Monday, July 04, 2005

I ain’t got no hot water and they shut off the heat Can you loan me some money for something to eat*

Savannah oak interlude

On the way to Milwaukee’s Summerfest, I stopped at a farm where oak trees three times my age grow along the banks of the Yahara River.

The last time I was excited by something that grew in the wild on a Wisconsin farm was … I can’t think when. But yesterday I was shown wild cotton grasses and gnarly oaks, sweet blackberry brambles and black walnut trees, and the stream that eventually becomes the Yahara – all making me think that there's something to the words “take Manhattan just give me that countryside!”

Madison July 05 033 bridge over untroubled waters

Madison July 05 037

sizing up the oak trunk

Oh, the festgrounds were crowded..

Madison July 05 050
From there it was just a … two hour zip to Milwaukee’s lakefront Summerfest.

Do Ocean readers know about Summerfest? Advertised as the biggest music festival in the country (by what measure? number of performers? number of visitors? number of concurrent stages? number of beers consumed by attendees?), it is first and foremost a bargain! One fee ($12) and you’re in: see as many musical numbers as you want, stay as long as the bands are playing.

Okay, so you have to eat and drink and you can’t bring in your own stuff.

Think you’re going to see photos of your typical greasy fair foods? Think again. With jambalaya, corn on the cob, roasted chicken and strawberries dipped in chocolate, along with seemingly bottomless wine coolers, I had a feast. Of course, the feeling of “this is a bargain” quickly wears off, but hey, you're paying for the food, the setting, the noise, the people-watching!

jambalaya over beerMadison July 05 064

A Shocked Michelle

Almost forgot. The music. It’s all about who is singing, of course, but the show is also in the audience. Summerfest is 100% Milwaukee. Yeah, I know, the audience is from all over, but somehow Milwaukeeans set the tone. You get the feeling that after the show, they’d like to take off on their Harleys and head into the sunrise, muscle shirts wipping their torsos, barely covering the elaborate tattoos. I felt at home (because of the tattoo, not the Harley).

Maybe I exaggerate a small bit. And I don’t even have many photos to back me up here. I had been so taken with the Savannah oaks that I used up most of my battery life on the farm, leaving me wondering when oh when will I get myself a back-up battery. The benefit? The post will be shorter as a result.

Madison July 05 052

Michelle Shocked was one hell of a singer though and would have been great to take many photos of. The audience as well – especially the delicious views of several hundred Wisconsinites wiggling their butts on command (Michelle’s song demanded it).

Madison July 05 056 "turn away from me and shake that butt!"

What would you be like if three of your boyfriends were driven to commit suicide?

Maybe you’d be singing dark songs to a packed, adoring audience. Like Lucinda Williams did this night.
Oh no, I would not succumb to that kind of thing – where you stake out seats hours in advance just so you can be in the third row, literally at the singer's feet. No, I would not do that, would I? Peer pressure! My fellow Lucinda enthusiasts, like me, were willing to sit through an entire performance of the Hacienda Brothers (you’re kidding! never heard of them? where have you been?) just to claim good seats for Lucinda.

Madison July 05 071a I thought young people could take the loud music in stride. Or maybe she was just blocking the Hacienda Brothers and forgot to take the plugs out afterwards. BTW, cowboy hats are in at Summerfest!

Lucinda was awesome. You have to admire a true comeback, where a singer has a dismal beginning, then gets herself a Grammy in her mid-forties and is drawing huge crowds of young people (okay, and me – but that’s fitting) at the age of 51.

Is it the dead boyfriend thing that makes her face look so defiant? So steady? And is it her history of tough living that makes her look to the lyric book to jog her memory with many of the songs?

Madison July 05 073 Lucinda Williams singing songs from "World Without Tears"

Regardless, she had the audience on their feet. You could not stand still – her music went right from the stage to your gut. Probably the best concert I’d been to in years.
[Thanks, Saul & Mel, for insisting that I go, for driving, for the whole day!]

* American Dream by Lucinda Williams