Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My Favorite Albums of 2017

Everybody loves a list. So here it goes… Here are my Top 10 albums of 2017.

10.  The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild. This recently released album would likely move up in my rankings, but I have not had enough chances to give it a thorough listen. However, from my first few spins, it reminds exactly of the music they released on their prior two albums – Mended with Gold and Departing – that I positively adored. Big sounds, rapid-fire percussion, well-crafted songs – they’ve done it again. Not sure of their touring schedule as of December 27, 2017, but when they come to town, I’m goin’.

9.    Brother O’ Brother – Neon Native. Indianapolis rock-fuzz duo deliver the goods on Neon Native. I’ve seen these guys somewhere between seven and a hundred times and it’s impossible for me to listen to this rocker without seeing them perform in my mind’s eye. 16 Flowers is certainly one of my favorite tracks of 2017. Plus, their LED, remote-controlled vinyl version of this record is one of the coolest things you’ll see all year.

8.    David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanac. Saw David and his musical partner, Gillian Welch, from the first row at Madison’s Capitol Theater where they played nearly every song from Poor David’s Almanac. At the time, I was familiar with a lot of their music, but Poor David was new to me. Since then I listened to it many times and this thing will be up for a Grammy. Mark my words. It’s great, and David's an absolute beast on the acoustic guitar. 

7.    Strange Americans – Borrow You, Brother. These Rocky Mountain Americana rockers’ third album grew on me over months of listening after seeing them perform a raucous noon-time show at Mile of Music. Their show ended in a sumo battle between two charging guitarists. Honestly, how they didn’t break their collarbones I’ll never know. Aaron Rodgers got knocked out with a lot less contact. Borrrow You, Brother has no filler; I think every track has a reward for the listener.  What sets them apart from other Americana artists is they’ll toss in a big, anthemic rocker or two on each album. I fell in love with the song Till You’re Told and that’s the song that kept me listening to the whole album. (Yep. I’m old school – not a single’s buyer like those darn millennials. For me it’s always the whole album.) Great stuff.

6.    The Regrettes – Feel Your Feelings Fool! At Milwaukee’s Summerfest, I saw The Regrettes perform (probably) every song from their debut album on a friend’s recommendation. They didn’t disappoint. Lead singer, rhythm guitarist, songwriter, Lydia Night, is all that and a bag of chips. She’s got stage confidence normally reserved for the Aguileras of the world. She may be small, but cross this riot grrrl at your own peril. Her pen is mightier than your sword.

5.    Fast Romantics – American Love. Another band of Canadians come down here and tell us all about American Love, eh? They did, and they did it well. American Love is filled with clever, wall-of-sound…um, sounds (?) that would make Phil Specter swoon. Matthew Angus leads the band with a big, radio-friendly voice that makes one wonder why they have not heard them yet. Well, some of us in Milwaukee have: 88Nine RadioMilwaukee has had the good sense to start putting them in the rotation. With any luck, the world will hear them all soon. (Oh, and this video. It's a doozy.)

4.    Lucy Dacus – No Burden. Okay, maybe this album came out in 2016, but it was pretty late in 2016 and I didn’t hear of her until 88Nine RadioMilwaukee started playing her cleverly crafted hit I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore. It was that song that hooked me, and I continued to listen to No Burden after the first track and was rewarded with a mélange of melodic swirls, chunky guitar riffs, and pointed lyrics. No Burden is another album that sank itself deeper into my core with every spin. Looking forward to seeing what Lucy’s got in store for her fans next. 

3.    Charly Bliss – Guppy. What can I say? I’m an absolute sucker for masters of the power-pop genre. I didn’t even know of Charly Bliss – a four-piece band hailing from Brooklyn – until they opened for Wolf Parade at Turner Hall. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Eva Hendricks, is a tour de force. Since they were the opening act, I was able to secure a spot front and center and watch Eva put on one of the most animated and energetic performances I’ve seen this year. Her voice, which, I’ll admit, might take some getting used to, floats over some of the most well-structured pop songs I’ve heard in a few years. I don’t think I’m alone in noticing. Guppy appears on many critics’ Best-of-2017 lists. I particularly like NPR music reviewer, Mike Katzif’s, words about Eva and her band: At its most potent, a pop song can lift your spirits while belying the intimacy and sadness at its core. That's especially true when the singer is Charly Bliss' Eva Grace Hendricks. With her bubbly voice and rapid-fire, sugar buzz phrasing, the frontwoman and guitarist regularly sounds downright overjoyed as she unleashes with youthful abandon over a relentless jolt of distorted guitar hooks. Scratch just below the surface, however, and Hendricks' wide-eyed charm melts away in favor of a pissed-off sneer. She flings off razor-sharp one-liners aimed at anyone who may have mistreated her ... but also at her own insecurities. Embedded amid the impossibly catchy hooks of Charly Bliss' new album, Guppy, her words are vibrant and real.

2.    King Leg – Meet King Leg. I’ve only recently discovered Meet King Leg as it was listed about a month ago on some Best-of list. While modern FM county nauseates me, this isn’t that country. This is Bakersfield country. The kind made famous by the late, great Buck Owens and Buck Owens understudy, Dwight Yoakam. In fact, so drenched in the Bakersfield sound are King Leg that Dwight himself produced the album. I’ve noticed, too, that King Leg is the opening act for many of Mr. Yoakam’s shows. When you listen to King Leg, you hear so many influences that your mind will bounce forth and back debating what legendary artist you’re hearing. The Byrds? Tom Petty? Roy Orbison? Dwight Yoakam? Buck Owens? Oh, the heck with it. Just enjoy it!

