Summerfest '07: Day 5

… Keeping with my routine this week, I wasn’t in bed until after 2 last night, and I was back up at 7 to finish some work I’d left undone … By 9 I was at the batting cages for an hour of practice and then I went off to buy some new shoes (I still had my gift certificate from winning the Corporate Cup … and I exchanged it for a new pair of Teva sandals and some sweet retro tennis shoes -- all for 25 bucks on clearance -- and $25 cash back …).

… And after that, I was meeting Cubs great Billy Williams ... He was about 10 minutes late getting to the signing, but his jovial personality lit up the room when he passed through the door. “Hey everybody!” he said as he made is way to a table at the front of the shop. “I want everybody pulling for Lily to get a win today …”

Then, as myself and a few other guys got closer to Williams in the line, the longtime Cub says, “So tell me what do you want me to take back and tell some of the guys.” The questions started coming …

“What’s going on with Felix Pie,” a man asked. “

Williams answered, “Well, I think he’s got his hands up to high. He needs to lower them. He’s hitting everything to right.”

“What’s wrong with Derek Lee’s power? Do you think his wrists are still bothering him?” another man asked.

Williams answered, “Nah. I think it’s just pitchers are pitching him outside. And then Aramis Ramirez being out of the lineup. They just aren’t giving him anything to hit.”

When it was my turn to meet and greet Williams, he signed a photo for me. We shook hands and he says, “Hey, you look like Al Shapiro! Anybody ever told you that?”

“No,” I said.

“He plays third base for L.A. You look just like him.”

I've never heard of the guy and an Internet search didn't turn up anything ... But sure thing, Billy. Whatever you say.

* * *

… By 5, I was off to catch the Freeway Flyer for another night of Summerfest

… The heat in Kenosha was retched, but somehow the weather was cooler further north at the Park N’ Ride lot, and there was a cool breeze sweeping through …Perhaps the heat might have deterred some people from going to the Fest; there were a surprising amount of empty parking spaces left in the lot. Even on the bus, Saturday night was the first night I’d taken the bus with no one standing in the aisles …

I arrived at the grounds about 6 p.m., and promptly headed for the Briggs & Stratton stage. Tonight’s plan was to see Guster, and I was not having a repeat of last year's Guster show (not getting a good spot, being surrounded by idiots, having a horrible time and being so disappointed I left the show …) …

I stopped at Major Goolsby’s to pick up a bacon cheeseburger (Seriously! BACON cheeseburger. There were pounds of bacon on this thing! After eating it, I was afraid I was going to have a heart attack before Guster had even taken the stage), and then found a spot on one of the last few benches lined up with the center of the stage. Cerfus Project was wrapping up their set, I had a good seat, and I was pleased.

I finished my burger and invited an older couple about my parents' age who had been looking for seats to fill the two spots I was holding to my right. To my left I had a charming group of high school-aged girls and boys (clearly Guster fans, four or five of the girls were wearing matching T-shirts) and in front of me I had a couple of girls who were my age that chatted with me and the other couple, in addition to exchanging high fives throughout the rest of the evening. It became one of those sweet nights at Summerfest when you and the strangers around you form your own little community and camaraderie …

By about 6:30 p.m., a band by the name of Scythian was coming on the stage. They had already got my attention when I watched their stagehands setting up violins and an accordion, in addition to drums and guitars …Then the guy who came on stage to introduce them mentioned the Washington Post has called them “one of Washington's most energetic and eclectic bands.”

Well, they played well all right … In fact, they were quite possibly the best non-headlining band I have ever seen at Summerfest.

Not one person was left sitting even one song into their set, and that’s a rarity for non-headlining bands. Without knowing the schedule or the bands, anyone walking past the Briggs stage while Scythian was playing could have easily mistaken them for tonight’s headliner given the crowd’s reaction.

Comprised of a couple guys on fiddles, a guitar player who doubles as the lead vocalist and the drummer, Scythian is a little bit country, a little bluegrass, a little bit rock, but mostly they were like “an Irish drinking band on speed.”

Vocalist Alex Fedoryka even introduced one song as “trashy Europe disco polka” and added “Everyone always asks what genre we play. But the truth is we don’t have a genre. We play music from all over the world.”

If “Fiddler on the Roof” were remade into a rock opera, these are the guys I’d want to have in the orchestra pit ... Then again, I’m not sure an orchestra pit would contain them. Aside from the drummer who was planted behind his set, the boys refused to stay in one place, constantly bopping around the stage. They repeatedly met each other around the center of the mic for jams. They played while squatting down; they played while jumping five feet in the air and doing the splits.

Seriously, did anyone have a video camera at the show!? I’m wanting the “Live from Summerfest” concert DVD. Scythian went on at 7:15 and led off their set with a quick jam and challenged the audience to get on their feet. Needless to say the crowd listened. The group mixed originals like with fiddle folk classics such as “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

Midway through the show, the energy level was so high, the violinist shouted to the crowd, “You guys better pace yourself! Guster’s still coming out!”

To wrap up the show they actually did perform a jam that started with the main theme from “Fiddler,” and that led to the band members doing a kick line, which led to the audience joining in. In seconds, the entire crowd, from one side to the other was kicking in unison from their posts on the benches... The benches! At Summerfest! And anyone who's watched a show while standing on those rickety things, knows what I'm talking about.

