(Artwork by Matt Chic / Night Light Comics. Contact me for screenprinted posters, stickers, and coozies)
My day started at around 8am, waking up feeling anxious with a million things to get done. Not too different from every other day this past month. I had to get down to Brady Street early to start setting up the tent and staging outside of Hi Hat, Casablanca, and PAs at a bunch of different venues.
I grabbed a drink and some vegan bakery from Brewed Cafe, one of the places I miss most since moving away from Brady. Little did I know this is all I would eat for most of the day.
(photo by Pat A. Robinson, “Eastside Music Tour” Tap Snaps)
I continued making the rounds at the spaces hosting shows, checking in to see how everything was coming together. We had bands checking in in the early afternoon, and were supposed to start running our box office for ticket pick-up and day-of sales at the Hi Hat at 3pm. People were already popping in and asking about tickets, calling the bars, etc. so that 3pm quickly turned into a 1pm.
I think the feeling of “this is really happening” hit me when I checked back in at the make-shift venue we turned Casablanca into for the night, and watched WHY? soundcheck with “Strawberries”.
It was only mid-afternoon, but things were going smoothly and the street was starting to come alive. The snow was coming down thick, but I knew it was going to be a good night.
Altos started the day off strong in the 88Nine heated outdoor stage. The last time I saw them was as an expanded 18-piece, performing a live score to the silent Russian cinema classic Earth at the 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival. I’ve been itching to see them again since, and they played some great new material. Watch them play part of “Sing (For Trouble)” in a great video that was filmed and produced by Lee Matz (Milwaukee Business Journal), featuring live footage and interviews from throughout the day.
Though the street got more and more packed as the day progressed, I feel like playing an early set is enjoyable as a band – you get done playing, load out, and can just enjoy yourself with no responsibilities or places you have to be for the rest of the evening. I know some people played two or three different sets throughout the day (ahem, Myles Coyne).
That was definitely the case with Altos, as I ran into them multiple times throughout the night. We all enjoyed a nice, intimate set from Twin Brother at Brewed Cafe. They finished their set strong with “Blood Money and Treason”, the title-track of their late 2013 release.
(Twin Brother at Brewed Cafe, photo by Steve Roche)
I was able to catch a few songs at from Midnight Reruns at Up N Under. Jetty Boys, their Good Land Records label mates, had to cancel last minute, so Midnight Reruns started late to help fill the time leading up to Direct Hit! at 9pm. As last year should have proved to us, the venue unfortunately doesn’t really care about this event (or supporting the local music scene), and neglected to staff a sound guy again. They were a hassle to work with last year, and treated both the bands and myself like shit. This proved true again this year year when the owner kicked Brett Newski and his band out of the venue, refusing to let him play and telling him to “never step foot in here again”.
Mike Maimone from Mutts put on a great set at Wolski’s, one of the first shows they’ve had there in years. I didn’t even know they’ve ever had shows there. He played a set full of gruff yet catchy piano-ballads that awakened the spirit of Tom Waits. Mutts had a weekly residency at a venue in Chicago this past February, where Mike invited Kane Place Record Club, Vic And Gab, and The Delta Routine down to play. Thanks for showing Milwaukee some love and support! While watching him, I finally felt like I had a comfortable grasp on things, and was able enjoy a beer before racing off to the next venue.
(Mike Maimone at Wolski’s, photo by Steve Roche)
Earlier in the afternoon I had to run over to the upstairs of Rochambo to sort out some sound issues, and Higher Education Records started the show off with what would be a packed-all-night venue. I was able to swing back to catch part of both Eye.See.You w/ CSYSYK and Dana Coppa & Speak Easy’s sets. The packed second floor felt as if it could collapse at any minute, and I stood atop the cooler in the makeshift Pabst-and-whiskey-shot bar in the corner for a better view. I know that WebsterX killed it, but unfortunately had to miss him perform with Fresh Cut Collective, who performed four times that night – backing Dana Coppa & Speak Easy, WebsterX, and Klassik, as well as a Fable And The World Flat set.
