Monday, August 14, 2017

It Only Takes a Spark...

... to start a fire.

This morning I’m ablaze with fascination for an event I’ve long known about, but never studied. Upon our return home yesterday from the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Bristol, Wisconsin, we stopped at the Bristol 45 Diner. Overlooking our booth was a poster reprint of the advertisement for the Winter Dance Party -- the traveling showcase of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Ritchie Vallens, Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts. The date of the show: Monday, February 2nd, 1959. The fateful last performance of three of those performers as the plane they were to travel in crashed minutes after take-off on the morning of February 3rd.

That poster was the spark that provided this morning’s fiery interest.

I’ve long known about “The Day the Music Died.” Any person my age long knows about the Don McLean’s song “American Pie” and of its origins. A person born by 1970 has heard the song at least a thousand times. The Day the Music Died was February 3, 1959.



All I ever knew was that a plane carrying Holly, Vallens, and The Big Bopper crashed in an Iowa cornfield and terminated the lives of these three rock and roll stars. That may be all you know, too. There are tomes written about this black day in rock ‘n’ roll history so I won’t get into deep details here, but I’ll just tell you about the few things that I found unusual or surprising.

  • I never realized that the Winter Dance Party tour started out at Milwaukee’s Eagles Ballroom on January 23rd (then called George Devine’s Ballroom). The next day the tour played at Kenosha’s Eagles Ballroom. 
  • I also never realized that the tour stopped at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay on February 1st -- only two days before the Day the Music Died.
  • What an insane tour route! Any tour promoter/scheduler that would do this to a group today would be fired. It’s like a crisscrossing web of travel of the midwest. I mean, Milwaukee to Kenosha makes sense, but after that it’s nuts. There had to have been a better, easier way to route this tour. 
  • Closely related to the crazy tour route was the insane schedule. They played every day and were scheduled to play every day throughout the tour!
          January 23 - George Devine's Ballroom, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
          January 24 - Eagles Ballroom, Kenosha, Wisconsin
          January 25 - Kato Ballroom, Mankato, Minnesota
          January 26 - Fournier's Ballroom, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
          January 27 - Fiesta Ballroom, Montevideo, Minnesota
          January 28 - Promenade Ballroom, St. Paul, Minnesota
          January 29 - Capitol Theater, Davenport, Iowa
          January 30 - Laramar Ballroom, Fort Dodge, Iowa
          January 31 - Duluth Armory, Duluth, Minnesota
          February 1 - Riverside Ballroom, Green Bay, Wisconsin
          February 2 - Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa
                     *** CRASH ***
          February 3 - Moorhead, MN - The Armory
          February 4 - Sioux City, IA
          February 5 - Des Moines, IA - Val Air Ballroom
          February 6 - Cedar Rapids, IA - Danceland Ballroom
          February 7 - Spring Valley, IL - Les Buzz Ballroom
          February 8 - Chicago, IL - Aragon Ballroom
          February 9 - Waterloo, IA - Hippodrome Auditorium
          February 10 - Dubuque, IA - Melody Hill
          February 11 - Louisville, KY - Memorial Auditorium
          February 12 - Canton, Ohio - Memorial Auditorium
          February 13 - Youngstown, Ohio - Stanbaugh Auditorium
          February 14 - Peoria, IL - The Armory
          February 15 - Springfield, IL - Illinois State Armory

  • The tour continued even after the crash! This one leaves me speechless. I mean, I know the show biz mantra is “The Show Must Go On,” but what the heck is left after three of the four major performers are no longer on the bill? I guess The Crickets sans Buddy continued to play.
  • I had no idea Waylon Jennings was Buddy Holly’s bassist on this tour. How I ever missed this fact is amazing. Jennings even missed Holly's funeral because he was still on the Winter Dance Party tour.
  • Jennings was supposed to be on that plane, but he gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) because The Bopper was suffering from a cold and could benefit from the hastened travel. 
  • The tour buses were unheated. These guys are driving around the Upper Midwest in late
    Waylon Jennings, 1958
    January and early February in unheated tour buses! Can you imagine? It was so cold on the buses that Holly's drummer, Carl Bunch, suffered frostbite to his toes (while aboard the bus) and was hospitalized! No wonder Holly sought a charter, right?
  • Tommy Allsup was also supposed to be on the plane, but he flipped a coin with Richie Vallens to see who would get the seat. Vallens “won.”
  • It’s been said that, teasingly, making light of the situation, Waylon Jennings said to Buddy Holly, “Yeah, I hope your plane crashes too!” Apparently, this last statement haunted Jennings throughout his entire life. 
  • The small Beechcraft took off at 12:55 A.M. in 35 mph, snow-swirled winds at 13 degrees Fahrenheit piloted by a pilot unlicensed to fly by gauges only. Yeah. Bad idea. No wonder the entire flight length was four minutes.
  • Forty-eight years after burial, The Big Bopper’s corpse was exhumed and examined. Rumor was that a gunshot may have been the culprit of the tragedy. It was thought that the perhaps The Bopper’s body would show signs of foul play. Upon examination, the foul play theory was rejected -- Richardson’s cranium was crushed but sans holes. He died immediately despite his body being a greater distance from the others.
  • Upon exhumation and study, The Bopper’s surprisingly well-preserved body remained impeccably dressed and perfectly coifed. Ew.
  • The Bopper’s son wanted to sell the casket his father was buried in for 48 years. Again, ew. 
  • Holly’s trademark glasses were not found until the snow melted in April. At that time they were given to the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff where they were placed in a manilla envelope and marked “rec'd April 7, 1959.” They resided in that envelope and office for 21 years until opened and given to Buddy Holly’s widow. They can now be seen in the exhibit at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas.
  • The stainless steel memorial at the crash site was crafted by a Portersfield, Wisconsin man. Portersfield is a small town in Marinette county not too far from where I grew up.
  • There is a similar memorial at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay. (Note to self: see the memorial the next time you’re in Title Town.)

There’s probably a lot more that could be discovered about this tragic day, but I found all of the above to be surprising revelations. Not only were these stars live’s sadly shortened, but we, too, were shorted of a lot of great music. Especially from Buddy Holly. I get the sense he was just getting started and could have been an artist mentioned in the same breath as Elvis. He’s darn near achieved that anyway, but can you just imagine what he was capable of?

