Julee Holcombe - The Messenger (2005)
So, let's chat about the "The World's Largest Music Festival". The annual Milwaukee music spectacle is scheduled to sprawl out on the summer lake shore for ten days of solid songs from June 28th-June 8th. But as previously mentioned by a commenter, the event seems yet again to be a hollow charade of a summer music festival. An aging corporate strategy dressed in a music festival's screen-printed clothing. A beer festival with nostalgic background music. A state fair in a league of national music festivals. And even if you're uncomfortable extending your critique that far, the line-up is just not very exciting.
6/29: Def Leppard, Styx, & Foreigner
6/30: Fray & OK Go
7/2: Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd)
7/3: John Mayer & Ben Folds
7/5: Bon Jovi
7/8: Toby Keith
It’s difficult to be critical of Summerfest because it’s absolutely a community resource with a rich history - and its efforts are certainly valuable and need to be recognized. Most of us have had great experiences on the grounds and there will be more this year. But when comparing Summerfest with other large summer music festivals… it misses the mark (of the current state of music) year after year.
Other Festival Examples: This year's Coachella Festival includes buzzed headliners Bjork, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, Air, Damien Rice, Hot Chip, Regina Spektor, The Decemberists, etc (too many to mention)... Washington's Sasquatch Festival promises a deep roster including Beastie Boys, Arcade Fire, MIA, Polyphonic Spree, Blackalicious (and tons more)... Chicago's young Pitchfork Music Festival boasts a lineup that includes Of Montreal, New Pornographers, Klaxons, Cat Power, Clipse, Iron & Wine, Grizzly Bear, and Girl Talk... even Tenessee's traditionally jammy Bonnaroo has plenty of diversity to choose from. Plus, ALL of these festivals have a second and third tier of quality independent musicians.
I disagree with the common excuse that Summerfest is just trying to be too many things to too many people (which sounds like a self-attributed job interview weakness that proclaims "Unfortunately, I'm a perfectionist"). Summerfest often seems like only one thing targeted at one type of person: A money-maker targeted at the lazy music consumer. When primary motivations become ticket sales and catering to corporate sponsors – the music (and music lovers) are the first to be compromised. And the consequences are obvious in the lineup... Following are three observations that demonstrate safe choices and an overt de-prioritization of the art of music.
1) The Majority of the Lineup Has Peaked
In order to stay relevant, a festival needs to showcase acts with new ideas who are advancing the current music scene. But the majority of Summerfest’s acts have already peaked - and there is an obvious overemphasis of 80s/90s music.
+ Pre 1970s: Buddy Guy, BB King
+ Late 1970s/1980s: REO Speedwagon, Def Leopard, Styx, Foreigner, Blue Oyster Cult, Lindsey Buckingham, Roger Waters, Heart, Family Stone Experience, The Wailers, WAR, Bon Jovi, Peter Frampton, The New Cars, INXS
+ 1990s: The Goo Goo Dolls, Sister Hazel, Social Distortion, Wierd Al Yankovic, The Black Crowes, Reel Big Fish, Bob Weir & RatDog, Live, G Love & Special Sauce
+ Four years ago: Papa Roach, Sum 41
2) The Indie Scene is Strangely Absent
Indie music can offer a fresh, thoughtful, underground, and more experimental edge to a festival. Economically, the indies are usually cheaper and come with a strong second and third tier of high quality acts at a lower cost and higher intensity than most bands on the Summerfest bill. This seems to me to be the biggest difference between Summerfest and other large summer music festivals.
+ Some indie exceptions in this year’s lineup: Shiny Toy Guns, Wolfmother, Silversun Pickups, Built to Spill, Lupe Fiasco, Spoon
We can’t forget the "Emerging Artists Series" at the US Cellular Stage. That's right, the indie acts are playing on the US Cellular sponsored stage. And they're just "emerging" artists… they haven't made enough money yet or attracted the attention of the forty-year-old drunks.
3) The Stale Repetition of Acts
It's impossible for me to accept that the Summerfest can't book any fresh acts and needs to book the same bands every year. Yet, most of the bands in the lineup have already played Summerfest before and many just last year! With Summerfest's built-in crowd and automatic draw of drinking debauchery, it could be great opportunity to surprise crowds with good new music instead of relying entirely on the same safe 90s hits.
+ 2007 artists who played Summerfest just last year: The Goo Goo Dolls, Guster, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Foreigner, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue October, All American Rejects, Phil Vassar, The Fray, Violent Femmes, & Jack’s Mannequin. Ben Folds (as great as he is) not only plays Summerfest every year, but performs nearly the SAME SHOW.
Maybe when Milwaukee asserts Summerfest as the “World’s Largest Music Festival”, it really does mean its physical size. But if the music is ever going to live up to the grandiosity of this moniker, it needs to be organized less like a safe downtown revitalization project and more like a music festival. With art it's not enough to aim at comfortably pleasing the masses, it's necessary to take risks to impress them.
2007 Summerfest Lineup (so-far):
June 28: Violent Femmes, Say Anything, Jack's Mannequin, Wolfmother, REO Speedwagon, Phil Vassar
June 29: Def Leppard, Styx, & Foreigner, OAR, Shiny Toy Guns, Silversun Pickups, Sugarland, Blue Oyster Cult, Sum 41
June 30th: The Fray & OK Go, The Goo Goo Dolls, Rise Against, Sara Evans, Lindsey Buckingham
July 1st: Sister Hazel, Built to Spill, Big & Rich
July 2nd: Roger Waters, Heart, Social Distortion, Ne-Yo, Family Stone Experience, Femi Kuti, The Wailers
July 3rd: John Mayer, Ben Folds, Brett Dennen, Buddy Guy, AFI, Wierd Al Yankovic, WAR
July 4th: Tool, The Black Crowes, Plain White Ts, Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, All Four Original Members of Asia
July 5th: Bon Jovi, The All American Rejects, Spoon, Umphreys McGee, BB King, Bob Weir & RatDog
July 6th: Augustana, Chevelle, Morris Day & The Time, Peter Frampton, Dashboard Confessional
July 7th: Live, Papa Roach, El Gran Combo, The New Cars, Guster
July 8th: Toby Keith, Lupe Fiasco, Blue October, G Love & Special Sauce, INXS, Brian McKnight