Going back to Summerfest!

I'm not sure how or why I've been so lucky these last few years. Now five years into this “adventure” and living hundreds of miles away, we managed to return to Summerfest last night.

Every year -- at least for the last few years -- I leave wondering if it will be my last trip to the World's Largest Music Festival. But every year it offers something to get me back, and for the most part the schedule works out in my favor. ... If this is my last year -- for a while -- it was a heckuva way to go out.

It's also continuing a remarkable run of seeing some of my all-time favorite bands at the heights of their careers, in some neat venues and some pretty unique performances. Fun at Summerfest two summers ago. Guster at Summerfest on the Fourth of July. Ben Folds at the Kauffman Center with the Kansas City Symphony. Ingrid Michaelson at Summerfest. Nickel Creek at Kansas City’s Uptown Theater. The New Pornographers in Omaha.

And now. By the end of this week! I will have seen four! of my favorite bands and artists. Mind blown.  

(A disclaimer: When I say favorite bands and artists, I'm including only modern, active artists who have released an album of original material in the last five years , which excludes bands like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Chicago, The Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas & the Papas and even Fleetwood Mac -- because of the modern clause -- among others. And if I were to concoct a Top 10 list -- ok, 11, because it's too hard to remove one of these -- of the bands or artists who fall into that category, it would look something like this, in alphabetical order: Ben Folds/Ben Folds Five, Guster, Ingrid Michaelson, Matchbox Twenty/Rob Thomas, Mates of State, The New Pornographers, Nickel Creek, Sara Bareilles, The Shins, Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Weepies.) 

When this year's Summerfest headliners were announced in March, my mind was blown. But the early schedules showed Mates of State and The New Pornographers both playing at 10 o'clock tonight on separate stages, and that presented a conundrum for me because, although I had seen both once before, I badly wanted to see both again. ... Then, more luck. At some point, as the acts, stages and show times were solidified, Mates of State were moved to the 6:30 p.m. time slot at the Miller Lite Oasis, and The New Pornographers were set to perform on the same stage at 10. Golden.

Also on the docket last night were The Mowgli's, who I would have liked to see only to hear this song. ... And Paris Hilton. Really. More on her in a bit.

So we departed The Farm after lunch yesterday and headed for Milwaukee. We made a pit stop at Lowe's to get ear plugs for the girls to wear at the Fest and arrived at Orrin's and Kelli's house. It's also become something of a tradition for them to join us for one night of Summerfest and provide accommodations for us before they take off for their own vacation. ... Phoebe and Brawley also have become fast friends since she joined the family last summer.

We arrived at the Summerfest grounds around 5 and let the girls play in the fountains for awhile -- next to a collection of guys beating on buckets and attracting quite a crowd. As they say, there is something for everyone at Summerfest, and this was definitely entertaining.

After splitting up on a search for food and meeting up again at a picnic table to enjoy our sustenance, we grabbed a spot on the benches at the Miller Lite Oasis. Third row!

We arrived just in time for Mates of State and it was a glorious feeling to be seeing them again. First, a tweet and a good, quick read...

Going in, I had read that their summer tour was offering something of a greatest hits collection, which pleased me and boosted my confidence that we would hear a lot of their hits and fan favorites. Indeed, we got to hear a lot from “Re-Arrange Us,” and Kates and the girls and I shared some fun moments singing and swaying to those songs -- “My Only Offer,” “The Re-Arranger” and “Now” -- which are come of our favorites to play during our dance parties around the house.

And yet, they didn't play “Fraud in the '80s,” which makes that 0-for-2 in the times I've seen them play. Aside from “Hoarding It For Home” and “Ha Ha,” they ditched their older stuff. “Palomino” was the only track from “Mountaintops” -- arguably their strongest album -- to get any play.

They balanced their set with new stuff from their just-released EP, "You're Going to Make It,” and it was all good. I've always believed live performances should enhance your appreciation for the artists, their craft and the music they're performing -- and Mates of State succeeded last night when it came to the songs from the EP. Going in, the album's third track, "I Want to Run,” was the only one I really considered a favorite. Interestingly, they played all of the tracks from that album except "I Want to Run.” And now I'd call all of them favorites.

