my mom the other night, I live for being in that atmosphere every summer.


There was a lot of great music coming from the side stages tonight. I caught a long-haired rocker at the Tiki Lounge doing “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Better yet, I walked up to another stage where a classic rock cover band had a crowd of people dancing to a spot-on version of “Melt with You,” and they followed it with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” Further down, a male duo was wielding their guitars on a grunge-style original.

I passed through the marketplace. Gazed at the Ferris wheel. And grabbed a cheeseburger at one of my favorite Summerfest eating spots, Miss Katie’s Diner.

I settled in at the Miller Lite Oasis to hear Attica Riots last song, “Blood, Sunshine and Hysteria.” And I liked it.

Drax Project, a New Zealand outfit, came on at 8:30 and announced they were playing their first U.S. show. The crowd immediately jumped to their feet on the benches as the band opened with “Toto.”

The jazz-pop band’s hour-long set featured a mix of songs off their newly released EP and unreleased tracks, including “Hollywood.” They kept the atmosphere light and fun and were a perfect warmup for Foster the People. … I liked them, too, and have already downloaded their EP, along with a few Attica Riots tracks. Summerfest did me good tonight.

As if it was planned, Drax Project left the stage and Milwaukee’s lakefront fireworks began lighting up the sky behind us, providing an entertaining interlude while the stagehands went to work to set the stage for Foster the People.


Rarely off schedule at Summerfest, the clock struck 10 and the stage began filling with fog. It barely let up the rest of Foster the People’s set, a flashy showcase –literally – of punchy electronic rock.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
As white clouds enveloped and sometimes obscured Foster the People, I couldn’t help wondering about the indie-pop band’s smoke budget. Must be sizable. 

Not that it was needed. Foster the People has enough hits, including “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” to attract an overflow crowd at the Miller Lite Oasis Tuesday night. Plus a light show that competed with and sometimes complemented the fireworks over Lake Michigan.

Lead singer Mark Foster played guitar and keyboards and commanded the stage in a Hawaiian shirt while powering through “Helena Beat,” “Coming of Age” and “Don’t Stop.”
Commanding indeed.

But seriously. The sole reason I went to Summerfest tonight – although, once there, I found several other things to enjoy – was to hear “Pumped Up Kicks.” It was the song of the summer in 2011, and it felt like everyone in the crowd was there last night to hear it. It helped that “Sit Next to Me” is hot on the radio this summer – it might be my favorite song of this season – and I like “Don’t Stop,” too.

I played Foster’s three albums a couple weeks ago to re-familiarize myself with the band’s work, but still nothing about them excited me like the songs I named above. Tonight was one of the rare occasions I went to see a band perform without a broad admiration for their whole catalogue. Tonight was all about discovery and hoping to find a deeper appreciation.

It turned out to be the right decision. With a youthful crowd cheering them on, every song seemed to begin with a roar of synthesizers. Foster bounced and slid his feet across the stage at times like he was channeling James Brown. The flashing lights combined with the pumping electronic beats made it a full-fledged party. I couldn’t sing any of the songs word for word tonight, but it didn’t matter. I just listened let my eyes soak up the spectacle surrounding me.

One of the highlights included a romping cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”



To close out the set, Mark Foster, who hadn’t spoken more than a few words to the crowd all night, offered up a rallying statement about the issues dividing our country – something I was expecting before “Pumped Up Kicks” – and then glided into a smooth-sounding “Sit Next to Me.”



The band had barely left the stage and the crowd started a fist-pumping chant of “Pumped Up Kicks” when Foster returned. They fired off “I Love My Friends” and then their signature hit – which the band seemed to play hastily as if they just wanted to please the crowd and get it over with.



The setlist:
  1. Houdini
  2. Are You What You Want to Be?
  3. Pay the Man
  4. Helena Beat
  5. Coming of Age
  6. Waste
  7. Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)
  8. Lotus Eater
  9. Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones cover)
  10. Pseudologia Fantastica
  11. A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon
  12. Doing It for the Money
  13. Loyal Like Sid & Nancy
  14. Sit Next To Me

    Encore
  15. I Love My Friends
  16. Pumped Up Kicks

6.29.2018

Summerfest 2018, take 1

So I saw James Taylor perform tonight. For the third time. ... Twelve years ago, I was dreaming of seeing him just once.