(Fresh Cut Collective just released “MKE: A Music Sampler” online, featuring tracks from Fable And The World Flat, Klassik, Midwest Death Rattle, BLAX, and WebsterX)
(WebsterX at Rochambo, photo by fb user Channing Sabir Tooth Tiger”)
Part of the reason I missed WebsterX is because half of the guys in Hewn flipped their trailer while driving through some rough weather on their way in from Madison. I got the call letting me know they had to cancel, and was just glad to hear that everyone was alright. They were one of my favorite sets to see last year at Nomad, and I know they were upset to have to cancel. Shortly after I got another call – they simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and figured out a different ride the rest of the way into Milwaukee, borrowed gear from Midwest Death Rattle (thanks!), and still played a late set. Fuck, talk about commitment.
(Hewn’s trailer flipped over in a ditch)
I was able to catch part of both Maritime and Kane Place Record Club at the outdoor tent. It might have been the sold-out all access wristbands keeping people from packing that tent, but you missed out if skipped either of their sets. Maritime played a rare basement show in Riverwest the last time I saw them, which was a blast, but it was nice to hear them well-mixed with full sound. The band’s wives and children were in attendance, which is not an odd-sight at any of Maritime/The Promise Ring’s shows as of late. They played a setlist of familiar songs, and a couple new unrecorded songs. Kane Place Record Club played a soulful, energetic, and confetti-filled set that filled the entire tent with smiles. They are one of my favorite bands to see in the city, but their live show does them better justice than any of their recordings. Nonetheless, I still love their 2013 self-titled release and wish nothing but great things for these guys.
(Kane Place Record Club, photo by Megan Zarnott)
Sat. Nite Duets played to a packed room at Roman Coin, which proved to be the case for everyone else that played there that evening. I didn’t even attempt to push my way to the front, the sounded great from where I stood. All I could see was the drummer playing atop a pool-table-turned-stage. This band never disappoints. Even though “Electric Manland” just came out at the end of last year, I’m anxiously waiting for the next full length.
After dealing with a couple other responsibilities on the other side of the block, I was biking back to Roman Coin again to catch Soul Low’s set when I was stopped by Mama Digdown’s Brass Band marching down the street to a growing crowd dancing and following along with them. They marched for blocks, playing all the way as they entered The Garage and took the stage for their set. Easily one of my favorite moments of the night.
I snuck away a few songs in, making my way over to De La Buena, the first band I was able to see at Casablanca. A last minute addition to the festival, they had everyone smiling and dancing throughout their set. I picked up on some uncertainty from the owner as we were completely rearranging his upstairs in the morning, but was relieved to see him enjoying himself once everything came into fruition.
I made it back down to the outdoor stage to catch P.O.S. The tent was starting to really fill up, and certainly would have been at capacity if everyone who bought an all-access tickets decided to go to their show. They were one of the last sets of the night, and with plenty of room in the tent, we last-minute decided to let anyone with a wristband into the show. P.O.S frontman, Stef Alexander, is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. I found myself so wrapped up in his set that a younger, more reckless me front-flipped off the stage.
Right after P.O.S’s We Don’t Even Live Here came out in fall 2012, Stef had to cancel a tour supporting the album due to some health complications he was going through. In response to the set back, he successfully crowd-sourced a new kidney for himself that fall. He finished his set on Saturday by announcing that this would be his last song before getting his kidney transplant five days later, which was met with the excited, supportive screams from the entire crowd. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had goosebumps from the feeling we all shared at that moment.
(video shot/edited by Brendan Jones – Stef, “Wish me luck, I’ll see you guys in a few months!”)