Staring Contest” -- which, by the way, has a great video featuring the Mates and their kids -- was particularly great, but my favorite moment of the entire set was their finale. Kori Gardner took Jason's Hammel's seat at the drum kit while he took center stage at the mic, and they rolled into “Beautiful Kids.” Jason got about as close as he could to the crowd, kneeling at the front of the stage and making eyes with people. Then, as the song reached its climax, Kori moved to the center mic and beat her drumsticks on the mic stand while Jason continued to bounce around the stage.

While this go-around with Mates of State didn't feel as tight or intimate as my first date with them in Kansas City, their synergy remains as infectious as their music and it was a terrible shame that they were relegated to a 6:30 show and couldn't attract a larger crowd at Summerfest. Here's the end of “Beautiful Kids” ...

Mates of State's setlist ...
1. So Many Ways
2. Palomino
3. My Only Offer
4. Get Better
5. Staring Contest
6. Gonna Get It
7. The Re-Arranger
8. Hoarding It For Home
9. Now 10. Side of Boxes
11. Ha Ha
12. You Are Free
13. True Love Will Find You in the End
14. Beautiful Kids

(Updated 07.02.2015) Here's a good read about Mates of State from The Kansas City Star.

By the time Mates of State were finished, Kates and the girls had gone to make their bed times. In the meantime, my good friends from K-Town, Laura and Kevin, joined Orrin, Kelli, and I ... and the sleepy sounds of Field Report were forced upon us. Bon Iver would have been more interesting. It made no sense for them to be playing between Mates of State and The New Pornographers. Mates of State was so much more deserving of the 8 o'clock slot.

Finally, the clock struck 10 and The New Pornographers took the stage for the moment we'd all been waiting for. As I predicted to Orrin, they opened with the fist-pumping, can't-get-it-out-of my-head “Brill Bruisers.”

It was no match for my iPhone camera ...

As I'd also expected, Neko Case and Dan Bejar hadn't made the trip, which altered their setlist and made me ever more grateful for the euphoric show I got to see last fall in Omaha. While their big sound was still there last night, it was just a different show and vibe.

Just as the Omaha show, I was planted in front of stage left and mesmerized watching Kathryn Calder perform on the keyboard. She proved herself more than capable of filling in for Case, and her voice really soared on “You Tell Me Where,” “Mass Romantic” and “The Bleeding Heart Show.”

Also duplicating the Omaha show, “Adventures in Solitude” -- sounding just as sparkling and beautiful with Newman on the acoustic guitar and Calder on the keyboard -- and the sped up “Mass Romantic” were standouts of the set.

Here's a snippet of “All The Old Showstoppers."

Of course, the only way they could end it was with a throwdown of “The Bleeding Heart Show.”

Here's the review from Radio Milwaukee ...

The New Pornographers' setlist
1. Brill Bruisers
2. Moves
3. The Slow Descent into Alcoholism
4. Use it
5. Dancehall Dominae
6. Your Hands (Together)
7. Another Drug Deal of the Heart
8. The Laws Have Changed
9. You Tell Me Where
10. Testament To Youth In Verse
11. Fantasy Fools
12. Adventures in Solitude
13. All The Old Showstoppers
14. Champions of Red Wine
15. Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
16. Backstairs
17. Sing Me Spanish Techno
18. Mass romantic

19. The Bleeding Heart Show

So about Paris Hilton. ... The crowd for The New Pornographers -- a fantastic rock band with wide appeal -- was surprisingly sparse. Why? Because the teen-to-20-something crowd had flooded the ground around the stage where Paris was not really singing or performing but playing DJ, pushing buttons, turning knobs and spinning records on an electronic console by herself at center stage.

After The New Pornographers performed, Orrin, Kelli and I wandered over to take in the spectacle. Sure enough, it was Paris doing whatever she was doing. The kids were packed in like sardines around the stage, and still some managed to dart in and out like ants off to other priorities while talking on or tapping smart phones. From our vantage point, no one was paying attention to Paris.

In other Summerfest news and observations ...

The Rolling Stones kicked off the festival last Tuesday night in what was probably the most anticipated and buzzed-about performance in Summerfest history. Tickets sold out in seven minutes and I had a handful of friends who were lucky to be there. They weren't disappointed.

Here's a good read about how Summerfest landed The Stones.
And here's a good read about Summerfest and the Stones from The Wall Street Journal

Sheryl Crow also played Wednesday night, but we saw her in 2010. ... Vance Joy and OK Go are playing Thursday night, and The Doobie Brothers are playing Friday night, but they don't fit our schedule. I do plan to return Sunday night for Tonic, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Smash Mouth.