But when Summerfest began announcing its headliners last spring and my mom saw James Taylor was coming, she urged me to get tickets, mostly for Dad. James Taylor is one of his musical heroes and seeing him live was a bucket list item. I was skeptical of how my mom might do, though, with her MS in the loud and crowded environment of Summerfest, but she insisted she wanted to go with us. So I jumped on it the morning tickets went on sale and snagged us three bleacher seats at center stage. Kates, having seeing him with me two times, was comfortable staying back with the girls.

To my surprise and delight, Mom was all about getting the full Summerfest experience. While Kates and the girls went to Orrin’s for the day, we hung out at our hotel and then headed for the Summerfest grounds mid-afternoon.

With Dad driving and me navigating in the front passenger seat, getting through Milwaukee traffic was the toughest test of my mother’s delicate mind. She freaks out at the swerve or brake of any vehicle and raises her voice at my father any time he goes even one mile per hour over the speed limit. “Oh-my-gosh-geez-camoni” she shouted at one point of distress, leaning back and grabbing her seat as if we were riding a roller coaster. It was only that treacherous in her mind.

When she said during our drive that she needed a beer, I would have sworn she was being facetious. But she asked Dad and me to stop at the first Leinenkugel’s stand we came to inside the grounds and had Dad buy us a round of Summer Shandys. What a moment that was, and, wow, it tasted good.

I led them on a tour of the grounds, explaining how the landscape has changed in my 15 or so years of going to Summerfest and showing them some of my favorite spots. We stopped at a couple of the stages to get a taste of the culture - from the Ecuadorian band that plays somewhere on the grounds every summer to a bongo drum collective. Mom reflected on coming to Summerfest back in 1974 when it was mostly gravel and the stages were much smaller. Now it’s paved with state-of-the-art stages, and full-scale restaurants and dining areas, among other features, from one end of the grounds to the other.

Having walked the entire grounds and with the James Taylor show scheduled to begin at 7:30, we made our way to the amphitheater entrance. With Mom in her wheelchair, the guest services staff was accommodating at every turn, pointing us to our seats and providing a place for us to store her wheelchair during the show.

We had been sitting for a couple minutes when the crowd erupted, and we looked up to see Mr. Taylor walking on to the stage. He welcomed the crowd, assured us we were in for a great night and then introduced his opening act, the one and only Bonnie Raitt.

Admittedly, I’m probably under appreciative of her work. Growing up, if I wasn’t listening to oldies stations and classic rock with my dad, I was listening to light radio with my mom, and the latter is how I got to know Bonnie. “Something to Talk About” was a staple, as was “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” two songs I might put on a list of my 500 all-time favorites. I also remember how much I hated hearing “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” when it came out in 1994. By that time I was deep into my teenage years and had migrated to the top 40 radio stations more suited for my age, bit that song was so overplayed no matter what radio station I listened to that summer.

With all of those memories as a backdrop in my mind, she was an exciting act to see. While she stuck to a set filled mostly with bluesy covers that I didn’t recognize, her voice was still crisp and her command of the guitar appearing effortless.

About midway through her set, she pulled out “Something to Talk About” - which was every bit as great as I had hoped.



She followed it with “Nick of Time,” a song I’d forgotten about, and it sounded so good live.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Across 10 songs, she showed she was worth every accolade and then some, including a smoking blues-rock rendition of Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” (with Ivan Neville’s keys throwing a bit of gas on the flames).

And she dedicated a sparsely gorgeous cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” to women suffering around the world, including those “separated from their children right now,” an apparent reference to the immigration crisis. 

And before she wrapped up, she slapped on some lipstick as Taylor returned to the stage to jam along to John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” the friends huddling together, electric guitars in hand.
After an intermission and a complete set change that morphed into a colorful house, the stage soon came alive with a prolonged video retrospective of Taylor’s career through interview and concert footage, photos and TV appearances that included - a favorite from my childhood - his performance of Jellyman Kelly on “Sesame Street.”