By 8 p.m., the band was leaving the stage. Like air being let out of balloon, the crowd promptly took their seats on the benches again. But when Scythian reappeared on the stage to begin cleaning up their equipment and instruments, the crowd rose to its feet again and began chanting “One more song.”

Unfortunately for the crowd, the band was out of time and the next band was getting on... In the meantime, I just sat in awe, breathless and hoping they come back to Summerfest next year ...

* * *

The next band to take the stage was De Novo Dahl ...

Obviously they had a tough act to follow with Scynthia and they didn't reach near the energy level. But their loud, bouncy rock songs seemed to keep a decent section of the crowd entertained, including me. It also helped that the band -- which featured four guys and a girl who played keyboard and sang harmonies -- dressed in brightly colored outfits with sequins.

With songs like "Shout" and their last song, "Be Your Man," (how can you not love a song with a catchy chorus of "uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, owww!") that made it hard to keep from singing along, I'll have to keep up with these guys ... as well as Scynthia, of course.

* * *

And finally, at 10 ...

(cue angel chorus)

Guster was taking the stage ...

I’m still wondering if this was planned or not (It was too good, I’d like to think it wasn’t planned... ), but typically, the recorded music that plays between the acts at each stage is turned off a few seconds before the oncoming band is about to appear. But tonight, just as Guster was stepping on to the stage, Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” began to play. The band took their positions on the stage and then they just stood there, gazing at the crowd, which had begun waving its arms in the air and serenading the band. Finally, lead singer Ryan Miller stepped into the mic and did his best Joe Cocker imitation, singing the falsetto “to me” that ends the song.

The crowd went wild and then the band burst into “What You Wish For,” which they followed with one of my favorites, “Manifest Destiny.”

Now, there’s a few things you can expect from a Guster show ...

A large, youth-oriented crowd. A solid pop-rock performance featuring the band’s catchy guitar licks and sunny harmonies. Some good laughs. And drummer Brian Rosenworcel practically beating his hands to pulp slapping bongos, cymbals and other percussive instruments ... All were there tonight.

Throughout the night, Guster mentioned more than once how much it enjoys playing Summerfest year after year -- which was music to my ears; I'd go see them again and again. They packed the Miller Lite Oasis last year and they very well could have done it again this year, but instead were cast off to the Briggs & Stratton stage while the alternative band Live had the Miller stage. And given the terrible acoustics at the Briggs stage, I was a little nervous about how Guster would sound, but it was OK ...

“We say it every time, but it’s so amazing to be playing here again,” Miller said early in the show. Later, he told the crowd the band already was planning a return for next year’s festival and promised some new surprises. Miller told the crowd Guster would play the ‘Fest every year if they’re invited.

Guster pleased the crowd with a flood of songs from their two most popular albums, 2003’s “Keep It Together” and “Ganging Up On the Sun,” which was arguably one of the best albums of last year ...

After “Manifest Destiny,” the set list went like this ...

“G Major”
“The Beginning of the End”
“Come Downstairs And Say Hello”
“Barrel Of A Gun”
“Ruby Falls” (another one of my true faves, complete with Adam Gardner putting down his guitar to play the song’s muted trumpet section ... )

Then, Miller told the crowd the next song would be the last before their encore and gave instructions to the crowd for how to act ... “We’ll walk off the stage and you guys pretend like you’re at a Toby Keith concert and cheer for more songs about patriotism,” he said. Then, after the group finished off “The Captain,” Miller shouted facetiously, “Thank you Milwaukee! We can’t wait for the next time we play here!” HA-larious!

... The crowd played along, and cheered at the top of their lungs. Then, came the chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and Guster had been off the stage barely 10 seconds before they were coming back again. It was was easily the most scripted and amusing encores I’ve ever witnessed. To top it off, Miller returned to the mic, shouting “Thank you, America!”

The band filled the encore set with “Brazil,” “Happier” and then “Keep It Together” as their final number ...

There were a bundle of dedications throughout the show too. Miller dedicated one song to a guy in the front row with a cowbell (a memento he’d caught earlier tonight after Cerfus Project finished their set and tossed it from the stage). And before the last song, Miller thanked the Major Goolsby’s stand for having “the best corn dogs in the world.” Then he added “We want to thank the bands you didn’t get to see tonight. Live …” before doing his best Ed Kowalczyk imitation, with a line of “Lightning Crashes -- “the placenta falls to the floor” ... HA-larious!

Miller continued, “And Collective Soul. They’re playing over there,” he said, pointing to the north end of the grounds “and Panic! At the disco” (which was playing at the Marcus). “Someday we’re going to go on a big tour with those guys. Guster and Panic! At the Disco!” Miller said with enthusiasm -- which was hilarious in its irony because given the two bands’ styles and fan bases, it’s unlikely to happen.

At almost exactly 11:30, Guster was leaving the stage to a similar disappointment that enveloped the end of Scynthia’s exit earlier tonight. The crowd clearly had enjoyed the performance and they were desperate to hear more. Instead the recorded music immediately switched on and -- waddaya know -- the first song to come on was Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” Singing at the top of their lungs and pumping their fists to the chorus, the crowd didn’t budge, hoping for Guster to come out once more ... I caught a sound guy on the side of the stage smiling back at the crowd and shaking his head as if to say, “Sorry guys, they’re done.”

Eventually, “We Are the Champions” ended. The crowd did begin to filter away. And I headed for the buses once more ...

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