Stevie Wonder played Saturday night, and it would have been great to see him again. But I'm more than content with the memories of my night with him in 2008 ... Here's an interview with Stevie from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.


Happy birthday to me

How did I get so lucky?

Kates, the girls and I took off from The Farm yesterday morning and headed an hour down I-90/94 to my parents place to spend the day with them and celebrate my birthday. ... Kates also got me a colorful birthday hat that Faye wore much better than I.

Mom had a plate of sliced meat and cheese ready for us so we could make sandwiches for lunch, and Dad served me up an honorary Pepsi. The girls ate parts of their lunches but had more fun running back and forth through the living room and seeing who could beat the other in a race to hug me first.

For the afternoon, we headed to the city park. The girls immediately took to the swings and monkey bars, and Phoebe made a new friend, Emma, another girl about her age who was at the park with her family. In between playing at the park, we enjoyed relaxing and talking under a shade tree and later a good game of wiffle ball with Phoebe knocking the ball all over the field. Man, I wish she would let me sign her up for Little League …

Before leaving, Dad and I played a game of catch with the baseball. It was our second in as many months, and it was bliss.

Shortly after 3, we left the park so Kates and I could check into our hotel accommodations for the night with the girls. The hope for them was to rest and maybe nap for the hour or so before we were due to meet my parents for dinner. Instead they jumped on the beds and watched Disney Channel.

For dinner, our instructions were to meet my parents outside their neighborhood at 4:30 and follow them in our car to our final destination. They refused to tell us where we were heading and cruised down the suburban Madison roads into Sun Prairie, eventually reaching a refurbished brick building with a sign that read “Nitty Gritty. Burgers, birthdays and beers.” I laughed out loud and had a feeling I was in for a fun time.

The place had the environment of a sports bar and grill with large television screens at every angle. After confirming our reservation, I was invited to pick a balloon and directed to the bar to get my complimentary birthday drink. There, a barmaid took my balloon and tied it to a complimentary beer mug, gave me a card good for one free sundae a month for a year and signed me up for a drawing for a $50 gift card. My name also was added to a board behind the bar that projected all of the day’s birthday visitors. Beer in hand, I headed back down the stairs to rejoin the family and be escorted to our table in the main dining room.

Burgers are the specialty, of course, and I chose the Gritty Burger – an award-winning 6-ounce ground chuck burger with secret “gritty” sauce, served on a honey wheat sesame seed bun. … Then, for the grand finale, I was served a vanilla cake topped with a single candle that shot sparks higher than my head, while the entire wait staff sang “Happy Birthday” to me. Classic.

For the nightcap, we headed to the hotel. The girls and I wasted no time getting into our swimsuits and jumping into the pool while Kates and my parents pulled up some chairs to watch from the deck. For Faye’s first time in a big pool, she did well, giggling as I carried her through the deeper end of the pool. By the end of our pool time, she was bold enough to let me hold her in the water on her back and gliding sideways. I also gave a whole lot of piggy back rides to both girls. It was a lot of fun, and a worthy workout.

By 9:30, I was tucked into the bed next to Phoebe. And I was out.



When I awoke this morning, like I do every morning, I first reached for my phone to check the news alerts and emails I received over night. We’re on vacation, though, so it was a little delayed this morning. It was a few minutes past 9:30 a.m., and the girls already were awake and downstairs.

That’s when I saw the news that the Supreme Court had ruled same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. It’s one of those “Where were you when …” days our society will talk about years from now.

Without getting too political, I’m pleased. Pleased that our country now provides equal rights for all to marry who they want. I’m pleased for the people I know personally who have waited for a long time for this day to come … Just a few minutes after I saw the news, Kates came up to the bedroom and I shared the news with her. I then handed her my phone on which I had opened Facebook to see, at the top of my newsfeed, posts by two friends who are in separate same-sex relationships. …

The first from my friend Tim read: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

The second from my friend Diane read: We are free to move about the country and live as wife and wife in any state in the union. HOT DAMN!!

Pretty cool.

Throughout the day, I’ve sat here and watched the endless stream of tweets and posts about the decision, and the momentous cultural shift. Late this morning, it occurred to me – Man, what a week our culture and society!

After all, yesterday the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, saving healthcare for millions, and the Confederate flag is coming down any day now at the South Carolina capitol grounds … Tonight, the federal prison escapees on the run for weeks in New York appear to have met their demise.