Finally, Taylor appeared with his band and took centerstage on his iconic stool and began strumming “Carolina In My Mind.”



Similar to when Kates and I saw him a few years ago in Kansas City, the show seemed to begin quietly and took time to hit its stride. Mixed with the easy going melodies of “Walking Man” and “Handy Man,” he threw in lesser knowns “Sunny Skies” and “First of May.”

Part of the reason the first half the show seemed to drag could be attributed to the man sitting in front of us and his dingbat female companion, who proceeded to play games and scroll through social media feeds on her brightly lit phone the whole time Taylor was performing. And when she wasn’t doing something on her phone, she was stretching her back and moving in a way that blocked our views of the stage. Her father or much older boyfriend or whoever the guy was sitting next to her never raised a finger to stop her. It was the worst concert etiquette I’ve ever witnessed, and we were thankful to God when they got up halfway through the show and never returned.

Like the Kansas City show, Taylor and his band turned the energy level up when he hit “Mexico” and barely let up on the gas pedal the rest of the way, spinning hit after hit.

We marveled during the previous shows at Taylor’s storytelling ability and comic timing, too, and it was present tonight also. One story he told tonight that I didn’t recall from the other shows revolved around him playing “Something In the Way She Moves” for Paul McCartney and George Harrison when he auditioned for Apple Records. George liked it so much that he rewrote it himself, Taylor quipped.

And the multimedia production that provided the backdrop to Taylor and Co. throughout was a show of its own. Jumping off on the retrospective that opened the show, the screen alternated from close-ups of the band members to colorful scenes of Americana and beautiful landscapes to go with Taylor’s lyrics. Every time Taylor introduced a band member, a photo appeared of the musician performing as a child or early in their career. During “Sweet Baby James,” images rolled across the screen of the lyrics printed in a book, giving the audience the sense they were following along with a bedtime story.



While I enjoyed my personal favorites like “Mexico” and “Your Smiling Face,” Taylor’s performance of “Fire and Rain” felt especially poignant. It’s Dad’s favorite, and I could feel him flush with emotion as he listened to it.



The nostalgia and good vibes were really flowing by the time Taylor closed out his set. Bonnie Raitt joined him on stage for a rousing cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”
That initially appeared as though it was going to be Taylor’s last song as the band bowed and waved to the standing crowd. But then Taylor appeared to call an audible, huddling with his band and waving a finger as if to say, “one more.” A camera shot on the big screens showed a woman wearing headphones in the audio booth and waving a finger back at Taylor in agreement. The result was Taylor leading a crowd sing-along of “You’ve Got a Friend.”



Finally, Bonnie Raitt rejoined James once more. I knew what was coming and they took their seats on a pair of stools to sing, “You Can Close Your Eyes.”



It had been a truly special and memorable night with my mom and dad. We left the grounds with smiling faces.

The setlist
  1. Carolina In My Mind
  2. Country Road
  3. Sunny Skies
  4. Walking Man
  5. First of May
  6. Handy Man
  7. Steamroller
  8. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
  9. Up On The Roof
  10. Mexico
  11. Something In the Way She Moves
  12. Sweet Baby James
  13. Fire and Rain
  14. Shed a Little Light
  15. Your Smiling Face
  16. Shower the People
  17. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)

    Encore
  18. Johnny B. Goode
  19. You’ve Got a Friend
  20. You Can Close Your Eyes

6.16.2018

The paper route

I caught this opinion piece by Peter Funt while I was sorting through emails and catching up on news this morning. His view is true and another sign of the sad state of the newspaper business.

I never saw a kitten thrown out of a van, and don’t recall anything so crazy when I had my paper route, but his stories brought back a lot of memories that I rarely think about anymore of my first job as a newspaper delivery boy, tossing our hometown newspaper in suburban Kansas City onto the driveways in my neighborhood. … Maybe it was my second job – I worked for a couple summers as a little league umpire, too, but which one came first, I no longer remember. Later, once I could drive and entered high school, I was a “courtesy clerk,” aka grocery sacker, at the local Price Chopper – which provided some crazier experiences, including a night that I witnessed a robbery while I was collecting carts outside the store – and then a tester, and whatever else my dad needed me to do, at the LCD factory where he worked.

