Summerfest, The Morning After. (or, References For the Devil.)

By Brian Whitney

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty, my friend.” –Chevy Chase, Dirty Work

Looking back, my expectation of Summerfest was not unlike Chase’s character betting against Rocky in Rocky III. My plan was simple: drink a few beers, show up and see what happens. I was certain that I would find something of interest among the standard issue overpriced vendors and numerous stages. Since there was no performer I was particularly interested in seeing, I figured I’d pick a day when I had free time and the weather was nice and find some intriguing subplot. Simple enough, right?

My search for transcendence at the Summerfest Grounds would be short lived. The most interesting moment (from an unintentionally comedic standpoint) happened when a band gave a shout out to the Summerfest Grounds and the Harley Davidson stage that they were playing on before going into eight bars of the whitest version of “We Got The Funk” that I have ever heard. But really, that was about it. The bands that I briefly saw were mostly indistinguishable from each other, trying to one up each other with unusual covers of hit songs past. My personal favorite was the all girl band that covered Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta”. Their version differed from the original in that it sounded like it was trying to sell me soda or possibly a car.

The spectators that I spoke to compounded the blandness of the rock acts. Most were either there to see Rascal Flatts (a country band I admittedly had never heard of) or Paramore (a band I saw introduce other band’s videos on MTV once.) Most hadn’t seen anything interesting or exciting, except for one girl who said she had seen “a guy rolling joints on the hood of his car,” which I guess is interesting in the context of her existence. I thought, perhaps, the beer vendors would have better tales, but they apparently had been briefed not to grant any interviews and I couldn’t get anything out of them.

My flirtation with a mainstream musical culture I was not familiar with made me feel extremely confused. I didn’t feel any particular like or dislike for any of the performers, and I don’t feel like my experience would have been changed at all if you simply removed the music. Like a trip to Great America, the venue itself is the experience. If asked what I did, I would answer, “I went to Summerfest,” and this answer would be a sufficient explanation of the day’s activities.

Mainstream experiments with true alternative musical culture produce a similar result. One recent example involves the band No Age and the new Friday Night show FNMTV, hosted by Fall Out Boy bassist/Ashlee Simpson betrothed Pete Wentz. In addition to hosting, Wentz picks the videos that are shown, and one of his choices was No Age’s video for “Eraser”. Scrolling down to the comments section reveals an interesting product: mostly confusion from people who don’t understand why the singing doesn’t start until the third minute. It raises an interesting point about context. To me, the song “Eraser” seems like a summer pop anthem, but in the eyes of the demographic with the ability to crown it as such, it comes across as weird and confusing. The ultimate lesson here is that music and the culture that surrounds it is a many splendored thing, and some collisions are never meant to occur.

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