It’s time for the Big Gig again. Milwaukee becomes the music destination each summer with the 11-day, multi-stage Summerfest.
If you are into Americana, do check out Robert Francis. He appeared on the new and improved BMO Bank Stage this year, right before one of my all-time favorites, Ben Folds Five. He put on a great show but the place didn’t really fill up until the headliners took the stage…
Ben Folds Five. Together again after 12 years of (mostly) separation, the (originally) Chapel Hill trio just finished recording a new album and are on tour. I was a fan the moment I first heard “Underground” back in 1995. Ran out (I had to physically go to a store!) and bought this thing called a CD and was hooked. A few months later they came to Madison and played the venerable Club de Wash where I had a chance to meet them, gush a bit, and get autographs. Club de Wash was a small place, very personal. (Oddly enough, my good friend and drummer Riz was at the same show not more than 10 feet away all night, but we hadn’t met yet. A few years later he contacted me to join the Marianne Flemming Band) They ripped that place apart. Folds body slammed his piano. About a week later, the historic Hotel Washington, and resident Club de Wash, burned to the ground in a dramatic February blaze leaving nothing but a grotesque brick and ice sculpture.
Round these parts it was rumored that the song “Cigarette” on their next album, Whatever and Ever Amen was inspired by the fire, also apparently caused by a cigarette. (Ya, prolly not.)
Ben Folds Five filled the BMO pavilion and the standing-room-only crowd stretched pretty far back as well. I was impressed by how many younger people knew all the words. Those were hits 14-16 years ago and many of the attendees couldn’t have been much more than middle-school aged. While Ben did not bodyslam the piano, he did spear it with the piano stool, tossing it seat-first and dart-style from about 20 feet. Nice shot.
Summerfest isn’t all just current big stars, national acts, or old classics. Earlier in the day you might see up-and-comers and regional greats. And along the lakeshore is the Tiki stage which, though small and often missed, has some great music with bands you can get up close and personal with. Here’s Fatbook, a roots/reggae/funk ensemble from Chicago funking it up. (Go Like ’em on FB)
My special treat for the night was someone I saw several years ago in Austin. Gary Clark Jr. was just “this local kid you should see” (he wasn’t actually a kid at the time, but had a boyish look, I suppose) who played a mean blues guitar and worked a kick drum and hi-hat at the same time. He had a semi-regular gig at the bar of a popular and slightly upscale BBQ restaurant, Lambert’s.
Chatter was that this guy was going to go places. Well, he has. He was impressive as hell then, and he’s even better now:
The crowd was a bit modest for such a talent IMHO, but the ones who came to see already knew what a performer he was. I’m not a huge blues fan, but I could listen to Gary Clark Jr. all night.
The shadow of his hat made catching him in the camera a bit tricky. Here’s what a I got. Pick your favorite and let me know in the comments.
You can see Gary Clark Jr. on video at 4:00 in my Austin video, singing and playing some blues guitar (and drums, and harmonica!) at Lambert’s BBQ. (Watch the whole video for some tips on where to eat while listening to live music)
If you want to hear (or buy) his stuff, check out Gary Clark Jr. on Amazon
Heading back to Summerfest for a few more nights this next week…
See some photos from previous years’ trips to the Big Gig: