From the famous dunes of Indiana, I drove direct to Milwaukee, where I would eat, drink, be merry, and hear some killer live music...
Milwaukee is one of my favorite cities in the world. Full stop.
I say this, not just because it reminds me of Pittsburgh, not just because it's a small city with rivers, but because it's a very pleasant place to visit. It's not crowded with tourists, but it is filled with hidden gems.
I probably also like Milwaukee so much because I've only visited in the summer, experiencing lovely outdoor riverside breweries and not bitter cold.
And I definitely enjoy Milwaukee even more thanks to the company of my friend Jim, who is a fantastic tour guide and all-around lovely person. It was lovely to catch up after such a long time.
I first visited Milwaukee in the summer of 2016, catching a 6AM budget one-way out of Philadelphia, not knowing the wonders that the city would have in store for me: the basilica, Captain Pabst's mansion, the art museum, empanadas, and world-class beer.
In the summer of 2021, my plans were to do some work, to catch up with Jim, and to drink some beers. Though Milwaukee has sights worth seeing, I also had code worth shipping, and I was hoping to get some of it out the door.
It turns out that playing is more fun than working, though I did plenty of both.
Summerfest is a Milwaukee tradition.
It's a music festival, which takes place in a purpose-built area by the shores of Lake Michigan. It's home to beer, music, fairgrounds food and markets, a variety of corporate-sponsored stages, and a lot of musicians, both internationally famous and amateurs. It is a tradition, and one that is seemingly beloved.
Why then was Summerfest happening in September? The answer is the same as the answer to a lot of why's nowadays. COVID-19!
And, at least according to Jim, the change in time had a real negative impact on the festival's popularity.
We visited during the day on Friday, as Jim had two tickets left over from someone or another's promo.
Like any medium-sized music festival, it's home to copious corporate sponsorship. Unlike others, it is home to some fantastic (though 'spensive) beer.
And for some strange reason, the cheapest drinks around seemed to be coffee & sparkling water.
Local group SSAANN cover of Montreal's "Wraith Pinned to the Mist", the perfect track for people who want to pretend to be in Antarctica.
After hearing a bit of music, we took a nice long walk to get empanadas. I went back to the festival later in the day with the hope of staying up late enough to catch a headliner (or two)--even though I had to leave town the following day.
Wearing extra layers to combat the lakefront breeze, I settled into a spot on metal bleachers. Where else could I hear a band anchored by a violinist decide to play "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," "Creep," and "America the Beautiful" back to back in that order.
Maybe it seems incongruous, but that just seems to be how things work. The small groups play crowd-pleasers, the big bands do what they want.
The people in the middle?
Former The Voice contestant and activist Raine Stern played a rousing, dynamic set that touched on a number of genres. Whenever horns and key changes were involved, my interest piqued the most, but overall, she certainly put on a great set.
As far as I was concerned, the headliners for September 10th were Wilco and Lindsey Sterling, both of whom were playing concerts simultaneously on separate stages. Sterling, a self-described "dancing dub-step violinist" is a significantly more magnetic performer than a band with some acoustic guitars.
And thus, she commanded my attention.
Until I inevitably walked home and went to sleep.
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