Missing Summerfest

I’m mourning tonight.

My beloved Summerfest kicks off tomorrow. And for the first time in nine years, I’m not attending.

This is more depressing than the night my mother prohibited me from going to see R.E.M. because there was a tornado watch for our county (It turned out to be a beautiful evening and we never saw a rain drop). And the night I missed The Shins because I was so sick I couldn’t stand up. Combined.

I’m utterly heartbroken.

This year, the Big Gig is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Worse yet, this year’s lineup is arguably the best I’ve seen in all of my years of attending Summerfest. I really, really like this year’s lineup.

Throughout this year’s version of the 11-day festival, there is only one night that doesn’t feature at least one band I’d like to see. This year, I would have set a new personal attendance record.

Let’s go down the list, shall we … And I’m not even considering the Marcus Amphitheater shows, which this year include appearances by the Beach Boys, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum and Aerosmith.

Tomorrow night: Steve Miller Band

I passed on a chance to see him at Summerfest a few years ago in order to see Stevie Wonder. If I could do it over again, I likely would make the same decision. But dang, it would be good to hear Steve Miller’s book of hits live. If I was going to Summerfest this year and I was limited to seeing just three performances, this would be one of them.

Thursday night: Ben Folds Five

I’ll come back to this one.

Friday night: Mutemath & Fun.

I was hooked on Mutemath the first time I heard their debut album, and I was mesmerized by their live show later that year. I would totally see them again.

As far for Fun, they’re only one of the hottest bands on the charts this summer, and I can only imagine how sweet it would be to be in that crowd when they knock out “We Are Young.” To hear that audience singing the chorus at the top of their lungs is sure to be a memorable time. And hey, let’s not forget the rest of that album of theirs is pretty decent, too.

Saturday night: The Briggs Bluesbusters & Three Dog Night

The Bluesbusters are a super classic rock cover band and one I’ve enjoyed as a staple of each year’s festival lineup since I first saw them in 2006.

I saw Three Dog Night nearly 20 years ago with my dad – my very first concert experience – as part of a rock ‘n’ roll show that also featured The Buckinghams, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and The Turtles. Much like Steve Miller, I’m more schooled in Three Dog Night’s catalogue now then I was then, and I’d love to see them again. Song I’d most want to hear them play: “Mama Told Me Not to Come.”

Sunday night: Chicago

These guys aren’t the band they once were – I much prefer their classic rock-jazz sound over the ballads that have defined them over the last couple decades – and some of the original members are gone. But I would relish a chance to see one of my all-time favorites just once. Not to mention hearing “Make Me Smile” live.

Tuesday, July 3: Joe Walsh

Member of the Eagles. Legendary guitarist. Three more words: “Life’s Been Good.”

Wednesday, July 4: Katie Herzig & Fountains of Wayne

One of the darlings of the indie music arena, I’ve been intrigued by Katie Herzig for awhile. This would have been a great opportunity to get to know her music a little better.

I’ve been a fan of Fountains of Wayne since long before “Stacy’s Mom” made them something of a Top 40 radio favorite, and listening to their groovy debut album always conjures memories of the fall of my freshman year of college. Fountains of Wayne is another example of a band I was thisclose to seeing before other circumstances presented themselves. Kates and I had gone to seen them at Summerfest in 2004 as they were still riding the wave of “Stacy’s Mom,” but a storm rolled in about an hour before they were due to hit the stage. Soaked, cold and miserable, we gave up our second row seats and headed home. I’ve been looking for another opportunity ever since.

Thursday, July 5: Death Cab for Cutie

I’m just going to put it out there: The night I saw Death Cab is, arguably, the worst concert experience I’ve had. But I still thoroughly enjoy their music and I’d gladly take a do-over.

Friday, July 6: OAR

Yes, I said after I saw OAR at Summerfest last year that I’d be ok if I never saw them again. But it is Summerfest, and if the opportunity knocks. …

Saturday, July 7

The only night that doesn’t feature an artist or band I’d like to see.

Sunday, July 8: Hanson

Not only is “Mmmbop” one of funnest songs of the ‘90s – yes, I said that – the Hanson boys have sustained themselves as a good-sounding little rock band. (See: “Give a Little.”) I’ve been chasing chances to see them ever since those “Mmmbop” days and I missed a number of them in Milwaukee. It was my good friend Tom who saw them play on a whim in a mall parking lot in Kansas City years ago and reported that they really could play.

So there it is. Sigh.

In a previous life, I would have done whatever I needed to do to be at Summerfest this year. But with a new baby and the work on my master’s degree intensifying, it's not happening. Now, Summerfest is an eight hour drive for us and no longer just one hour up the road.

Especially as I’ve grown older the last few years and we’ve started our family, I always left the hallowed Summerfest grounds thinking, Take it all in and enjoy it. This may be the last time you get to do this. The thought was especially present during our memorable night with Sheryl Crow, the night before our big move. But we made it again last year and made a glorious vacation out of it.

I’ve accepted the circumstances. And I’ll get over it.

* * *

The killer is what I’ll be missing Thursday night.

Ben Folds Five. One of my favorite bands. Period.

After a 12-year hiatus and a run of solo albums, Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge have reunited to record a new album. They’re playing a short run of reunion shows at festivals this summer, one of which is Summerfest.

Kates and I briefly discussed a road trip for a one-night stand in Milwaukee to see them before submitting to all the reasons we shouldn’t do it.

I nearly exploded in a dance around my office a few months ago when I saw a Facebook post announcing the reunion. I’ve hung on every Ben Folds Five-related posting since then, and I nearly cried earlier this month when I caught this video …

The images and memories of those golden shows come rushing back. Summer shows in Kansas City. A school night road trip to Lawrence.

Another to Omaha that proved to be the best of all. They were at the height of their game then with the Reinhold Messner album, and the memory of wild fans hanging over the balcony railing, whaling and pumping their fists as we all sang “Battle of Who Could Care Less” is etched in my memory bank. (A new band called Train put on a pretty great show that night, too. They played an acoustic set because their instruments were lost on their way to the show.)

Ben Folds Five was a diversion from those chaotic times of my youth. Their three albums spanned my high school years to a major family move after my freshman year of college. Everything was right when they were playing on my stereo or discman. I'm crazy but I get the job done was my philosophy. The band’s breakup was the beginning of the end of my adolescence.

Once Kates and I were together, I turned her into a fan and she saw a few more shows with me. But Ben Folds was a solo pianist then, and it wasn’t quite the same. We saw him during my first-ever trip to Summerfest in 2003, although “saw” is the operative word because our view of the stage was completely blocked. Rather, my fondest memories of the solo Folds stem from our second trek to Summerfest in ’04. The crowd’s singing nearly drowned out Ben all the way through that night as he played a healthy dose of Ben Folds Five favorites as well as his newer solo stuff, like the goodie, “There's Always Someone Cooler Than You.”

We saw him twice in ’05. At Summerfest and then at the Chicago Theater. We last saw him in 2007, at Summerfest. And it was good.

A couple weeks ago, this video appeared of Ben Folds Five performing at Bonnaroo. They’re aged now and hardly look like the kids they were the first time I saw them during the summer of 1997. But “Battle of Who Could Care Less” has never sounded so good. The reviews say it all.

In the words of Ben Folds: It sucks to grow up.

My trade-off -- for what it's worth -- is getting to experience the Major League Baseball All-Star Weekend next month in Kansas City. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for sure, and the excitement will build, I’m sure, as those days draw closer.

But I’m not feeling it tonight.

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