RIP.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Mile 5, Random Musings

Now that I’ve had one day to normalize after four days at Mile of Music, it’s time to document a few of my random musings from this amazing musical festival. In no particular order, here they are…

  • Most of the time we hear recorded music first and then later, once we become fans of the artist, see them live. Good artists really make their recorded music come alive while performing. Mile of Music is a bit the opposite. In many instances our first interaction with the artist is seeing them live and then acquiring music from their recorded catalog. I saw a few artists at the Mile who blew me away and then I listened to their recorded music and the recorded music fell flat. It didn’t even come close to matching the energy of the live performance. So if you’re a band reading this, I cannot emphasize enough that your recorded sounded should somewhat match your performance sound. I know it’s not an easy feat, but often this is the primary means to piquing our interest in seeing you live. (This musing was written with one band primarily in mind. Nonetheless, I know it can pertain to all to some degree.)
  • Milwaukee’s Tigernite needs to be on the schedule next year. Energetic performances to all-original music that goes toe-to-toe with most of the rock bands at Mile 5.
  • The unsung heroes: the sound people. On the final day I really began to pay homage to these folks. Outside of Mile of Music, it’s not uncommon for a band to take an hour to properly set up the sound. At the Mile, it’s usually done in minutes and the best ones can make changes quickly and dial it in by song two. I saw a great example of this on the final day for the The Kernal’s show at the Radisson courtyard. Song one came across a little to guitar heavy and light on the bass. By song two it was dialed in and guitar, bass, and vocal could clearly be heard in equal measures.
  • Related to the prior musing, the sound people needed to remain attentive and responsive during the performance. The most common phrase uttered at Mile 5 was “Can I get a little more guitar/bass/drum/vocal in my monitor?” Often this was said during a song or even with a quick hand gesture. Again I marveled at how quickly the correction could be made. 
Graham getting the shot
  • How many Graham Washatkas are there? Twins? Triplets? Man, it seemed that everywhere I was, Graham was there. Lots of people worked hard over these four days, but few probably worked harder than Graham. His photos, though, are proof that hard work pays off. They’re great!
  • Fast Romantics. How are they not mega-famous yet? I know all performers at the Mile are good to great, but Fast Romantics’ big, catchy, and polished pop songs embed earworms that I cannot shake. They look good live and lead singer, Matthew Angus, is a captivating performer. And related to my first musing, their recorded versus live music are within about 10% of each other, i.e., their latest album pretty much capture their live energy. I’ve got a feeling this band is on the cusp of something big, but it won’t be an overnight success story… they’ve been at it since 2009!
  • If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times: Appleton is the friendliest place. Performer after performer made this comment between songs. I found it to be true, too. People seemed genuinely concerned about blocking another’s view, personal space was available at most shows in ample supply, and in quieter venues, a pin dropping could be heard hitting the floor. 
  • Holy highballs, Batman. People sure get drunk in Appleton! On Friday and Saturday nights I made my way back to my room at the Radisson along College Avenue after 1:00 AM. While I, too, had a few beers in my system, I could not believe how staggeringly drunk people were. I mean, I bet there was one block I walked where I didn’t see a single person who could walk a straight line. I saw one dude vomiting off the curb and another walked right into a wall. Another bizarre one was where one big dude picked up another and started spinning him. I thought, “This won’t end well,” and it didn’t. They soon crashed down onto the sidewalk in pain, but managing to laugh. They’re lucky they didn’t split their heads open. Sheesh, have a good time, people, but don’t hurt yourselves.
Smooth Hound Smith packed the house
at Outer Edge
  • Did you see Smooth Hound Smith? DID YOU SEE THEM?? Zach Smith could be a carnival act he's got so much talent. Drumming while playing the guitar and harmonica. I can't pat my head and rub my belly at the same time yet Zach seems to be only lacking more extremities to make even more music. Amazing.
  • While people may be super nice in Appleton, inebriation does cause them to lose good manners and etiquette. I was at a few earlier shows where people would be standing near quieter, more performance attentive people and just blabbing loudly away. I recall one performer commenting, “Thank you for letting me disrupt your normal drinking time.” It was said in good humor and not acerbically, but I really do think it was meant to be snide. This said, most people don’t behave this way, it’s just that the disrespectful are so easy to notice.
  • Calliope Musicals. Wow. I never got to see the early 80’s Tubes, but the 20 minutes or so that I got to see Calliope Musicals (their 2nd show was shortened by a storm), I imagine this is what it must’ve been like. I feel like jumping in my car and heading to whatever town they’re playing in next to see the rest of the show!
  • Another Milwaukee-area band that needs to be at Mile 6 is NINETEEN THIRTEEN. They last played at Mile 3, but at Mile 6, they need to play in the Chapel. I’ve seen them numerous times at, but the Chapel would be the perfect place to see and hear them. Janet Schiff's 105-year old cello just begs to be heard there.
All in all, just another great Mile of Music. I'm a fan for life and can hardly wait for Mile 6.

Peace. Love. Music.

Mike

Monday, August 7, 2017

Oh What a Mile It Was!!

Oh my gosh, Mile of Music. Where do I even begin to describe how special your 5th edition was? I can’t. It was overwhelming. In four days, in this order, I caught the following performances:

Levi Parham at the Chapel
August 3, 2017
The Kelson Twins at Rookie’s
Beth Bombara at Rookie’s
Morning House at Cleo’s
Ron Gallo at Radisson’s Grand Ballroom
Diane Coffee at Radisson’s Grand Ballroom
Brother O’ Brother at XTRA 920
Sun Parade at The Bar on the Avenue

August 4, 2017
Smooth Hound Smith at Fox River House
J.E. Sunde at McGuinness Irish Pub
Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers at McGuinness Irish Pub
Terra Lightfoot at Outer Edge
Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards) at Outer Edge
Levi Parham at Lawrence Memorial Chapel
Molly Bush at Dr. Jekyll’s
Swear and Shake at Washington Square
The Noise FM rock Mill Creek
Motherfolk at Houdini Plaza
Boom Forest at Radisson Courtyard
The Artisanals at Appleton Beer Factory
Fast Romantics at Spat’s
The Kernal at Appleton Beer Factory
Dusk at Appleton Beer Factory
Trapper Schoepp at XTRA 920

August 5, 2017
Morning at the incredible Appleton Farmers' Market
Strange Americans at Fox River House
The Harpooners at Fox River House
Terra Lightfoot at Spat’s
The Ghost Wolves at Chadwick’s
Arts Fishing Club at Riverside Bar & Grill
PONCÉ at Riverside Bar & Grill
Motherfolk at Washington Square
Fast Romantics at D2 Sports Pub Patio
The AMAZING Calliope Musicals
Bishop Gunn at Radisson’s Grand Ballroom
The Noise FM at Mill Creek

August 6, 2017
Megan Slankard, Jamie Kent, Bascom Hill & SZLACHETKA at the Chapel
Warbly Jets at Houdini Plaza
Desert Noises at Washington Square
Smooth Hound Smith at Outer Edge
The Kernal at Radisson Courtyard
The Hawkeyes at Chadwick’s
Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts at Spat’s
Me Like Bees at Emmett’s
Calliope Musicals at Spat’s

Most of these 41 were full performances too; only in a few cases were they not (Sunday we had to make some compromises). And the range of music is extensive: from heart-felt singer/songwriter acoustic ballads to full-on frontal assault sonic rock and roll. Mile 5 had it all. I’ll likely follow up later with further ruminations about this year, but for now, let me just say… WELL DONE and SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mile Five -- 15 New-To-Me Artists I Must See

Photo credit: Post-Crescent
It's here. It's here. It's finally here. My favorite festival of the Wisconsin summer: Mile of Music! These are four days where Appleton,Wisconsin welcomes artists from around the globe to perform along the funtastic mile that is College Avenue. Musical revelry rules the first weekend of every August in the Fox Valley's most forward-facing city. I spend weeks (months) annually preparing for it since discovering the festival three years ago.

To that end, I have scoured the interwebs and streaming services to further discover artists that are performing at Mile 5. There are so many great performers that it is impossible to convey in written form the quality of musicianship scheduled for Mile 5. They're all deserving of note. However, with only four days to take it all in, I've had to prioritize the new-to-me artists that I am most hoping to see. Without further delay, and roughly in order of priority, are the bands I'm most hoping to catch at Mile 5.

Terra Lightfoot. Her song "Never Will" is probably my favorite song of all from artists performing at Mile 5. I'll absolutely lose it when Terra picks those first few jangly notes of "Never Will" on her Gibson SG.

Never Will


Smooth Hound Smith. I listened to their entire online catalog three times just to see if they had a song I didn't like. Nope. Not one.

Stopgap Woman Blues


Fast Romantics. Anthemic riffs taking me back to the 80's. Plus, they're Canadian and we like Canadians, eh?

This Is Why We Fight


Julia - I've got to post two videos from Fast Romantics because this one with Fred Astaire, holy shit.



Oops. They don't offer a lot of internet optic candy. But they do box your ears with sonic rock and roll!

Dope Dreams


Swear & Shake. Missed 'em at Mile 3. They couldn't make it to Mile 4. I'm not going to miss them at Mile 5.

Brother


Desert Noises. Kind of a big deal to see these guys since I was a fan of theirs before Mile of Music was even conceived. Rock music from Provo, Utah. Did you even know that that existed? It does. Desert Noises proves it.

Shiver


Boom Forest. Local boy makes good and comes home. Boom Forest, "the spiritual wailings of John Paul Roney" grew up and learned music near Baraboo, Wisconsin, he's now a Nashville-based artist producing ethereal folk and haunting melodies. Beautiful stuff.

Splitting Wood


Strange Americans. Denver rock and rollers that captured my attention at first power chord.

No Punches


Arts Fishing Club. When I explored the list of new artists performing at Mile of Music this year, Arts Fishing Club was the first one I thought belonged on this list. Their video selections on YouTube are so-so, but I was captivated by their self-titled debut LP. Check it out here.

I See You | Around The House


Calliope Musicals. Winner of the Band of the Year Award at the 2017 Austin Music Awards during SXSW, I cannot watch videos of this band and not think they'll be extraordinary.

Live Experience Album Trailer


I Am The Polish Army. Not too different of a story from Boom Forest, only instead of Baraboo, Appleton, and instead of Nashville, Brooklyn (singer/songwriter Emma DeCorsey grew up in Appleton). This band is all sorts of intriguing.

David Bowie


Bishop Gunn. When you here it, you immediately think, "These guys must be from Natchez!" and you're absolutely right.

Bank Of The River


The Blisters. Alright. I'll confess. I'm intrigued by The Blisters' drummer: Spencer Tweedy, son of Jeff and co-member of Tweedy. But I've listened to The Blisters enough to know that they don't need the help of anybody to make it on their own.

Through You


Good Night, Gold Dust. Hard for me to pin this band down. Their sound varies from folkish to glam rock. No matter, labels need not apply. I like them (even if they are from Minnesota).

Towards The Sun


GGOOLLDD. You might be thinking, "GGOOLLDD? Surely, Mike, GGOOLLDD is not new to you!" and you'd mostly be right. But the problem is I've never seen GGOOLLDD well. I always see them from a quarter mile away at Summerfest and even then only for a few songs. I'd really like to at least once see them well and I think that will be possible at Mile 5.

Dance Through The Winter


I know there are many other worthy artists to catch at Mile 5, and we'll see as many as we can, but these 15 are the ones that have caught my attention and I'm greatly looking forward to catching their shows.

Peace. Love. Music. ROCK! See ya.

Monday, July 31, 2017

I'm Totally Bummed

I'm down because of something that occurred this morning. I had an appointment to donate plasma at the Blood Center of Wisconsin and things didn't go exactly as planned. In fact, it was an abject failure and no fault of anybody.

I was one of the first appointments of the day. I arrived a few minutes before 7:45 and completed the usual preparations. Hemoglobin check, blood pressure, weight, height, and no, I have not had sexual relations with an HIV-positive prostitute since my last donation. I also answered no, too, to the all of the questions that pertain to the female gender. (This must confuse a lot of men, because every time I donate they tell me how to answer these questions in a manner that tells me these questions baffle other dudes.) I make my way to the chair and get hooked up. Made it right through the "light bee sting" pinch of the needle entering my vein. I glance over, the clear plastic tube is flooded ravishing red. I'm good to go. Just settle in and read a book for the next 30 minutes and my donation will be complete. Right? Right...

After about five minutes, Tiffany -- sweet, friendly, and cautious Tiffany -- asks me if I feel okay. Yep, I said. I'm good. Let's donate some plasma! But she said that she noticed something odd on the digital graph she was watching. I flat-lined for a moment, meaning, apparently, that stuff was either not going out or coming back properly.

She remained on standby while I kept squeezing the spongy green squeezing thingy.

Suddenly I yelped, "Ow. Oww! Owww!! OWWWWW!!!"

Everyone looks. What's with that dude?? Tiffany says I infiltrated. She shuts down the process and pulls the needle from my arm.

"Infiltrated? What the heck is that??"

She apologetically explains that it means the fluids, i.e., the red blood cells and stuff, that are being returned to my body are not reentering my vein. Instead they are being pushed into the tissues surrounding the vein. Hence the reason for the pain.

I can only describe the pain as an increasingly intense sting or pinch. Almost feeling like the needle was plunging further into my arm. Of course it wasn't, but because the flesh and nerves around the needle swelled, it probably made the needle feel larger.

She cleans me up and applies gauze. There would be no plasma donation today.

Thus, I am bummed. I went through all of the steps including the one that makes me the most woozy -- the needle insertion -- and nobody benefited. My instructions are to ice my arm and not do anything overly strenuous today. I can also expect a significant bruise on my arm.

Son of a gun. I can take the wooziness. I can take the bruise. I can take the pain. But dammit, I wanted somebody to benefit from it!

I can attempt donation again when the bruise and swelling disappear, but next time I thinking of only donating blood -- which is a one-way only process -- and skipping the plasma. Furthermore, I believe in vital fluids donation, I really do, but this is the second time in four attempts that the extraction has gone awry. It's so frustrating.

Lastly, please try to donate if you can. I was the poster boy for needle or syringe insertion panic attacks. The mere thought of it would make me woozy and I'd nearly faint, but I just kept going to overcome it. I mean, what's a little sting to save another's life? ("little sting" for a normal donation; today's donation attempt defied normal)

But I did get a free ticket to the Wisconsin State Fair! So that lessens the bum. :)


Friday, July 28, 2017

Atop a Bluff and In the Buff

Today seems like a good day to tell the story of our overnight camping trip at a clothing-optional campground. Why today? Well I was born 51 years ago today, and on that day I came out just as naked as some of those campers we met.

A few days before reserving a campsite at this location, I was driving back along Hwy 14 from La Crosse. Hwy 14 between Madison and La Crosse is one of my favorite roads in Wisconsin. It takes more time than the interstate, but if you can afford the extra hour's drive, it's worth it. At Mazomanie -- about 25 miles west of Madison -- I left Hwy. 14 to avoid rush-hour around Madison. I shot up north along Hwy. 78 to Roxbury and thought, "What a cool area. I need to come back here and explore." (This area is considered the Lower Wisconsin River Valley. The valley and views between its expansive bluffs are beautiful.)

A few days later we decided to pack up our gear and camp for a night or two in this region. I navigated Google maps to the area and then searched for campgrounds. One appeared in the exact place where I was most interested in exploring. I'm not going to say the name in this post, but it's a few miles north of Mazo on Hwy. 78. I visited the campground's website and saw nothing unusual. It sounded like a nice place. I called to make a reservation and was asked, "This is a clothing optional campground. Are you okay with that?" I was left momentarily speechless as that was not a question I was prepared to be asked, but I finally stuttered, "No problem."

