Posted 03/04/2014 by cal
Any seasoned festival-goer knows that the nature of the beast requires you to be prepared for AN ORDEAL. As such, any complaints about the weather during the second annual Eastside Music Tour are probably inadmissible. But come on. Traipsing up and down Brady Street in that freezing wind and snow was taxing despite all the whiskey. Sure, NEWaukee can't predict the weather when they're planning a festival in Wisconsin on the first day of March, but...seriously, was this the only weekend of the entire year available?
Then again, considering the zillion other good shows going on in Milwaukee on Saturday, I can't imagine the intolerable glut of humanity that would've clogged Brady Street had the weather actually been pleasant. I can only surmise that most of us coughed up $25 or more for the all-access pass and weren't going to let that dough go to waste. And hey, Altos on a Saturday afternoon are basically worth that by themselves. But removing that particular bias of mine, I'd say the EMT was kind of a disaster.
Let's start with this little tidbit from a Friday afternoon email from NEWaukee: "The All Access Tent on the street is completely walled off and heated to about 60 to 65 degrees. Weather wont [sic] be an issue." Nothing about this assertion was truth; the Altos were visibly freezing their fingers off onstage, and wind instruments don't exactly function properly in these conditions. Nevertheless, the group debuted some very interesting new material and the sound mix was actually pretty terrific. We spectators were plenty bundled so this was for the most part a promising start to the day.
Unfortunately, the snow and cold meant things were running late right from the get-go, so planning the rest of the day became impossible. We did make it to Roman Coin in time to catch The Delphines, except it was so jam-packed inside that we couldn't get more than a few feet from the entrance, where the rock and roll was barely audible and not at all visible. As stated in the aforementioned email, "your ticket does not guarantee you access to any show", which should've been a good indication of how ridiculous this whole thing would be. Dismayed, we decided it was dinner time.
The service at Casablanca isn't always as great as the food, but on this occasion they were both astoundingly good. Still, we failed to make it out of there in time to catch Old Earth, also dismaying, but a person has to eat. Our next destination was Jack's American Pub, hoping to catch Cowboy Winter, who hadn't yet begun setting up by their scheduled 8:00 start time. Luckily there was air hockey. By the time the band was ready to go, so was I, and judging by the distorted blare as I walked out, Cowboy Winter wasn't getting the benefit of any sort of sound engineer or serviceable PA, possibly because THIS WASN'T A MUSIC VENUE.
If I was being paid to review this festival I would've done my best to squirm into a couple more rooms, but I was more interested in having an enjoyable night with friends. The truth is that EMT surely succeeded on purely musical terms, because there were so many good bands playing. Whether fans could actually see and hear the bands was another story. We're talking about an 8-hour festival spread over thirty-one stages. Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, by comparison, feature about eight. It's pointless to marvel at the amazing lineup because if you want to catch full sets, you'll be hard pressed to see a half-dozen acts even if you starve yourself.
Winter festivals can be done right; think Mitten Fest, a day-long celebration of winter, a handful of bands on a single stage and an actual sense of community and inclusiveness. EMT feels more like an attempt to make money and celebrate Pabst and Tullamore Dew sponsorships by cramming as many artists onto one bill as possible with no rhyme or reason (how they got touring acts Why? and P.O.S. to agree to this I'll never know, but presumably that's what the extra "all-access" ten bucks was for). Is this what SXSW is like? I've heard it's a clusterfuck, and if this was an attempt to approximate that for Milwaukee, mission: accomplished. Not my type of event, though. If local bands feel like this was a good experience and good exposure, then more power to NEWwaukee for the next installment, but I can't recommend it as a worthwhile endeavor for fans.
So, instead of dealing with more grim security guards at every door on Brady Street and hoping there'd be a modicum of elbow room at the next show, we ditched the fest for Linneman's, where we caught most of Twin Brother's set, a brilliant Old Earth performance, and were introduced to returning local (by way of Champaign, IL) singer/songwriter Rebecca Rego and her band The Trainmen, who pretty well captivated the small assembled crowd. There may not have been many people in attendance, but there was definitely a feeling of community, and I'm pretty sure my cover charge went into the pockets of Milwaukee musicians.