Summer vacation: Day 10; Summerfest: Night 3

I’ve said it a lot over the years upon crossing a band or musician from my concert bucket list. And I’m going to say it again: Dreams came true tonight.

After years of trying to catch one of their shows, tonight I saw one of my favorite classic rock bands. None other than America.

After a low-key relaxing day at the apartment with Phoebe, while Kates visited with some friends in suburban Chicago, we ordered another round of takeout from The Irish Pub for dinner. Then at around 8, I walked down to the Summerfest grounds for one more night.

I headed first to the Miller Lite Oasis to see some old friends. But not just any old friends. I went to see the Get Up Kids. I ran high school cross country with two of them and played drums in the high school marching band with another. ... The bottom line is, even though I don't identify well with their music, I've had a good time following them over the years and greatly admire the success they've had. Heck, I remember them handing out their first CD during breaks from classes. When I saw them on the lineup, I decided I had to check them out.

* * *

I stuck around for two or three songs and then I headed straight for the classic rock stage to see America and claimed a good spot about 20 rows off the stage.

Playing when I arrived was a cover band called Bad Medicine. Their name would lead you to believe they were a Bon Jovi cover band -- which they mostly were -- but they performed some crowd-pleasers from other rockers of the ‘70s and ‘80s. They gave the crowd a healthy dose of “Rock and Roll” -- sung by a female lead -- and finished off their set with “Play That Funky Music.”

Still, the Bon Jovi stuff easily drew the loudest singing and wildest dancing from the crowd of mostly baby boomers. “Wanted Dead or Alive.” “It's My Life.” “Runaway.” And of course, best of all, “Living On A Prayer.” At times, watching the crowd was more entertaining than watching the band perform.

But for me, the real fun started when America arrived on the stage.

They spun off hit after hit, and filled the middle of their set with a collection of songs from their upcoming “Back Pages” album of covers. Or “songs they wish they had written.” 

Age has hardly slowed these guys down. And if it has, I didn’t see it. Every song sounded better and rocked harder than the one before it. At one point, Gerry Beckley roared into the mic, “These aren't oldies. This is classic rock!”

Capping their main set before returning for a two-song encore, the band ran off three of their biggest hits.

“Lonely People.” With a slightly faster and punchier take that was arguably my favorite song on this night, especially with the harmonica and keyboard jam in the middle.

“Sandman.” With a raucous flare while images of the 1960s flashed on the screen behind them.

And finally, my favorite America song, hands-down, “Sister Golden Hair,” which needed little help to get the crowd singing along.

As a side note, it always amuses me how the crowds at the classic rock stage contrast with those that fill the rest of the Summerfest stage areas. Often, the classic rock crowds are either just unfamiliar with or have no desire to follow the traditions and virtues of the Big Gig. The crowds at other stages are diverse and carefree; the crowds at the classic rock stage can be repressed and unfriendly. They also get cranky if you dare stand for the show, and that was the case again tonight. … It starts a couple songs in with the name-calling and yelling, “Sit down!” Then, if you don’t oblige, you get bottles thrown at you, which happened to me and my buddies at a Steve Winwood show (Has it really been six years!? Reading that post makes me feel aged). … Thankfully, there were no bottles thrown tonight, but we did get yelled at for trying to watch the show standing.

Here’s America’s set list, with a few of my videos linked up.

“You Can Do Magic”
“Don’t Cross The River”
“Daisy Jane”
“I Need You”
Ventura Highway
“Woodstock (Joni Mitchell cover)
“A Road Song” (Fountains of Wayne cover)
“‘Til I Hear It From You” (Gin Blossoms cover)
“If I could make it to the border”
“Woman Tonight”
“Only In Your Heart”
California Dreamin’” (Mamas & Papas cover)
Lonely People
Sister Golden Hair

“On the Way Home” (Buffalo Springfield cover)
Horse With No Name

* * *

As the crowd dispersed after the show, I finally connected with my good friends Laura and Kevin who had come to the show, too. We had tried arranging to watch the show together and had been looking out for each other more than an hour before the show began. But cell phone signals were so overloaded that texting was useless. It wasn't until just before the show began that we spotted each other over the crowd. And they were a lot closer to the stage than I. Like four rows off the stage. Doh.

We strolled through the grounds as we caught up on each other's lives. Eventually, we came to a spot with a direct view of the Harley-Davidson stage, where the Flaming Lips were reaching the coda of their show. And it. was. spectacular. ... I've always sort of wanted to see one of their shows, if only to experience the spectacle, which I had only seen on televised performances prior to tonight ...

I stuck around for several minutes before deciding to call it a night. I tried to take it all in once more as I left the grounds, and I stretched my arms above my head as I exited through the gates, waving a symbolic goodbye.
As I've left Summerfest each year, I've gone never knowing if and when I'd be back. This year, that was especially true.

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