Summerfest brings diverse music to Milwaukee

Milwaukee might not be known as the music capital of the Midwest, but from June 26 to July 6 it certainly held this title. Summerfest, the city’s annual mega music festival, drew thousands of concertgoers to Milwaukee’s lakefront.

I made the trip up north on July 3 to see just what “The Big Gig” (the event’s official nickname) had to offer. The expansive grounds featured a number of stages representing every genre of music.

Cover bands were the main attraction in the early afternoon. Exhibit A entertained curious onlookers with its renditions of current songs like Coldplay’s “Clocks” and older favorites including Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me.”

Many talented, but lesser-known bands performed throughout the day. At 6:30 California-based, Smile Empty Soul took the rock stage. This introspective three piece hard rock act quickly won over a mostly college-age audience.

Another impressive group was Franky Perez and the Highway Saints. They played two energetic sets packed with an interesting mix of folk, rock, and blues material. Charismatic frontman Perez sounded the best on the acoustic strummer, “Something Crazy” and his version of the Allman Brothers blues classic, “Whipping Post.”

At 10 p.m., headliner Jonny Lang was greeted by an already frenzied crowd (partially thanks to the abundance of sponsor, Miller Lite beer tents). The 22-year-old blues/rock virtuoso played several songs off his older albums including the pool hall anthem “Rack ‘Em Up” from his 1997 release, Lie To Me. He also performed “Still Rainin” off his last album, Wander This World. This darker track spotlighted Lang’s emotional and often feverish guitar playing. The large and enthusiastic crowd sang along to almost every song, while dancing on top of benches around the stage. Lang also gave fans a sneak peak to his next CD (to be released in September), with the bittersweet acoustic ballad, “Irish Angel.”

After spending 10 hours at Summerfest, I was a bit tired but already planning to go back again. Make sure to check it out next year. With the wide range of musical styles featured, it’s doubtful that anyone could leave disappointed.

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