I don’t remember exactly how I came to be a newspaper delivery boy. A newspaper ad, it must have been, that my mom saw and shared with me to gauge my interest. I thought it sounded good, I assume at that age, mostly because it meant extra spending money in my pocket for baseball cards and Slurpees from the 7-Eleven a few blocks from our house. It was the early ’90s, and I couldn’t have been more than 13 or 14 years old.

I remember it was spring time – March or early April – when I took the job. I spent a few early mornings riding around with a woman who oversaw the newspaper delivery operation, learning my new route. Thinking about it now, in this day and age, it seems almost blasphemous to basically be picked up at 4 or 5 in the morning by a woman I’d never met and for her to drive me around for a couple hours in her beater of a car with no parental or company supervision. But the early ’90s still had a vestige of earlier decades when we were more trusting of people and kids were allowed to roam and explore our surroundings with the neighborhood kids and be gone for hours without Mom or Dad growing too concerned.

When it was time for me to do the route on my own, my mom drove me on most mornings until the weather warmed and I could go completely solo on my bike. By the summer, my parents and I had recruited my younger brother to help.

It was a daily newspaper. So every morning, one of my parents woke me up around 4 in the morning. We retrieved the stack of newspapers from our front step and then lugged them to the laundry room at the back of our house where we rolled them, placed them in rubber bands – we also placed them into orange plastic bags if it was a rainy day – and stacked them in my white canvas delivery bag. … Until that time, I don’t think I knew people got up and went to work so early.

Along with the stack of newspapers came a spreadsheet that showed all of the addresses on my route and the names of the subscribers. Every morning I had to review the list to look for new subscribers, or subscribers that had canceled and no longer required a stop at their address. I recall there were maybe 40, 45 addresses – it might have been much higher, now that I’m thinking about it – on the daily list, which covered our subdivision and two or three neighboring subdivisions, all located within one or two square miles.

The job for me didn’t last more than two or three months. By July I had moved on to other things. Because I was becoming a wise teenager and quickly realized – I think my parents did, too – the pennies I was being paid for each newspaper I delivered were not worth the stress of my parents rattling me out of bed every morning, carting me around on the days I couldn’t ride my bike and the amount of labor it took for a 13-year-old kid to get all of the papers neatly rolled and delivered by 7 a.m.

But some of the things I recall most clearly – and that make me happiest – about that time is the trust my parents put in me to do the job, to hold some responsibility and, above all, the care they took in helping me try it. Lord knows, they couldn’t have liked getting up so early those mornings either. … I remember, too, how good it made me feel on the occasions when one of the subscribers stepped outside as I rode up to the front step on my bicycle, complimented me on the job I was doing and handed me a dollar bill as a tip. It made me want to place the newspaper on that person’s doorstep just a little bit neater after that … I remember how fun it was to watch the progress of the sun rising as I neared the end of my route each morning … And I remember the fun my brother and I had on the days that he helped me, racing our bikes to see who could finish their half of the route faster and then wahoo-ing as we reconvened near the end of the route and raced up the winding road to our driveway.

Did it help shape my love for newspapers and influence me to embark on my newspaper journalism career? Maybe, but I believe that fate was sealed years earlier when I would eat breakfast with Dad before school and he’d share the sports pages of the Wisconsin State Journal with me. That’s a whole other story.

6.13.2018

A pickle for the ages

I’ve missed watching Lorenzo Cain doing his thing for the Royals this season … Oh, but he’s been good for the Brewers.

With the Brewers and Cubs playing at Miller Park this week, my attention is on that series, and I turned on the game last night, just minutes after this happened

So great.



Afterward, LoCoin credited Rusty Kuntz and the Royals for the play. Because, of course, the Royals practiced it during the crazy, stealing, keep-the-line-moving fun that was 2014 and 2015.

Elsewhere on Tuesday night, the Royals were on the wrong side of a different rundown.



Both plays epitomize the Brewers’ and Royals’ seasons so far.