I raced back over to Casablanca to catch the end of WHY’s set. It’s hard to put words to how good it is to see this band play live. Despite a couple unexpected sound issues, they put on a great show as always. The last couple times I’ve seen them play was in Madison, and I’m glad they finally made their way to Milwaukee. Josiah Wolf was a sweetheart and traded some EMT screenprinted posters for a few dated WHY? screenprinted posters, and hooked me up with a tshirt and copy of “Elephant Eyelash” on vinyl. I ran into Stef again, who had rushed over hoping to catch the end of their set too.
It’s nice seeing a festival full of artists that truly enjoy and support each others music. That’s probably an even better description for Milwaukee’s music scene as a whole.
I wrapped up at Casablanca and raced over to try and catch the end of Juiceboxxx at Roman Coin, but he had unfortunately just finished. Though I missed his set, I was able to catch up with him and some friends after. To get above head-level, he shouted into his mic atop a bar stool, then eventually from on top of the bar itself. (sorry if he accidentally knocked over some tap handles, Donna)
On to my next venture – Hosed On Brady for Enabler. As I showed up, I ran into my friend Jeff Lohrber (guitarist/vocalist) was already unloading. Enabler’s set had got shut done early set by the owner. They were the last of four bands to play at Hosed On Brady, a tiny tavern just off of Brady Street. Some light moshing and movement in the crowd during what is otherwise always an intense, heavy set from them caused the owner to pull the plug. She had never seen a band like Enabler, and was clearly caught quite off-guard. Hell, Jeff accidentally hit some guy watching their set with his guitar and he had blood dripping from his face, but happily told Jeff that they were the “best thing he’s ever seen”.
The owner called the police after a not-so-positive exchange with the band, which wouldn’t have happened if they could have just finished their set. Some drunk asshole also tried choking Jeff after their set, but was pushed off and rushed out. In the brief scuffle, the guitar neck of Jeff’s Les Paul was broken. On top of some personal turmoil that Jeff was going through, this was his last night in town after seven years living in Milwaukee, and this show was acting as his unofficial going away party. It’s hard enough getting everyone in the band in one city to practice or record, so the band primarily finds itself altogether only for a tour. They’ll be back in town June 1st, Milwaukee – make sure to catch them again then.
Outside of a few friends DJing for the remainder of the night, there was no more bands playing that night (Update – Brett Newski’s show was rescheduled for a late set at Nomad). I checked back in at the outdoor tent as it was being broken down, gathered my things, and officially checked out from my day’s responsibilities.
I met up with my girlfriend, and we left to meet up with our friends in Hewn. We all had a hotel room at the Hilton downtown, the same place P.O.S, WHY?, and Juiceboxxx were all staying. I bumped into JB again as we took taking the elevator up to our room, neither of us knowing his TMJ4 on-air performance would go viral a few days later.
We finally met up with the Hewn fellas and closed the hotel bar, then headed back up to our rooms. We hung out and had a few more drinks, then a few of us went outside to smoke. This quickly turned into a snowball fight and making snow angels, followed by running around the hotel and riding escalators. I got lost from the others, and may or may not have tried getting on the rooftop. I had left my phone and room key up in the room, and couldn’t remember my room number for the life of me. The guy at the check-in desk was being rude and refused to give me my room number, but I luckily caught the guy delivering our chinese food in the lobby and waited with him, knowing my girlfriend would be down shortly to pick it up.
I won’t lie, the rest of the night was kind of a blur.
I woke up the next morning in the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in some time, definitely needing a few more hours of sleep. A somewhat normal Sunday ritual, we made our way to the Riverwest Public House for a bloody to start our day. I ran into Joey Turbo, who had the same thing in mind. I was back to work at 3pm, and back to getting a normal night’s sleep for a chance.
Again, I want to thank everyone that was involved in making this happen – bands, venues, volunteers, sponsors, organizers, and you for attending.
Overall, this year was a huge success, but there’s always room for growth and improvement. I’m already thinking ahead to next year’s festival.. Two days? Expand to another neighborhood? We’ll see..