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Summerfest 2006
{ Lake Michigan lakefront park }

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 6:49:43 PM
Promoter: Milwaukee World Festivals, Inc.
Security: not impressive
Where: Milwaukee, WI/USA
When: June 29-July 9
Stage: outdoors

Out in full force at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, the Pica Peace Patrol (well, the Midwest squadron, anyway) had a blast listening to live music, strolling along Lake Michigan and gobbling food galore. We have a few quibbles, but overall it’s definitely worth the 1.5 hour train ride from Chicago and is arguably superior to the sometimes-lame Taste of Chicago. Summerfest (June 29-July 9) bills itself as "The World’s Largest Music Festival." That sounds cool, except my knee-jerk reaction is "Says who?" I didn’t see any info on how they determine that -- is it based on how many bands come, how much cash is raked in or how many people buy tix? That said, the 11-day event takes place on 75 acres on the lakeshore and features 10 stages as well as a 23,000-seat amphitheater, according to the program. When planning the trip, my friend Chel and I glanced at the Web site (www.summerfest.com), bought tix to Paul Simon for Saturday July 1 at the Marcus Amphitheater, and reserved a night in a B&B. Neither of us had seen Simon before and he’s such an amazing songwriter/singer, an heir of the great Cole Porter, as Chel put it. Had I scoured the sched a little more carefully, I might have arranged to stay a few extra days. Some of the big draws: Tom Petty with Pearl Jam, Common, the BoDeans, Blue Oyster Cult, Elvis Costello & the Imposters with Allen Toussaint, Los Lonely Boys, Lynyrd Skynrd, Ray Davies, Soul Asylum, The Tragically Hip, Alice Cooper, Psychedelic Furs, Wilco, Flogging Molly, Floetry, Pink, Poi Dog Pondering and Buckwheat Zydeco. But it was my first trip to Milwaukee and I didn’t want to spend all my time festing, so I dragged Chel to a few city landmarks -- the old German restaurant called Karl Ratzsch’s, a stroll through the Pfister Hotel lobby and a quick glimpse of the Pabst Mansion. Then we walked to the fest to check it out. We’d read on the Web site that our Paul Simon tix ($60 per person plus all those fun fees that accrue when you buy online) would also cover our admission to the fest that day. We checked out the stages, heard some tunes and walked to the Marcus to get an idea of where we’d be heading later on. Our jam de jour was the Treaty of Paris show on the U.S. Cellular stage -- high energy, excellent singing and those guys are cute! The Chadwicks weren’t bad either. Chel wanted to walk around sampling the chow and just hang out till the show started (7:30 p.m.), but I just couldn’t get excited about the prospect of gnawing on Gator on a Stick. (As it turned out, there were lots of other food choices, many of which were delicious, especially the roasted corn on the cob and the popcorn, which tasted like it’d been made the old-fashioned way -- popped in oil on a stovetop, with real butter on top.) But I’d been told about this French specialty -- pressed duck flambé with Calvados sauce and apples -- that Chef Pierre makes at his bistro called Elliot’s. This is said to be one of the few places in the world that offers this dish and, as a committed foodie, I couldn’t leave town without trying it. So, I twisted Chel’s arm and we headed off. As we left Summerfest, we were given wristbands and told that we had to be back by 7:00. Huh? After buying concert tix with all those hefty "convenience" charges, we’re now slapped with an extremely inconvenient deadline that would require us to shave time lingering over a sumptuous French meal? That was our only option, it seemed. We’d used our concert tix to gain entry to Summerfest and staffers said they couldn’t swipe the tix twice. But, isn’t that the point of the wristbands? Why insist that we’re back by 7:00 when Paul Simon isn’t likely to hit the stage till at least 8:00? Still, we didn’t want to take any chances so we hurried through dinner, which was the best duck we’d ever tasted, and then hightailed it back to Summerfest -- a case of literally ducking and diving, you might say. Well, sure enough, Simon didn’t go on till about 8:45 and there we sat, wiping our brow and feeling as plump as the little feathered guy we just ate. Later we wondered if we could’ve entered Marcus Amphitheater from Polk Street, without going through fest traffic, but we never knew for sure and the program doesn’t