To top it off, President Obama launched into a solo of "Amazing Grace," while delivering a eulogy at one of the funeral services today in remembrance of the nine people killed in a senseless act at a church last week in Charleston, S.C.

Here's how the NBC Nightly News ended its broadcast tonight.

From Time, here are today’s best marriage equality memes.

This one is my favorite.

This is one of my favorite cartoons of the day

And then there’s the White House, which is lit tonight in celebration of today’s decision.


(Updated 06.27.15)

Here are two more entertaining bits related to this week's news ...

First, from NowThis on President Obama's week ...

And second, in line with the debate about the Confederate flag in South Carolina, every state flag is wrong, and here is why. As my friend Ann, who initially shared it, wrote, this is funny and worth every minute of your reading time.


Summer vacation: Day 1

The vacation beard has commenced.

After a feverish few days of work and just preparing to take a vacation, our annual summer vacation to Wisconsin began today. And this year I’m taking advantage. Two whole weeks – which, aside from paternity leaves, is a record in my professional career.

We’ll spend most of it at The Farm, of course, with Kates’ parents. We’ll also spend a couple days with my parents. And there are a couple Summerfest visits planned. After all, Summerfest annually is the foundation on which we base our summer vacation plans. But more on that later.

Earlier this week, I pledged I would not be up late on the eve of our vacation so I could get a good night’s sleep for the trek north today. But I worked in my office until past 9, helped Kates put the girls to bed and then helped with the packing and worked to take care of some things around the house.

My pledge failed. I headed to bed around 1 a.m. and had to finish packing my suitcase this morning.
Kates and I pressed the snooze on our alarms a couple times and listened to a thunderstorm outside before we finally willed ourselves out of bed around 7:30 this morning. The girls stayed asleep until almost 9, giving Kates and I time to eat some breakfast and finish some of our packing.

By 10, we were on our way. We had sunshine, everyone was in good moods, and everything was great.

As we approached Des Moines, though, the sky had clouded overhead. Kates wanted to stop at Trader Joe’s I still don’t get the appeal – and it was raining hard by the time we pulled into the parking lot there. After picking up a few snacks, we drove across the street to a Chick-fil-a for lunch, and, to quote Kates, “every stay-at-home mom in a 10-mile radius was there with her kids.” The best part, though, was that the restaurant had a playplace where we could let the girls burn some energy – and that means we have a dining spot other than McDonald’s for our Des Moines pit stops. Oh, and Phoebe lost another tooth as dined on her chicken nuggets.

Then things got tough. The rain only got harder as we returned to the road and we seemed to be driving through the center of a thunderstorm, with lightning flashing all around us. There were times I could barely see the road through the pelting rain, and it did not let up until we passed through Dubuque.

Having the windshield wipers brushing so rapidly for so long nearly hypnotized me and made me sleepy. Between fighting that and the noise of the rain beating the windshield, my mind was strained and I fought a good headache for most of the afternoon. The struggle was real.

Around 4:30 p.m., we pulled off the interstate at Marion, Iowa, to fill the gas tank. I was so relieved just to pull under the overhang covering the pumps and have a break of silence from the rain. A smile broke over my face and I could feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.

Before we left the gas station, Kates gave me some Tylenol to soothe my headache. Then she suggested we get some Mocha Moo-Lates from the Dairy Queen across the street. I put some Joshua Radin on the iPod, and we were good to go the rest of the way.

We arrived at The Farm around 7:30 tonight. Grandma S. made some pizzas for supper. The girls put on a ballet show for us. And I even got to watch the Royals beat up on the Mariners, thanks to the wonders of MLB At Bat on my iPhone.

Day 1 of our summer vacation is in the books.

Oh baby, what a catch!

Is it just me, or has there been a crazy number of fans catching baseballs while holding babies this season?

I caught the latest play last night, via Twitter, as it unfolded. And it may just go down as the catch of the year. ... Though "Daddy Dearest" clearly snatched the ball from Adrian Gonzalez, and the umpires got it right on the review. On the other hand, he was just trying to protect his family, and I imagine I would have done the same thing.


How Royals fans have turned MLB's All-Star voting into anarchy

So the doubt about the legitimacy of the All-Star voting process and Royals players leading nearly every position is continuing.

