Despite the general lameness of Summerfest’s big headliners (with one or two exceptions per year), the smaller stages in 2010 are looking hotter than any year in recent memory, especially considering the wealth of local talent spread all over the grounds. When in doubt, sit at the Cascio Interstate Music Groove Stage (CIMGS) and marvel at all the amazing Milwaukee music you never realized was here. There’s something worth fifteen bucks every single day this year, and usually multiple quality acts (and don’t forget, you can get in for eight bucks on weekdays between noon and four!).
Stage Key (MAP)
Miller Lite Oasis: MLO
Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard: B&S
Harley-Davidson Roadhouse: HDR
THECOOLTV Rock Stage: TCTV
Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage & Pavilion: PBC
M&I Classic Rock Stage: M&I
U.S. Cellular Connection Stage: USC
Cascio Interstate Music Groove Stage: CIMGS
Thursday, June 24
Come Early: If you can handle hardcore before dinner, 9mm Solution (TCTV @ 5) might get you going, if you’re the type to take the group’s confusing persona seriously. At the opposite end of the spectrum, local reggae heroes King Solomon (PBC @ 5) are a safe bet for easy-going grooves.
Best bets: Beatallica (TCTV @ 8), Milwaukee’s own transcendent tribute mashup band. Then, if you can tear yourself away at 9, Collections of Colonies of Bees plays a headlining slot at the CIMGS, and while they may not boast much in the way of stage presence, the group’s hypnotic brand of dynamic post-rock is liable to knock you off your feet; it’s good eyes-closed music anyway.
Stay Late: Depending what mood you’re in, you can keep the dance party going after 10 with Passion Pit (USC), mellow out with The Wailers (PBC) or round out a true Brew-City hodgepodge and goof around with Pat McCurdy (B&S). Or, as a last resort, there’s always Sheryl Crow (MLO).
Avoid: getting suckered into Night Ranger by your drunk, nostalgic coworkers, then staying put at the M&I for Led Zeppelin 2, which is apparently the sequel to the first band, so how could that be bad?
Friday, June 25
Come early: You could sit at the CIMGS all day and most likely never be bored. Fatty Acids spark things off at 1:30 with their peculiar blend of cranky, proggy weirdness, and the two bands that follow…I know nothing about, but there’s probably nothing more interesting going on elsewhere.
Best bets: If you were able to justify the extra ticket price for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at the Marcus Amphitheater, you are almost certainly in for a treat. If not, there’s always Public Enemy (USC @ 10), not just reality TV fixtures any more. Do you really want to die without seeing these legends of hip hop? Also, At Latl (CIMGS @ 6) and Surgeons In Heat (CIMGS @ 7:30) are two of Milwaukee’s most-talked-about pop groups of recent years.
Stay late: the wistful Americana of The Vega Star, headlining the CIMGS at 9. And you’d be remiss to leave before at least checking out Jeff Beck (HDR @ 10), who has emerged back into some semblance of limelight recently following a knockout performance at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame concert and a reassociation with old Yardbirds mate Eric Clapton.
Avoid: 311, one of the worst bands of all time even in its heyday, is still a band, I guess.
Saturday, June 26
Come early: For whatever reason, Chicago’s Death Ships are playing at 4:30 on the “all-local” CIMGS. Okay, at least one member did go to Marquette. Worth checking out if for no other reason than Jamie Cassedy’s lead guitar.
Best bets: Petty again headlines the big stage, but tonight’s headliner at the MLO, Thievery Corporation, is just as enticing, and one of Milwaukee’s best live bands, Canyons Of Static, plays the CIMGS at 7:30. You’d better have a good excuse if you’re not at Summerfest tonight.
Stay late: If you’re not at Thievery or Petty, you’re crazy, but The Wildbirds (CIMGS @ 9) are playing another reunion show, or maybe they’re back together? Reliable Brew City rock and rollers. And 88.9 darlings The Constellations headline PBC at 10 also.
Avoid: staying home on a Saturday night.
Sunday, June 27
Come early: Dread Zeppelin (MLO @ 3) should be the perfect soundtrack to a lazy summer Sunday. Also, one of the strongest lineups for the CIMGS will definitely catch fire with Disguised As Birds’ catchy noise-rock assault at 4:30.
Best bets: You’ve got a difficult choice around 7:30: see Milwaukee’s most buzzed-about (for good reason) band of the moment, soul/funk partiers Kings Go Forth, at B&S? Or possibly the city’s best jam band, Stealin’ Strings, at PBC? Or Revision Text, straightforward angsty indie rock, at CIMGS? You can’t go wrong here.
Stay late: If you dig the electric guitar, you are in luck: B.B. King brings the blues to M&I, and Robert Randolph And The Family Band is always a great time (B&S). But my vote is for Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, edgy, moody, melodic Chicago (with strong MKE ties) band that has been known to blow people away with its live show (CIMGS @ 9). Even checking out ska-punk stalwarts Less Than Jake (MLO) or bluegrass legend Del McCoury (PBC) wouldn’t be a terrible idea on this night.
Avoid: The Gufs--sorry folks, but this is one of the blandest bands to ever come out of our fair city, and unfortunately, one of the most successful. Also, with all the great headliners, there’s no excuse for listening to the painfully unoriginal nonmetal of Nonpoint, still trying to ride the tattered coattails of Sevendust and Coal Chamber.
Monday, June 28
Come early: I got nuthin’. Just not familiar with any of the afternoon acts.