I hollered upstairs to my wife, "I'm not sure what I just committed us to, but the campground I just reserved is clothing optional. Are you okay with that?" She was as surprised as me. "I dunno. I guess so."

So the entire drive there we wondered what we were in for. My expectation was that it was just like any other campground, but occasionally you'd see someone's bare butt. The instructions to get into the campground should have been my first indication that my expectations were incorrect. To enter the campground I was told to drive up the gravel road to the gate and then call the number posted on the gate. When doing so I would be instructed to punch in a code and the gate would open. We did just that and drove up a washed out gravel road to the top of a bluff. Along the path were lots of camping trailers that looked like they hadn’t been moved in years.

At the top a man pulled up to us riding a 4-wheeler ATV. He asked us again, “This is a clothing optional campground. Are you sure you're okay with that?” Again we nodded in the affirmative, still clinging to the thought that this was like other campgrounds, and that occasionally we’d catch a glimpse of a naked ass.

“Find a spot anywhere and pop up your tent,” we were instructed and so we did. As we were putting up our tent, my wife says to me, “Now don’t freak out, but that guy sunning himself over there is totally naked.” I caught a glimpse. Yep. This wasn’t just a butt, but the whole front part too. After the tent was up we took a drive around the grounds. There were lots of dudes sunning themselves naked. Well, naked except for Crocs or flip-flops, but the most surprising part was those not sunning themselves but those just walking around doing normal stuff completely in the buff. I’ve seen a lot of dudes naked in showers in high school and college, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a fully de-clothed man in the presence of my wife!

Anyway, we left the campgrounds and explored the area. It’s a cool place and after your done hiking up Ferry Bluff, I strongly suggest you slake your thirst at Roxbury Tavern or Woodshed Ale House. I loved ‘em both. While we enjoyed our drinks we coined a name for our overnight home: (are you ready for this?) Schlong Island.

Back to the campground we went. It’s now nighttime, so we shouldn’t expect any more unexpected views, right? No, not so. As we got our campfire going, a dog-walker approaches us and says hello. I glance up from the blaze and sure enough, naked as a jaybird. We exchanged small talk like nothing was unusual at all. Me in a t-shirt and shorts and him naked as the day he was born.

Other than that, the only other interesting thing that happened that evening was a torrential storm that raged overhead and put out our campfire. Our tent, too, became flooded with water. Good thing we had an air mattress because otherwise we would have been sleeping in a puddle.

The next morning we broke camp and laid out our gear in a sunny spot to dry it out before rolling it up. A gentleman approached me (clothed -- both me and him) and introduced himself. He says both he and his wife love it up here and he’d be glad to show us around. We agreed. “Just let us pack up our stuff and we’ll come over to your camper.” (Sometimes, honestly, the stuff that comes out of my mouth. I mean really, “Just let us pack up our stuff and we’ll come over to your camper” is not something a straight couple should ever say at a nudists’ campground.)

So we did. This fellow and his wife were truly a joy. Super friendly and “normal” considering they always kept their clothes on but enjoyed hanging with others who preferred to party naked. They took us to numerous residents’ weekend homes. (You’ll notice here I used the term “residents” for the first time in this blog. See, this isn’t so much a campground as much as it is a commune. Most of the recreational vehicles here were moved once: one time to the campground where they were parked and left in place for years as their owners created their own little piece of naked heaven around them. Many people stay the whole summer or every possible weekend here -- it’s their home away from home.)
Wisconsin River Valley from the campground; this is the campground owner's deck
Some of these spots have to-die-for views of the Wisconsin River Valley down below. One couple with this amazing view built their own mini golf course. These two were a trip. The dude opens the gate to allow us to enter. He’s got a Pabst in his hand, flip-flops on his feet, and seven teeth in his mouth. Other than that, he's all skin. This was the moment I wondered, “What the heck am I doing with my life?” Six of us, three women and three men, all standing in a circle talking about the beautiful view but only one of us has his wee-wee out. I felt like reminding him, “You know you are not wearing any clothes, right?” but I think he already knows that.

We continued on our campground tour. Another fellow was doing yard work. Shovel in hand, he was turning up soil to plant flowers, His attire? Boots. Yep. Just boots, because not wearing boots while shoveling would be just silly. I cannot remember his name, but this is one of these other so bizarre moments. For a while he just kept on working while two strangers passed right on by and offered him a cheerful good morning. Again, odd.

We visited so many campsites that I lost count, but two fellows with the most fantastic view and decorated space (all cowboy themed) at least wrapped themselves or put on shorts when we were introduced to them.

We finally said our goodbyes but only after visiting our host’s camper. I can see some parts of why they like coming up there. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and I’m told their parties are insane, (“Straight guys just bring a bag of chips, but gay guys go all out and spend a week preparing their dish!”) but I was done with Schlong Island and ready to return to the valley of the clothing adorned.

Oh, and you may be wondering, did we ever spy female nudity? Only once, and from far away. All I could tell was that she was topless, but not Full Monty like many dudes.

And that’s the story of our night at a nudists’ campground (commune, actually). Welcoming and open -- very open -- folks up in these bluffs, but it’s not really our thing. The next time I return to this region, I’m going to stay at a campground named after a cartoon character or a Motel 6. I had enough male nudity to last me for the rest of my life.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Scary Similarities

The sad story of the death of American tourist at Mexico resort reminds me of something that we saw last year. Since mystery surrounds this case, perhaps what we witnessed can provide another angle in the investigation.



With the Iberostar Playa Mita staff.
Good guys!
In May of 2016 we stayed at the Iberostar of Playa Mita. The resort was wonderful and everyone there was professional, friendly, and well-intentioned. However, the resort had a policy which was odd and one with which we strongly disagreed. That policy? Day passes. That means any person not staying overnight at the resort -- likely a Mexican local -- could buy a day pass to enjoy the resort like an overnight guest. Day pass users could play in the pool or beach and indulge in the all-you-can-drink guest privilege. We saw a number of fellows with day passes engaging in behavior not suited to a resort associated with class. In fact, one fellow vomited on the bar next to the pool. Others were ogling guests and making lewd comments. But one thing above all others was really worth noting and I cannot help wondering if something similar occurred in the death of Abbey Conner.

Two young American women at the resort were hanging out at the pool with a group of male day-pass holders. We were near the group and were shocked at the sleazy behavior of the women. They were there for the men's taking and appeared to be very drunk. They continued this conduct for a few hours, but we didn't really pay much attention to them as we enjoyed ourselves meeting others at the swim-up bar.

However,  a few hours later at dinner we observed something surprising. The two women were dining near us and looked perfectly normal. They did not appear drunk, they were cleaned up, alone, and wore a regretful look. One in particular looked downright ashamed and confused. I actually felt sorry for her. We thought, how is it possible for these two, who only an hour or so ago appeared so drunk and loose, to now be dining quietly with such remorseful looks on their faces? Even if we got as drunk as they appeared, we'd either keep partying or pass out. We wouldn't be calmly and quietly dining two hours later.

So that leaves us to believe they were on a drug -- of that there's little question -- but the real mystery is... did they knowingly take the drug or was it slipped to them by the day-pass holders? And in the hour or so that passed since we saw them at the pool, what happened?

