Summer vacation: Day 7; Summerfest: Night 1

And we walked and we talked
We don't have no time to stop that day
That day was a wonderful day

From the Brewers game this afternoon, we arrived in downtown Milwaukee this evening and settled into our Third Ward digs, compliments of Orrin and Kelli, who are letting us stay at their place through the weekend while they’re away on a vacation of their own.

And that means we are just blocks from the one, the only, the glorious music-lover’s paradise known as Summerfest.

Now, truth be told, I was on the fence about going tonight. We’d had our share of fun at the ballgame, and I would have been content to stay in for the night. The only band on the docket that I was truly interested in seeing was O.A.R., who I’d seen three times already. I had my sights set on taking in the Friday and Saturday shows.

But Kelli and Orrin left behind some extra tickets for us. The opportunity proved too good to pass up. The pull was too strong, and Kates actually ended up encouraging me to go for it.

So after some delicious takeout from The Irish Pub for dinner, I was out the door and walking down the city blocks toward Lake Michigan and the festival park. To say hello to an old friend.

Once through the gates, I was like a dog returning to his home. I nearly cried tears of utter joy and happiness. The sights of bands playing passionately on stages, surrounded by the Milwaukee cityscape on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, and crowds of people, young and old, fully enjoying themselves, soaking up the summer. The smells of grilled food, beer and other illegal substances. And the sounds of music, causing a vibration to run through your body like electricity. The atmosphere cannot be measured against anything else I’ve experienced, and it’s why I love going back year after year.

I began walking through the grounds and heard a spot-on cover of Bob Seger‘s “Night Moves” as I scouted out the new setup and stage at the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard. And I checked out the new south entrance outside the Marcus Amphitheater, which doesn’t look a shade like it used to. The iconic giant instruments have been moved to the new entrance, and the string of lights combined with the painted fences give off a cool vibe.

Eventually I stopped at the classic rock stage to hear some of Peter Frampton’s set. I wouldn’t call myself a Frampton fan, and the way a certain Chicago station played “Show Me The Way” over and over used to drive me crazy. But I was intrigued by the fact that he’s playing his “Frampton Comes Alive” album from beginning to end during his tour this summer, so I decided to take in a little up his show. … As photos of his heyday flashed on a screen behind him, I was pleasantly surprised by the music, but it wasn’t enough to keep me around for more than two or three songs.

A little after 9, I headed over to the Miller Lite Oasis to find a spot for the O.A.R. show. Arriving so late, I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting as close to the stage as I usually might. Again, I’d been there, done that, and I had made up my mind that tonight I was purely enjoying the atmosphere. I eventually found a spot on the second to last bench in the front section between the stage and the sound booth. Still not a bad spot.

Every stage seems to have its own playlist blaring on the sound system between bands, and tonight the Miller Lite stage was playing The Monkees. I got chills as the young crowd belted out the chorus of “I’m a Believer.”

At 10, O.A.R. took the stage. And the ride didn’t let up until they stepped off for good.

The guys played a lot of new songs and stuff I wasn’t familiar with. But it didn’t matter. They were kicking off their summer tour in Milwaukee tonight, and it showed. Every song sounded fresh and full of energy. Jerry Depizzo delivered some absolutely fantastic saxophone solos, and Richard On reaffirmed my suspicion that he may be one of the most entertaining lead guitarists playing today. Depizzo also was joined tonight by a trumpeter and a trombonist.

This Town” was upbeat and it rocked the crowd the way I thought it should have when I last saw O.A.R. and the “All Sides” album was just out. “Delicate Few” proved to be an early crowd favorite as well.

Lay Down,” one of my personal favorites, opened with the twinkling guitar solo featuring On and a sweet brass jam at the front and center of the stage. They followed it with a new song, “Heaven,” that featured a hip-hop heavy beat -- but I really liked it.

And then “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker.” The excitement crowds show for this song never ceases to amaze me. I think lead singer Marc Roberge barely sang because the crowd carried the vocals so well. … I just don't get what makes the song so likable. Then again, I’m not a poker player.

The boys started to wind down -- actually wind up seems to be the more appropriate phrase -- with another one of my personal faves, “52-50,” featuring Depizzo on another grand sax solo. They followed it with “Night Shift” and then the rocking “About An Hour Ago,” with their splendid piano and sax solos.

That send them off the stage, around 11:45, for the standard break between the main set and the encore. … After a couple minutes, the band returned to play “Shattered,” which the crowd really dug into.

And finally, saving their best for last, “Hey Girl.” It was a knock-your-ears-out finale.

To the point, I’d been disappointed with my previous OAR-at-Summerfest experiences, but this one was different. Maybe it was that I’d lowered my expectations. Maybe it was my totally relaxed, vacation state of mind. Maybe it was that I was just that happy to be back at Summerfest. … Tonight's was a great show, and I had a great time. But mark my words, this was probably my last concert rendezvous with OAR -- unless they appear on a ticket that I would not pass up in a million years, which I don’t forsee happening.

It sure was good to be back at Summerfest.

And my ankles are killing me from standing and rocking on the benches. Another reason to love Summerfest.

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