Best bets: Eric Clapton, although I haven’t personally seen him in years, should put on a good show, if only judging by his playing on that Cream reunion DVD. But there’s that whole buying-a-ticket-for-the-Marcus thing.
Stay late: I’ll say The Etiquette (CIMGS @ 9), even though I have never seen Blue Öyster Cult (M&I @ 9) and probably should. But the local guys are pretty much guaranteed to put on a high-octane, exuberant rock and roll show, and as far as I know, BÖC might totally suck these days.
Tuesday, June 29
Come early: I hear good things about Fahri (CIMGS @ 4:30), noise pop locals who have a new album coming out later this summer.
Best bets: STS9’s (MLO @ 9:30) set here last year was the definition of the sleeper show. Can’t wait for this one. If you feel like risking a good spot for STS9, I recommend two of our town’s all-time greats as a warm-up: Ifihadahifi (CIMGS @ 7:30), for a frantic, noisy dance party, or Willy Porter (PBC @ 7:30--if you’ve seen him before, you know why, and if you haven’t, you need to.
Stay late: Nothing will go later than Tribe, but if for some reason that’s not your style, go see John The Savage (CIMGS @ 9); haven’t seen the band since the horns left, but I don’t see how they could possibly be bad. Also, I wouldn’t argue with anyone for going to see Weird Al (M&I @ 9), either.
Wednesday, June 30
Come early: I’d highly recommend trying to get in by 4:30 to catch Sigmund Snopek (M&I). This is one weird and talented cat; you never know what he might do.
Best bets: You should get settled in at the MLO by 7:30 for the blistering punkgrass of .357 String Band (and I’m not much of a bluegrass fan); you’ll enjoy this and then have a prime seat for headliners Umphrey’s McGee, whose praises I’ve sung plenty here and on JamBase.
Stay late: I can imagine War (PBC @ 10) being pretty fun even if there are no original members, and there’s always a chance that The Moody Blues (M&I @ 9) can still muster up echoes of the greatness of their 70s heyday.
Avoid: Puddle of Mudd. What is with all these horrible nu-metal rejects headlining stages at Summerfest? Trying to make up for the relative (merciful) dearth of hair metal this year? Look, there’s Chevelle, too!
Thursday, July 1
Come early: Jaill (TCTV), recent signees to Sub Pop, play a 3:00 set for some reason; I’d have thought they’d headline a night at the CIMGS, maybe it’s a label thing? Either way, check out the good-time scuzz rock if you can. Also, no idea what Santana is like in concert these days, but it’s the one Marcus show you can get a free lawn seat for, so if you wanna see him (and/or opener Steve Winwood), get there at the gate and jog down to the Marcus area for your wristband.
Best bets: You definitely couldn’t go wrong with The Roots (B&S @ 10), surely one of the few great live hip-hop acts out there. But I’d still have to go with Milwaukee’s own Fable & The World Flat (CIMGS @ 9), who put out one of if not the best local album of last year, which I’m sure you’ll buy after you see their live show.
Stay late: I’m sure lots of folks will flock to see The Hold Steady (USC @ 10), which might be a good show but the band has gotten progressively less interesting with each album so I’d take The B-52s (M&I @ 9) or maybe even O.A.R. (MLO @ 10) over them. Plus, I don’t really know, but I suspect Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (TCTV @ 10) might be really cool.
Avoid: The Offspring, but you didn’t need to be told that, right?
Friday, July 2
Come early: if you want to just check out some stuff you’ve never heard of. Nothing I can recommend specifically.
Stay late: Okay, okay, I’ve ripped on this amalgam calling itself “Yes” (M&I @ 10) plenty, but I’ve decided I’m going anyway. I’ll just listen to the guitar and bass and pretend the singer is someone else or tune him out. Otherwise, O.A.R. (B&S @ 10) is playing…again?
Saturday, July 3
Come early: Lots of great local talent, starting with Conrad Plymouth at 12:30 on the USC. Madison’s The Blueheels come on at 2 (B&S), high-grade, twangy roots rock. Can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve heard good things about The Up & Atoms (CIMGS @ 3), and you’ll want to stick around for The Danglers, who are occasionally bad but most often really really good.
Best bets: An evening with Rush is almost guaranteed to be a great one, what with the entire Moving Pictures album getting played and all, but unfortunately, Summerfest is exceedingly stingy with those Marcus lawn wristbands this year. So, you can always settle for Modest Mouse (MLO @ 10), who still put on a good show despite the increasing sameness of their music. Or, tickle your skankin’ pickle with The Invaders (Cascio @ 9).
Stay late: I hear John Hiatt (B&S @ 10) is a reliable performer; he’s definitely a heck of a songwriter, even if that voice can get a little annoying. I’ve also heard great things about Counting Crows’ (HDR @ 10) live show, although I suspect they’re past their prime, but you never know.
Avoid: Spiral Trance, another lowest-common-denominator local band that somehow steals the spotlight from way more interesting artists.
Sunday, July 4
Come early: One of these days, I have got to see De La Buena (HDR @ 5); will this be the time??? I doubt it, but I hear nothing but good things about the local groove merchants.
Best bets: DEVO (MLO @ 10) is back! Who knows for how long? Who knows if they’ll be any good? But don’t tell me you’re not curious!
Stay late: I’m not seeing much; Summerfest is closing with a whimper this year. I imagine there’ll be fireworks, though.
Avoid: The whole day altogether and go to Alpine Valley instead?