The similarity of the time frames between the death of Abbey Conner and the two women we saw in Playa Mita is scary. It makes me think these two women narrowly escaped greater misfortune. I should also add that the resort Abbey died at was an Iberostar. Do they, too, allow day passes?

My takeaway from these two stories is, find out if the resort you're considering allows day passes. If it does, you may wish to consider staying elsewhere or be very careful who comes near your drink.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

First Time for Everything!

Today's post will be short but rewarding.

Yesterday I had a customer service experience that left me beaming.

I walked into Jersey Mike's Subs at 2751 North Mayfair Road in Wauwatosa. Upon entering the
establishment, I was greeted with a hearty "Welcome!" and an "I love your shirt!" I smiled back immediately because who doesn't when they're greeted like that?

I thanked the employee and she proceeded to ask me how my weekend was. "Fine," I replied. "It was good. And yours?"

"The best. Life-changing," she said back.

"Life-changing? You don't hear that often about weekends! What'd you do?"

"I went up in a plane for the first time in my life!" she said.

And in an instant I thought, "Oh. Good for you. Everyone's got to have a first, but the novelty of
going up in a plane to me is pretty old hat. The thrill wore off about 30 years ago and is now more of a nuisance considering the 100 or more flights I've taken."

But she wasn't done yet. She continued...

"... and then I jumped out of the plane. I went skydiving! It changed my life!!"

Whoa, whoa, whoa! How cool is that! Stupid me figured I knew the end of the story, but she immediately leap-frogged over me and topped my best airplane story in an instant. See, I've never jumped out of a plane and I'm honestly not sure I could. Well, I think I could, but it's never been something that I've felt compelled to do.

So I asked, "Where'd you do it?" and she told me she did it at Skydive Milwaukee in East Troy, Wisconsin and that it was the coolest thing ever.

I really like this short and simple tale. It was a lesson in not jumping to conclusions and not making prejudgments. Furthermore, her attitude and service to me was of the finest example. Right up until I left the store she stayed cheerful with me and made sure that I enjoyed my Jersey Mike's experience.

Bravo, skydiver. Bravo!

P.S. - I do really like Jersey Mike's subs too. Especially with service like that!

Read Mike C.'s review of Jersey Mike's Subs on Yelp

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

We Caught Des Moines

Last week we suddenly realized that we had a 4-day opening in our schedule and with that opening, we would take a spur of the moment trip to explore a place we have either never been nor have visited for a long while. We considered our options over a liter (or two) of bier at Cafe Bavaria. Bayfield, Wisconsin? I love that place and I've only visited it once. I sure would like to go back. Michigan's Upper Peninsula? In a way, my childhood home and the place where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried. It's always a wonderful place to visit, but we were just there last September. The Motor City? I have never visited the Henry Ford Museum and want to do that soon. Same for the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in Cleveland. We even considered a drive to Philly to catch the Brewers; thank goodness we discarded that idea -- the Brewers lost the series. How about Des Moines? What the heck is there to do in Des Moines??

And with that, I tweeted the following question to the Catch Des Moines, the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau:

@catchdesmoines, help. We're Milwaukeeans with four free days & are considering an exploratory trip to Des Moines for fun. Should we & why?

I told my wife, Kay, what I had just tweeted and she looked at me with a look that only a wife can give a husband. A look like, "Really, donkey? You honestly expect them to reply via twitter to a question like that?"

And within one minute after I set the tweet, I received the following.

 @catchdesmoines Is the farmers market on Saturday morning?


@catchdesmoines Ah, I've heard of @elbaitshop. I knew it was in Iowa, but I didn't know where. Now I do! And confirming... the farmer's market is Saturday?


@catchdesmoines, Thank you. You've been amazing. Great response and we're planning our trip now. See ya there, @kbctourcompany and me!!

All of that took place in a span of not much more than five minutes and I'm not even going to begin to touch the extensive follow-up by the business mentioned and others. It was impressive and we felt an energetic and proud Des Moinesian vibe bursting through the Internet.

A dork in Des Moines. A "stylish" dork in his new tee.
Kay's at the place
With that prompt and simple nudge from Catch Des Moines, we returned home and made our plans to visit Iowa's capitol city. Upon arriving to our hotel the next night, as promised, there was a gift package waiting for us. While we were driving, we tried to guess what items may be in the package: we had Visitors Guide and Can Koozies right, but we didn't think they'd spring for t-shirts. Lo and behold, they did. Two cool "Art & Beer & Festivals" tees -- one in medium and one in large. We really dig them and judging by the number of people who asked me where I got mine at the Des Moines' Farmers Market, others do too!

Des Moines turned out to be a wonderful place to visit. Taking the fastest route, it's about a five and a half hour trip from Milwaukee. The city proved to be full of pleasant surprises. We pride ourselves on beer here in Milwaukee, but Des Moines has only one-third of Cream City's population and just as many craft breweries: 12, and I think there are more on the way. Their Farmers' Market is nothing short of jaw-dropping it's so enormous. And when you visit the Market, make sure you arrive hungry -- there is so much good stuff to eat. And finally, we were impressed with a clean downtown and many displays of public art. We particularly enjoyed visiting the Capitol area and the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden.

Saturday (July 22, 2017) was beastly hot in Des Moines. After enduring the searing heat at the Farmers' Market, we took comfort in the air-conditioned cool of the Iowa Science Center and after that, well if you know us, it was all food and drink from that point forward. Hessen Haus, The Iowa Taproom, Peace Tree, Exile, Confluence, and then to top it all off... The Greenwood Lounge. We did walk between these places except for Exile to Confluence and then Confluence to The Greenwood Lounge. We used Lyft to take us to those haunts and finally back to our hotel, which I believe, too, may have been haunted.

We behaved well for the most part, but then Confluence happened where we met a few swilling cyclists and indulged heartily buying each other beers. But it was an excellent time and all we met were welcoming and friendly. Our new cycling friends were to meet us at The Greenwood Lounge, but they exercised better judgement and sent us a note that they realized they had enough and still had to ride their bicycles home.
This burger!

Sunday was cooler and we spent it walking around the city discovering those great public spaces around the historical Capitol and trendy art museum area. We also destroyed a couple of monster hamburgers at Zombie Burger. Part of me wonders, "Why don't we have a Zombie Burger in Milwaukee?" and then another part of me thinks, "Thank goodness we don't." Zombie's burgers are the best, but they're a dieter's nightmare. The last thing I need around Milwaukee is another delicious burger to eat.

There is lots going on in Des Moines and I encourage my friends and family to put it on their destination radar the next time they've got four or more open days. It really is worth... catching. ;)

And thank you, too, to the person or persons of Catch Des Moines who went to great lengths to engage with us before and throughout our trip. You made the entire experience personable and for that we are greatly appreciative. Thanks, too, for the awesome t-shirts!

P.S. - We also visited Reiman Gardens in Ames and spent the night in Cedar Rapids (Iowa Brewing Company and Brucemore) before exploring the historic streets of Dubuque where we took a roundtrip on the Fenelon Place Elevator. #thisisiowa

Friday, July 21, 2017

Another Open Letter to My Friend, Bruce

Bruce,

Recently I sent you 30 things to do/tips for getting the maximum enjoyment out of Appleton's Mile of Music. My first tip you might remember was "Download the app, start listening and discovering new artists now." I did this last year and made a list of the bands that I considered must-sees. One of those bands was a group of talented musicians out of Cincinnati: Motherfolk.