list that as an option. As it turned out, Simon was worth the wait and I particularly loved how he updated "Mrs. Robinson" with a hint of Spanish/South American rhythm. He also played "Cecilia," "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Still Crazy After All These Years," and, as an encore number, "The Boxer." Simon’s bevy of musicians includes Brazilian and African performers and they do a nice job of blending world beats with well-loved classics. One thing puzzled us: Why are they all men? A female vocalist or two would lend the group much more versatility, picking up the high notes where Art Garfunkel left off. Oddly, though, Paul didn’t ask us what we thought. Guess he and the boys know best. By the time we filed out of the Marcus, it was around 11 and we were hoping to catch the end of the GoGos, Hank Williams Jr. or David Lee Roth. Unfortunately, we ended up seeing DLR. Yikes! He didn’t sound particularly good but we really started cringing when he started telling this clumsy anecdote about writing a song and somehow segued into interrupting a passionate couple in the backseat of a truck. We could’ve put up with that (it’s only rock ’n’ roll, after all) but then DLR started addressing his chat lines to a young girl in the audience (18 years old tops -- her face kept flashing up on the video screen). He told her she looked like the girl in the truck and that, yes, it was true, he had been talking just to her through the whole show. With that sleazy attempt at flirtation, DLR, who turns 52 this year, managed to be gross and stilted at the same time. Anyway, it was getting late and I was exhausted. Carless, we slogged through the crowd toward the cab stand, off Polk Street. We noticed that the police seemed to have taken over from the yellow-shirted event staffers, most of whom appeared to be college students. (We’d also seen security staff in red shirts earlier in the day.) The officer we saw was handcuffing a boozy but harmless looking concert-goer. Probably would’ve been a good idea to have more cops on Polk Street cuz we saw two guys run into the traffic; one seemed to be chasing his buddy, the other was dancing and rubbing up against parked cars. Another, older, man could not stand up. He was just teetering there on the sidewalk -- that guy was in bad shape and is probably is still hungover! The next morning, over coffee and quiche at our B&B, we compared notes with some of the other guests. A couple mentioned that they’d seen Pearl Jam and Tom Petty on Friday night -- crowded and rowdy (including fights) they said, and added that Eddie Vedder drank 2-3 bottles of red wine onstage. A water vendor at the Paul Simon concert had also commented on the Petty/Pearl Jam crowd, saying that the show had been jam packed. The couple said that they’d seen Tom Petty last year at Tinley Park’s Tweeter Center. That event was oversold and overcrowded, they said, and the woman was punched in the eye trying to get to their seats. We and our fellow B&B guests also noted that everyone apparently left Marcus Amphitheater through one exit area -- if there was another way to get out (say a Polk Street exit) none of us knew about it. Another guest at the B&B, an Australian native living in Chicago, said of the Marcus Amphitheater: "It’s lucky nothing went wrong. I don’t know how you’d get a heap of people out of there in a hurry." (At least there were no glass bottles -- we noticed at the Paul Simon show that everything was served in cups or brown plastic bottles.) After we finished talking and checked out of the B&B, it was back to Summerfest ($15 per person for weekend admission). We were greeted by a security worker who grabbed Chel’s water bottle out of his jacket pocket. There was just no need to be that aggressive and rude. But I’d decided it should be a "Be Nice to Chel Day" and we didn’t let it bother us. We really liked the recorded gospel music from the Blind Boys from Alabama. We also caught Etiquette singing the Beatles’ "Helter Skelter" and the Battle of the Bands winner Houch (sp?). Most impressive of Sunday’s lineup was Plumb Loco. Granted, they’re a cover band but they are outstanding musicians and the lead singer has tremendous lung power -- a nice change from DLR resting on his laurels. Bands aplenty, drinking beer, stopping for snacks, people watching and nearly perfect weather. Aaah, Summerfest helps Wisconsin claim its rank as coolest state in the Midwest. The Pica Peace Patrol

Pica Peace Patrol

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