Les Paul, More Beer, and Music A-plenty





So I am falling behind on blog entries. Too much happening too fast. Summerfest, the world’s largest outdoor music festival, remains as impressive as it’s always been. I went on a behind the scenes tour of the grounds to see how they manage to move so many bands through in 11 days on nearly a dozen stages. The down time between bands is much shorter than what one expects at a typical concert. The Summerfest grounds are permanent. It wasn’t so 40 years ago when it first began. And over time the stages and facilities became permanent as well. This means individual backstage rooms for each band, and offices, equipment storage–it’s a smooth running operation and every year promises the best music, some classics, some up and coming, some you’ve never heard of but may want to hear again once you do. I went out for Rush at the Marcus amphitheater (the main stage for the headliners each night: Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys were a couple this year)

Being a bass player and growing up in the 80s, I was required to study Rush’s Geddy Lee, one of rock’s greatest players. So this was to be a nostalgic show. I saw a Rush cover band that sounded just like them only a few hours before the show, and thought, Hm, No way I can sit through the whole show tonight. But Summerfest doesn’t pull in museum-display retro bands for the main stage. I was blown away. The fifty-something trio pounded out two sets, a mix of the classics and their latest album. Lee’s voice, Lifeson’s guitar playing, Peart’s virtuoso command of the drums — they haven’t shown their age. But enough gush about Rush…

The night before we dined at Hinterland, the new restaurant, a sort of spin-off of the upscale brewpub in Green Bay. They’re not brewing here so I can’t include it in my book The Wisconsin Beer Guide: A Travel Companion, but it is definitely worth getting to. Hinterland brews from Green Bay make their way here and a fine wine list is perhaps even showcased more than the beer. And the food… Seafood was my preference and is flown in fresh each day. Specials regularly change and recipes are the kind you read and ask questions about to the wait staff. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Watermelon rind pickles??? I laughed when I saw it as a side for my andouille-crusted haddock. Gourmet and presented nicely, but not such small portions that one might call minimalist art.

If you haven’t been to the lakeside Discovery World, right next to the spectacular Calatrava-designed pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum, then you should get there soon. Not just to see the aquarium and the science-oriented interactive exhibits — those make it worth it alone — but to see the temporary exhibit dedicated to a Wisconsin native and musical legend and pioneer, Les Paul. (If you only know that as the name of a Gibson guitar, you REALLY need to visit this exhibit!) Lots of memorabilia from the man — old guitars and sound equipment from the guitarist/inventor that brought us the electric guitar. Displays are interactive as well. There is a studio with a green screen where you can pay a little extra to sit with a virtual Les and have a guitar lesson which will be recorded on DVD. Does Milwaukee honor Mr. Les Paul? Each year for Summerfest, the M&I Bank building colors windows and lights them up at night in the shape of a Gibson Les Paul guitar.

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