Motherfolk at Mile 4
I caught their performance at Houdini Plaza and it was a delight. These guys (guys and one girl, actually) put on a raucous and energetic show. It was super and I felt like I was watching, potentially, the next big thing (which coincides with tip #3). Motherfolk's written some great tunes, too, somewhat in alignment with the great songs by The Lumineers, The Head and The Heart, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, or The Avett Brothers. I've never seen the first three live, but I've seen The Avetts at least seven times; Motherfolk's performance energy nearly matches the Brothers' -- and that's not an easy feat. (Watch below for a taste.)



Fast forward to May of 2017, when the Tosa Tonight Summer Concert Series schedule came out. You can imagine how elated I was to see that the crew that signs band for the summer schedule pulled an amazing coup and signed Motherfolk to perform at Rotary Performance Pavilion on Wednesday, July 26th! I've been going to the series -- my favorite Summer concert series in the 414 -- for a decade, but I've never seen such a contemporary, up-and-coming band signed to play here. This is quite amazing. Even more so considering the last band that performed prior to Motherfolk was none other than 80's rock radio stalwart The Motels! Someone's doing something right over at Tosa Tonight.

Anyway, Bruce, I hope that I'll see you at Mile of Music, but even if you don't make it, I hope you won't pass up the easy opportunity to see one of the great acts that will be performing in Appleton: Motherfolk. If you go, don't worry about texting or calling me, I'll be easy to find. I'll be right up front, stage-center, singing loudly along to the songs I know. In fact, I mean even ignite the "Motherfolk sucks! Motherfolk sucks!" chant that seems popular to yell before Motherfolk takes the stage (even though they don't suck at all).

Alright, Bruce. Good writing to you. I hope to see ya on the 26th in Tosa. Perhaps you can shop for a home while you're here. You know it's calling; it's where all the cool people live. ;)

Cheers,

Mike

P.S. - I love this tune...


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An Open Reply to My Friend, Bruce

This is Bruce. Bruce is unique. 
My friend, Bruce, recently posted the following to Facebook:

“I'm considering trying to convince my wife that we should try Mile of Music in a few weeks. Anyone who has been, would you recommend and if so, any tips you wish you had been given?"

My head nearly exploded with responses and ideas. To me, the four days of Mile of Music is the most wonderful time of the year. This will be our third consecutive year of attending this unique and incredible festival. After our first (Mile 3), we instantly booked the following year’s accommodations and we did the same following Mile 4. I see no reason why we won’t do so again after Mile 5. This festival is an explosion of fantastic aural art and musical camaraderie. It’s the finest four days of the year.

So with that introduction and only 16 days to go until the festival starts, I give you -- in no particular order -- 30 things (tips) you should do, Bruce, at Mile of Music 5...
  1. Download the app, start listening and discovering new artists now. I cannot emphasize this one
    Get the app.
     enough. It’s hard to see a bad performer at Mile of Music, it really is. The artists performing here are pros. The only thing separating them and many bands you hear on the radio is that they either haven’t written that one mega-hit or, more likely, they’ve just haven’t caught a break from a radio station executive. My money's on the latter.
  2. Buy something. A CD, bumper sticker, t-shirt, anything. Most of these artists are dedicated professionals, but that doesn’t mean they’re rolling in greenbacks. It cost them a lot to get here, so reward your favorites by buying some of their sounds or wares. I've even helped musicians move their gear in the few short minutes they've got to get on or off a stage. They've always been appreciative.
  3. Discover your band. With 900 performances by 250-ish musicians in four days, there’s bound to be a band that you discover. That means none of your music-head buddies have ever heard of them (yet), but you'll become convinced that you’ve just seen the next big thing and you can’t wait to tell others. This may happen multiple times a day, but by festival’s end, there’s certain to be one band that you remain obsessed with. 
  4. Do not yell Freebird. This is an original music festival. Freebird yellers will be removed from the festival and forced to spend the remainder of the weekend in Kaukauna. 
  5. Compliment an artist when you see them on the street. This is a favorite feature of the Mile to
    With Parker Gispert of The Whigs moments after I
    helped him carry gear to his car.
     me and this does not happen at Milwaukee's Summerfest. One hour you’ll see an amazing musician blowing your mind on stage and the next hour you’ll notice him/her next to you enjoying a beer. This is always so cool. I’ve met Lex Allen, Anna Vogelzang, Parker Gispert, my pals 1913 (Victor DeLorenzo and Janet Schiff) and Brother O’ Brother (Warner Swopes and Chris Banta), one of the guitarists from Sun Parade (Jeff Lewis, I think), Kate Tucker of Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden, Jay Matthes, and many, many more this way. One time we were admiring a huge poster of Milwaukee band GGOOLLDD at the exact same moment GGOOLDD passed by. Lots of guffawing and horsing around ensued. Take advantage of this unique opportunity. 
  6. Arrange accommodations or transportation. Mile of Music isn’t the most kid-friendly event -- though there are plenty of performances in civic areas -- you’re going to enjoy a few adult beverages. Just make sure your accommodations are walking distance or arrange a ride. I’m not certain of the availability of Lyft or Uber in Appleton, but it’s a pretty progressive town. I’m sure they’re here. 
  7. Don’t let the fact that a band that hails from Oshkosh, Green Bay, or Neenah deter you. Seriously. Even though there are performers there from around the globe at Mile of Music, bands from the triangle of the Fox Valley to Madison to Milwaukee should not be disregarded. This region is proving to be fertile soil for amazing talent. Be sure to check them out. (The Traveling Suitcase immediately comes to mind.) 
  8. Spot Graham Washatka. You can’t miss him. He’s a deft photographer who seems to be in more
    Play Mile of Music Bingo...
    Spot Graham. This is him!
     places than is possible for a single person. Nice guy and a friend of mine too. 
  9. See Brother O’ Brother. They’ll melt your face off. (The Ghost Wolves will too, for that matter.) See their video for 'You Would' at the bottom of this blog.
  10. Have a beer from Appleton Beer Factory. They’re an official venue, so that makes it easy. Drink local. 
  11. See a performance at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel; get goosebumps. This may or not be possible, many performances are restricted to Music Maker badge holders, but if you get the chance, see someone play here. It’s just awesome. 
  12. Fly solo. Yep. You’ve got smartphones and your own interests. Don’t hesitate to split from your beloved for a bit and then reconnect elsewhere. We did this last year when my wife went to see Lily Winwood (Steve’s daughter) while I found something more suitable for my head-banging self. (I did catch Lily’s act another day at a different venue.) 
  13. Contemplate living in Appleton. Whether you want to or not, this thought will likely pop into your head. It’s a vibrant city with lots of art and culture. During these four days Appleton really comes alive! 
  14. See Diane Coffee. A must I tell you. An absolute must. A rock 'n' roll glamour extravaganza.
    Diane Coffee - a must-see!
    Very likely the most entertaining band/person I’ve seen in 10 years. No joke. 
  15. Plan your day. The Mile’s app and website make it very possible to make a detailed plan to hear the maximum amount of music on a given day. The app lets you favorite (heart) artists you enjoy and then when you’re at the festival, it’s easy to see where and when those artists are to perform. 
  16. Let the festival come to you. In other words, screw the previous tip and just find a comfortable place to enjoy the day. The schedule is tight and bands play one after another with only a short break in between. Appleton’s got a lot of comfortable bars to relax in to watch the more sedate bands, but Mill Creek is where you’re most likely to get the maximum power. Of course, Houdini Plaza or Washington Square will be good places to hang out like at any good Wisconsin festival. (Also The Alley Project) 
  17. Look for cameos. Last year Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Bash & Pop, Guns 'n' Roses) showed up and jammed in an alley. Who knows who’ll show up this year. The Mile’s on stars’ radars. 
  18. The festival doesn’t end on Saturday. Interesting things happen on Sunday too. In fact, if you stick around until Sunday evening, you could find yourself invited to something unique like an artists-only party. It could happen. 
  19. See Cory Chisel on the street. Not only is he a Grammy-nominated performer, excellent songwriter and singer, he’s an Appleton native and founder of this festival to channel money to music education programs. He’s a fine Wisconsinite and seemly ubiquitous during the festival.
  20. See Corey Chisel perform. He may be by himself or he may be with others. Keep your eyes open. 
  21. See a band on the Mile of Music Bus. This is another must and a blast. The Mile of Music Bus is an
    Jay Matthes rocking the Mile of Music bus
     easy way to cover the great distance that may exist between some venues. Bonus: the Bus is a party. They, too, are a venue -- a rock and rolling (literally) venue! 
  22. Make friends. It’s easy here. The people of the Fox Valley are friendly and interested in having a good time as much as you are. 
  23. Have a Stone Arch Brewery beer. Another venue that’s off the College Avenue strip. It’s a short hike (or grab the bus), but it’s a cool business and fun to visit. 
  24. Don’t worry about me. I hope to see you there, shake hands and have a beer together, but this is a festival of personal musical exploration. Spend it finding your thing. If we’re in sync, great, but otherwise, have a great time and we’ll discuss our experiences when the festival is over.
  25. Catch a performance at Houdini Plaza. This can be the most vigorous and crowd-packed venue.
    Motherfolk at Houdini Plaza. Catch them first
    at Tosa Tonight, July 26th!
    With great weather on tap for early August, it can be a fun place to hang. In fact, a star-packed one-two punch is scheduled there Thursday evening: Diane Coffee followed by San Fermin. That’s about as headline as Mile of Music gets. 
  26. Sing in a shower. This is fun. Sponsored by Tundraland, there’s a shower in Paper Valley lobby that you can perform a song in. They’ve even got a guitar to use! 
  27. Porky’s Groove Machine. Just go. Sofa King entertaining. 
  28. Be a Music-Maker. This is the major individual sponsorship program. It gets you stuff that the ordinary fan doesn’t get. We did it last year and it was fun, but you don’t have to do it have a good time. (I think this is one of the big misunderstandings newbies have at the Mile I’ve heard more than one person exclaim that they thought they need this pass to enjoy the festival. You don’t need it, but it does get you into a few exclusive shows, but not enough to make it a must. I’d consider it, too, if I lived near Appleton, as one of its benefits is off-season access to shows.) 
  29. Visit Appleton’s amazing farmers market on Saturday morning. This one’s a doozy, filled with produce, bakery, performing artists, and more. It’s worth the drive to Appleton even when the festival is not occurring! 
  30. Ask the right questions. The right questions to ask regarding Mile of Music are “Who are you looking forward to seeing?” or “What band or artist do you recommend?” In the months leading up to Mile of Music the unfamiliar ask, “Who’s there this year?” like it’s Summerfest, Country Thunder, Eaux Claires, or Lollapalooza. This ain’t those fests and perhaps that’s why I like it so much. It’s personable, accessible, open, and an absolute blast. 
That’s my shot-from-the-hip list of my 30 things (tips) you should do at Mile of Music. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s well organized and the most four fun days of Wisconsin summer.

