A cynic’s abridged guide to Local Music at Summerfest 2008

By Chuck Engel

Summerfest is known globally as the world’s largest outdoor music festival, and known locally as the time of year when every aspect of living and working in the city of Milwaukee becomes inconvenienced by a massive influx of drunk suburbanite A-holes dressed in age-inappropriate clothing and tramp-stamped with variations of the same tribal tattoo all falling in line to “get their Summerfest on” like there’s no other outlet to drink beer, see live music, or be social in Southeastern Wisconsin the rest of the year.

The temporary overpopulation makes getting anywhere in Milwaukee from Bay View to the East Side an hour-long chore, as our city streets become infiltrated with slow-moving SUVs taking up two lanes of traffic while their drivers look to save a buck on the designated Summerfest parking lots. Not to mention the festival’s occurrence makes any other routine task in the city, whether it’s running to the drug store or getting a table at your favorite restaurant, an exercise in patience and futility.

Long story short, Summerfest is a huge pain-in-the-ass. It can be hard to see the benefit in hosting a corporately-sponsored “amateur night” in one’s backyard for those who seldom cross East of Highway 100. The whole endeavor is much like having loosely-known houseguests for two weeks who only show up when you most eagerly want to enjoy comfort of your home.

While it’s easy to get beaten down by what Summerfest actually means to Milwaukeeans who take in live music and the city nightlife on a regular basis, the festival itself has gone out of its way this year to represent the city by featuring more original local music than it has in recent years.

US Cellular has continued their sponsorship of the Emerging Artists stage near the North end of the festival grounds that will feature a large mix of local and national independent bands. Furthermore, Cascio Interstate Music has ramped up previous incarnations of the local-friendly stage they’ve sponsored in previous years. The Cascio Interstate Music “Groove Garage”, despite its corny name, has a plethora of great local music all day long near the entrance of the Marcus Amphitheater.

Too many staples of the local music scene are playing the Big Gig this year to even give justice to. Thus, if you’re going to go to Summerfest this year, here are seven quality local picks worth checking out throughout the 11-day fest.

John the Savage
9:00 PM – Cascio Groove Garage
John The Savage just played its first show in September of last year, but the complex and well-orchestrated sound this six-piece band embodies displays a dramatic use of space that most bands spend years trying to achieve. Elements of Johnny Cash, Pavement, The Pack, and Tom Waits can be extrapolated from their songs. As weird as that description may sound, it really does work well together.

Revision Text
5:30 PM – Cascio Groove Garage
Most bands start playing shows the moment they have six songs cohesive enough to not trainwreck with the first chord change, but Revision Text took a rare approach band by polishing it to the point of perfection in the studio for nearly two years before setting foot on stage. This Summerfest appearance will mark only this indie-rock quartet’s second show ever, but don’t expect it to suck.

The Scarring Party
8:00 PM – US Cellular Stage
The Scarring Party has been haunting stages and charming audiences around Milwaukee with their uniquely dark ragtime indie-pop styling for several years. Still fresh on their self-released full length, Come Away From the Light, this year’s Summerfest appearance has the band opening for The Polyphonic Spree. This is an interesting pairing, as The Polyphonic Spree’s bass player Mark Pirro can be credited for building Scarring Party frontman Daniel Bullock’s specialty microphone that is arguably the centerpiece of The Scarring Party’s aural aesthetic.

Testa Rosa
6:15 PM – Cascio Groove Garage
Testa Rosa is a tight three piece pop-rock group fronted by the melodic vocals of Betty Blexrud-Strigens. The pop arrangements, female vocals and occasional tremolo usage make it really hard not to compare Testa Rosa to Rilo-Kiley and some of Neko Case’s solo work. The band might refute such contemporary comparisons, but they’re an enjoyable show.

5 Card Studs
8:00 PM – Jo Jo’s Martini Lounge
Without argue, 5 Card Studs is one of the best live acts in the city. Their retro Vegas shtick and selection of classic soul covers is a crowd favorite wherever they show up. Even this self-admitted music cynic suggests it’s easy to forget that they’re a cover band. If you can also ignore that they’re playing on a stage sponsored by a strip-mall martini lounge next to a Qdoba in the suburbs, seeing them at Summerfest will be a damn good show.

The Glamour
5:00 PM – Harley-Davidson Roadhouse
DJ team The Glamour bring their brand of fanny-pack electro Hip-Hop dance music out of the club and down to the lakefront. Meshing late ’80s hip-hop hype with early 90’s house beats, they boast a sound formerly stuck inside a Roland TB-303 but made simple by the advent of the Macbook, and a neon-friendly look once solely envied by retards. The music is goddamn infectious and should positively stand out from other acts on the Harley stage that day.

Get Rad
8:15 PM – Cascio Groove Garage
In a 21st century world of marketed angst that operates more style than on substance, Get Rad could serve as a history textbook on how 80’s thrash and positive hardcore was done. They’re a pretty odd addition to the Summerfest lineup. Hopefully the Cascio Groove Garage doesn’t have bleachers getting in the way of the circle pit.

(It’s in one’s best interest to come to the Cascio stage early on July 3 for a virtual power lineup of Milwaukee’s best underground bands. Starting at 3:45 PM, Novel, Father Phoenix, Red Knife Lottery, Farewell to Twilight, Cougar Den, Get Rad and The Barrettes all perform in sequence on the same stage. It’s almost like being at an actual show!)

For more information on Summerfest, check out the official Summerfest Web site.

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