Words by Brian Whitney
As I left my apartment on the morning of Friday, July 3rd, I saw a boy, about 11 or 12 years old, across the street. In his hands was a tiny Fender amplifier and strapped to his back was a guitar in a nondescript gig bag, the kind that probably came in a pack that a well-meaning relative bought him for a birthday.
I wanted to stop him — stop him, because I was once the 12-year-old boy lugging musical equipment into a bedroom, and learning how to tune and slowly, how to play, maybe even how to write songs. And while I don’t exactly know where the story ends, we can say with 99 percent certainty that any kind of dreams or even expectations of fame, financial well-being, and widespread adoration are completely misguided, for you or anyone you know.
Of course, these are the kinds of things that go through your mind when performing at Summerfest. The Fest is a celebration of the great (Bob Dylan), the once-mighty (Kid Rock, Huey Lewis) and the never-will-be’s (early afternoon cover bands on the Harley Davidson stage, those Ecuadorian pan flute players). Last year, I visited Summerfest as a general observer, and my overall impression was that of general mundanity, both in terms of the players and the attendees. Friday’s Cascio stage was a bit different than standard Summerfest fare (someone backstage referred to it as “the stage for people who hate Summerfest”). I wouldn’t exactly equate my feelings about the Big Gig as hatred. More ambivalence, but I understood what he meant.
A younger version of myself would have been excited about the possibility of a great cultural collision of punk rockers versus the masses. The current incarnation of me can’t make things that simple, and also is aware that there are twelve concurrent stages of music and people were more than able to choose something more to their liking.
All this being said, the set went pretty well. I drank half a Red Bull before the show, because it was free, even though I know that Red Bull Turns me into a jittery mess. Sure enough, I made several Taurine-induced mistakes during White Problems‘ 22 minute (a record) set. There’s that old show biz adage that ‘the audience doesn’t have a copy of the script’, or something to that effect, and any truly noticeable errors I can pawn off on the drummer (half kidding).
It could be worse. The singer from Curb apparently thought that it would be a good idea to get naked during their 5:30 p.m. set. The authorities arrived, arrests were made and order was restored. While this act may have insured that Curb would be the most notable Cascio stage band of the day, I’m pretty happy that White Problems won’t have that kind of notability (my experiences with singers sans clothing have been well-documented at this point, and for the record, I did play the second half of a show in boxers, once, though in my defense, my Paul Revere costume was too hot).
To get back to the beginning, it was probably wise to let that kid go on with his guitar, amp and dreams. Nobody’s story is fully written yet; there are numerous examples of those who have struggled early on, only to achieve success later in life (Alfred Hitchcock, Cezanne, Charles Bukowski). Sometimes the odds succeed, sometimes the underdog prevails. It’s why we play.