I hope to see you there, Bruce!

Your pal,

Mike
+++++++++

The following lists are not complete; they are fluid and will be edited, but only by addition, not by subtraction.
  
Artists I’m planning to check out: Art’s Fishing Club, South Hound Smith, Terra Lightfoot, The Traveling Suitcase, Swear and Shake, Ron Gallo, Valley Queen, Tenement, Fast Romantics, ...


















Monday, July 10, 2017

Summerfest, Day 11 Recap - I Did It!

Well I made it. All 11 days of Summerfest's 50th anniversary celebration. It was a great run and I had a ton of fun. For another day I'd like to write about some of my takeaways, pro's and con's, tips, secrets, etc., but for today I'm just going to recap day no. 11.

This was a funny day. It was the latest that I arrived the festival in 11 days. I didn't get to the park until 4:30 PM. I had to watch the Brewers seal the series against the Yankees at O'Lydia's one last time. They did, taking two out of three against the Bronx Bombers and they head into the All-Star break 50-41 with a 5.5 game lead over the rival Cubs. Yay team. Good luck in the season's second half! Bonus, free Fireball shot at O'Lydia's. Not because the Brewers won, but because a marketing team was there offering everyone free shots. I took one, but I didn't pound it, I savored it. (If one can do that with an ounce of Fireball.)

My aim was to get to festival grounds by at least 5:00 PM because arrangements had been made for me to meet with a Fox 6 reporter for a Summerfest story. By 5:00 Angelica Sanchez of the station sent me a text, "Are you on the grounds?" Yep, I replied. We made arrangements to meet near the Harley-Davidson area. I told Angelica I was close and I'd be there in a moment. When I arrived, I spotted her looking for a fellow that she thought might be me. I walked up behind her just as she was asking some big dude in a sleeveless tee, "Are you Mike?" No he said, but I popped up from behind her and said, "But I am!" We found a relatively quiet spot to conduct an interview and I was mic'd up for a few questions. Camera rolling, I was asked a few Q's about my 11-day run and, beer in hand, I answered them. If you've ever done something like this, you immediately consider your answers afterward and wish for a do-over. Nonetheless, I had faith in their editing capabilities and they did a fine job removing all (most) of my gibberish. You can see the final product here.

A clip from my 30-seconds of fame
I sported my 414 shirt from Too Much Metal for the interview. Immediately afterward, I touched my Summerfest "gool" by visiting Fred and telling him to look for me on the evening news (or the Internet). Out of 11 days, I think there was only one where I didn't stop and share a "Hey, how you doin'?" with Fred. If you're reading this, Fred, thank you for the always warm welcomes.

I then made a beeline to see my friend Ron's band, Clove, perform at the lakefront (lagoon-front, really) Renegade stage. I was blown away. After a short delay getting the sound system set up, Clove rocked a nice array of pop-song covers. What amazed me was how well they were received! Not that they should not have been, but that was by far the most people I've seen attend one of these lagoon-front side stages. Clove packed 'em in and had everybody happily dancing. It was great. I stayed for quite a while with a big grin on my face. It's hard not to enjoy yourself when everyone near you is having such a good time. Well done, Ron and gang! (Note: other members of this band used to play with me at Brocach Irish Pub on North Water Street years ago. It was fun to see them gel professionally as Clove.)
Clove rocking the Renegade Stage; Ron on the left
After Clove I was nearly ready to make tracks, but I made one last walk through the north end of the grounds to see if there was any band worth discovering and boy was there ever. At the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage, I may have stumbled upon my favorite band of the festival: The Weeks. This is a new band to me, but they've been around for a while. In fact, if you give them a listen you're likely to say they sound like a Kings of Leon knock-off, but considering that The Weeks have been around for over 10 years, you could almost say it's the other way around. They rocked hard and I enjoyed them immensely.