1.    Terra Lightfoot – New Mistakes. Another Canadian, and another woman-lead quartet. But Terra Lightfoot sounds nothing like Charly Bliss, The Regrettes, or Lucy Dacus. She’s a straight-forward rocker, song-writer, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, blues guitarist, and band leader with a voice that could knock down a brick wall. She was my number one must-see artist at Mile of Music. I saw her perform three times and was enthralled with every show. I learned of her by listening repeatedly to her 2016 album Every Time My Mind Runs Wild. At her shows, she’d drop in a track or two from the then-upcoming new album, New Mistakes. Instantly I enjoyed the new tracks, and they proved to be an accurate preview of what turned out to be a most excellent album. Terra’s another one of those artists that have me wondering why major fame eludes her, but she seems to be doing alright. After Mile of Music, she toured vigorously throughout Japan and Australia before returning to Canada. This album, too, is garnering lots of critics’ attention. PopMatters reviewer, Sarah Zupko, said of Terra, "get ready to adore Terra Lightfoot, a roots rocker with a powerful voice and a badass Gibson SG that she plays with consummate ease. Yep, she could be your new rock ‘n’ roll hero. Drawing from rock, soul, and blues, Lightfoot is a monster talent that will be gracing the world’s largest festival stages in no time."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Dog Lovers, Beware of This Product!

If you love your dog, do not buy or use this product. In the span of less than 30 hours, I've had the string or tape break on two units. The consequences could have been tragic, fortunately, we were able to avoid serious consequences.

The product is the flexi retractable leash.

Unit #1, the one with the string. This unit is about 5 years old. It was only used a time or two since the passing of our dog, Bailey, who left us two years ago. We adopted sweet Neala three days ago and immediately began using Bailey's former leash. On my second morning with Neala, around 6:00 AM, she ran to the leash's fully length. However, when she got there, I felt nary a tug and she just kept on running. The string at its termination point within the product's body, snapped. Because it was early and quiet, there was little traffic and I was able to run down the loose string still attached to Neala's harness. Disaster averted, I scooped her up and hand-carried her back into the house.

Unit #1 - the old unit; note the string break
I imagine the folks at flexi would say something like, "Well, the leash is old. You should replace the leash once per year to avoid the string from weakening." It doesn't say this on flexi's paperwork and, even if that was their approach, I'd call it BS. I've got a nylon tie-our rope that Bailey used that I tested with all my might before trying it with Neala. That 5+ year-old rope is plenty strong enough to support my full 200 lbs.

To replace the broken flexi, my wife headed to our local pet store and purchased a new one (Unit #2). The string has now been replaced by a ribbon or tape. Apparently the string was causing rope burn injuries to people and the hazard was lessened by used of tape-like rope. The unit is said to be good for dogs to 33 lbs. Neala is 10. I took her to a park today and gave the new flexi its first good test. Neala spied a squirrel and took off running. I pressed the button on the unit to halt her progress and SNAP, the tape broke right near her harness. Again, I ran like the wind to catch up to her and scoop her up before she had a chance to enter harm's way.

Whew. Again, tragedy averted.

Unit #2 - the new one; tape snapped within 20 hours of purchase
This flexi has only been out of the package for less than 20 hours and has already broke. What has me most upset is only five minutes before breaking, I had her near a busier street and I had my full faith in the leash to hold her from crossing it. I shudder to think what would have happened had it broken then. I would have dashed after her -- traffic be damned -- just the same as I did when it broke in the wooded park.

This is a faulty and defective product and in my opinion should be recalled from the marketplace immediately. If you use this product on your small dog, you are taking an unacceptable risk. Right after authoring this post, I am returning to the store with the broken leash and my story and will urge them to take the product off of their store shelves.

Sweet Neala in my niece's arms. She is NOT 33 lbs -- 11 tops!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Columbus, Indiana

Inside Eero Saarinen's North Christian Church;
picture by me, Sept. 5, 2017
I'm totally freaked out right now. Three days ago we never even HEARD of Columbus, Indiana and we "discovered" it while flipping through the pages of NUVO Indy -- Indy's Alternative Voice -- while sipping a beer at Fountain Square Brewery in Indianapolis. NUVO was highlighting an exhibit of pop-up art on the streets of Columbus, home of Cummins Engines about 45 miles south of Indianapolis. On our return from Cincinnati, we decided to take a detour to check out the exhibit in Columbus. We had no idea what we were in for. COLUMBUS IS A MECCA OF MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE. I. M. Pei, Eliel (dad) & Eero (son) Saarinen [Milwaukeeans, you know Eero's work: he designed the War Memorial; he also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis], Myron Goldsmith, Romaldo Giurgola, César Pelli, Gunnar Birkerts, Harry Weese, Robert Venturi, and many more designed buildings for Columbus. We wandered the streets for hours admiring the architects' work and the vision of magnate Joseph Irwin Miller. Now here's the really freaky part: a friend of mine let me know that a selection in the upcoming MKE Film Festival takes place in Columbus. It's called, appropriately, Columbus. The trailer shows many of the same structures that we visited only yesterday and it starts out with the interior of the North Christian Church (Eero's design) which was the very last building we visited! [Side story: the people of Columbus were so friendly. We were peering into the front door windows of the church when the pastor came out. She said, "We're closed, but I'll show you how to turn out the lights and you can come in and have a look around." She did just that and let us to ourselves inside this architectural jewel. So trusting.]

If you're Jonesing to see something different, hop in the car and visit Columbus. It's about a four and a half hour trip from Milwaukee and totally worth it. Now here's the trailer...

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?


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.


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.


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.


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


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. ;)



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,


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, ...