Funny thing, though, while I was at this stage. I remembered that my friend and former Milwaukeean, Rachel, was the stage manager. Over the course of the 11 days she would send me messages, "Hey, let me know when you're here. You can come back stage and have a drink with me." At the 11th hour I texted Rachel, "I'm here. Is that backstage invite still open?" An immediate reply followed and, boom, I was backstage. It was good to see her and we enjoyed nice conversation with some of her now-exhausted staff. Plus we had that drink... er, drinks. While doing so, I could still hear The Weeks rocking out on the stage and I asked, "Hey, can I go out there and watch them from the side?" Sure I could and I watched the rousing finally from stage-right. They were a blast and as soon as they exited the stage via the black curtains there was me saying, "Well done, fellows. You rocked!" Even on the high of coming away from performing in front of a very appreciative crowd, the lead singer was gracious and said, "Thanks, man. We love to hear that!" That was nice. I'm looking forward to checking out a lot more of their music. In fact, I'm listening to it now and their new song, "Talk Like That" was played on 88Nine tonight.

The Weeks from backstage
And with that experience I called it a fest. I was very tempted to see The Shins, but I knew that I had an early golf date with my former boss and wanted to awake fresh and rested. My golf game needs all the help it can get. (It sounds like I may have made a poor decision. The word is that The Shins put on a great show. Dangit.)

So it's done. My attend-Summerfest-for-all-11-days Milwaukee bucket list item has been crossed off my list. I enjoyed it greatly, but I wouldn't necessarily do it again. But then again, maybe I would -- I just need a 353-day break to recharge.

Thanks for following along. Fest on, friends, Summerfest or not.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Summerfest Day Ten, A Recap

Summerfest Day 10 was to be a rather short stroll through the grounds, cameras in-hand, snapping shots of a few of the more unusual sights that one might see at the world's largest music party. For the most part, that's what we did, however, as things are wont to do, we ultimately strayed from our mission after running into friends.

In my 11-day run at Summerfest, I figured this 10th day would be my last "party" day, i.e., day to have a few beers. When I attend on Sunday, the final day, I've self-imposed a one-beer maximum. I've got too much going on Monday to overindulge or indulge at all. With that said, we started out our festing in our traditional manner: with a stop at O'Lydia's on First Street. We knew the Brewers were heading into the final innings against the Yankees and we aimed to watch the outcome over a beer and Irish Potato skins. Well the beers were good and cold (Oberons) and the skins delicious, but dammit if the Brewers' reliever, Corey Knebel, didn't give up a 3-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth. Darn it. He's an all-star too. That's not supposed to happen. Oh well, get the series from 'em today, crew.
With David Myles

After the blown save it was off to the fest upon our Harley. We no sooner entered the main gate and turned left when we saw an unusual sight: a dapper slender fellow hanging out in front of the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage. He looked out of place and I figured he had to have a story so I asked him, "What's a handsome fellow like you doing in a place like this?" Turns out he was musician David Myles, who was set to perform at the World Sound Stage at 5:30 (roughly an hour and a half from the time we met him). David had a funny story. He said he came from a family of doctors and his dad was concerned about his career choice to become a professional musician. David replied, "Don't worry, Dad. Someday I'll have a job where I wear a suit to work every day." And thus his career as a suit-wearing musician began. To honor his father, he wears a sharply tailored suit during every performance. Very nice. We committed to returning the the stage to see him play and off we ran.



After wandering around the north end of the grounds for a bit, we hopped on the Skyglider for our first ride of the season. It's always nice to fly above the madness and look down below. The day was perfect too, so it made the views extra sweet.

At the south end, we made our obligatory stop at Saz's lakeside restaurant for a Miller Lite. Like the Skyglider allows one to escape the madness of the fest, so, too, does a stop at Saz's. It allows one to sit, be waited on, and enjoy the day. I've always liked this stop and the service has always been great.

If there was ever a home base for us at Summerfest it's been Fred's Too Much Metal shop at the South End Marketplace. It's a rare Summerfest day when we don't stop in and say hello to Fred who always
treats us with a friendly smile and some good laughs. Saturday was no different, however, what was unusual was that both my wife and I were wearing shirts designed by Fred. So a picture of us together was mandatory. Fred's the designer of the 414 shirt and hat. Whenever I wear mine people ask one of two questions: either "What's 414 mean?" Or "Where can I get one of those?" The 414 is the Milwaukee area area code. It used to be a much larger zone covering the entire Eastern side of the state, but as the number of phones and numbers increased, it contracted to become unique to the Milwaukee area. As for where you can buy one, Fred's got a shop in the 3rd ward and is omnipresent at any number of festivals, but the simplest way is just to Google "Too Much Metal." That'll lead you to a place where you can buy one online (http://toomuchmetal.com/). Easy peasy.

Hangin' with Too Much Metal Fred
After touching home we made our way back to the World Sound Stage for David Myles' show. It was great and I'm really glad we met him and came back for his music. He described it as "bluegrassy," but to me it had a very familiar tone: it sounded a lot like the more up-beat versions of Justin Townes Earle's songs. It was very enjoyable and you can see that David and his band have honed their stage craft over 10 years of touring. Interestingly, their touring has been primarily in Canada and Europe with very few forays into the US. They're just starting to tour the US now. I'm not sure why it took them so long, but I wish them all the best. They're a good bunch.

Brett Newski on the Miller Stage
After Mr. Myles, we were near our exit from the grounds, but then, as the saying goes, shit happens. We discovered that Milwaukee's own Brett Newski was playing at the Miller stage and as we made our way for a final beer and the start of his set, we ran into my old colleague and now friend, John, and his wife,  Jenny. This means we wind up watching Brett's entire set and we enjoy at least one more beer more than planned. Brett's show was fun, but the big stage seemed huge for him and this 3-piece band (himself included). I was glad we were close and up-front. It made his lyrics more accessible and he's a good song-writer. His songs are laced with humor and a peculiar take on the world.

A lakefront encounter with David Myles and band
By the time Brett was done, darn it if you didn't know it was time for Whitney to play back over at the World Sound Stage. This was the show that I had my eye on because I listened to their debut album a lot. Back to the Johnson we went, but this time, of course, the seating area was packed and all were standing on the benches. So seeing the band well was not an option. We elected to stand on the south side of the stage and who did we wind up standing right next to? Why, David Myles and his bandmates! Seems I was destined to discover this guy. After a few songs by Whitney, my wife came back from a short walk around the stage and said, "You guys have got to see the moon rising over the lake right now. It's incredible." And she was right. We made our way to the lagoon shore and ooh'd and ah'd over the most perfect full-moon rising. The color palette was Easter, with an array of pastel blues and pinks filling the eastern horizon. It was really cool to see this with David and his band -- I don't believe I've yet mentioned they are from Nova Scotia -- who really seemed impressed with everything Milwaukee. At that moment, it was hard not to be impressed with our city. It was beautiful.

Okay.  Finally it was time for a little more walking and a ride home before the crazies all came in. As it was, it was later than I wanted to stay, but it was worth it to see that gorgeous moon-rise. We still made it home with faint strains of sunlight in the sky.

Today's the final day. I'll go late and take it easy. If things go according to plan, I'll meet with a reporter from Milwaukee's Fox 6 TV station at 6:00 and be on the news at 9:00. I have no idea what I'll say, but let's hope I don't make a bigger fool out of myself than I already do. ;)