This appeared in a Yahoo sports story today. And it’s awesome.
In every corner of the Kansas City Royals' clubhouse, they revel in the chaos, each player's face contorted into something that resembles a Guy Fawkes mask. Somehow, the American League All-Star team's lineup as of today consists of eight Royals and the best player in the world, and this, to them, is the most glorious kind of anarchy, one everybody involved wants to believe is built on the back of pure passion.

It may well be that the 25th-sized market of Major League Baseball's 26 mobilized, rocked the vote and did so without the help of a sneaky Python script or an undetectable Perl script or any of the ways around the system that for the first time has gone online only and seen itself turned completely on its head. Because right now, the single worst offensive player in baseball is the AL starter at second base and the single best offensive player in the AL is not starting and the entire thing is like a coastal fever dream in which the Midwest rises up and fights back for all those years of flyover jokes.
I don’t for a second believe any of the talk that the disproportionate voting for Royals players is the work of some hack job or cheating by Royals fans. As Ned Yost and many other Royals players have pointed out multiple times, every other fan of every other team in the country has the same opportunities to vote for their players. If you don’t like the way the roster is shaping up and want to see your hometown players in the staring slots, then vote. It’s as simple as that.

Heck, the Royals sent me an email inviting me to vote, so I did. With online voting now, it’s easier than ever to vote for the All-Star team, and my participation in the process this year is unprecedented. Before this year, I can’t recall the last time I submitted even one ballot – I think it’s been at least since my youth. This year being the first that paper ballots are no longer distributed at ballparks, I usually collected the paper ballots for posterity, not voting.

In a matter of minutes I had burned my maximum 35 votes, and I was finished. I made my selections. No more voting for me. … And frankly, I didn’t go into it thinking, I’m going to vote for all of the Royals players I can. As I do every year, I scanned the selections, and I checked off the players who I enjoy watching most. This year, that just happened to include more Royals than players from other teams.

Forget about all of the conspiracy theories. MLB says the Royals' votes are legit

But let’s not forget in all of this that the Royals – though most of America seems to have forgotten – are the defending American League Champions, who pushed the World Series to seven games last fall and came within 90 agonizing feet of tying that last game in the bottom of the ninth inning. So this shouldn’t be that surprising, and for that reason I believe every player in the Royals starting lineup – with the exception of Alex Rios, who wasn’t a member of the Royals last season and has been injured for most of this season – is deserving of being at or near the top spot at every position.

And I wouldn’t mind if the San Francisco Giants, as the defending National League Champions were doing the same in their league – but they’re not.

Absurd or not, there is nothing wrong with the Royals’ potential seven All-Star starters.
There are a lot of different ways to look at this, of course, from seeing it as a ballot-box-stuffing embarrassment that has to be stopped (along the lines of what happened in 1957) to … it’s sure been a long time coming for the Royals and their fans so, what the heck?

And, really, it actually would be fun and cool to see it play out this way.
For the record, I selected Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales for my American League picks, along with Dustin Pedroia at second base and Mike Trout as the third outfielder. Trout, as one of the best players in the game, is a no-brainer, and I only slightly regret selecting Hosmer over Miguel Cabrera. But that’s another vote for the American League Champion Royals for which Hosmer plays and Cabrera does not.

For the National League, I selected my favorites, not necessarily because of the seasons they’re having. Buster Posey, Anthony Rizzo, Kolton Wong, Brandon Crawford, Kris Bryant, Brian Harper, Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton.

Or ...

This is the first time in decades the Royals are a legitimate contender, capable of placing multiple players in the starting lineup, and if this year's Royals were playing anything like they played during the previous two decades, I don’t think we’d be having this debate.

Meanwhile, across the state, the so-called model baseball franchise in St. Louis is being investigated for hacking into the Houston Astros’ computer system. Now that’s a story.

(Update 06.25.15) I caught this podcast today, which features Joe Posnanski discussing the All-Star voting and attributing the high number of Royals players getting votes to "an extraordinary display of enthusiasm." Makes sense to me. Start listening around the 27-minute mark.


This week in softball

Another softball season is behind me tonight.

It seems as though we’ve had rain almost daily since early May – I’ll take it any summer month over the drought that some forecasters were predicting for us again this summer – and that means a lot of our softball games have been rained out. … Well, this week the parks and rec department decided it was time to make ‘em up.

So we played four games in three days. We played the first three games in a span of 22 hours over two nights.

We won game one easily Tuesday night, and I contributed by going 2-for-3 at the plate – two singles, a walk and a flyout to left, while scoring all three times I reached base – and playing third base.

Game two was quite a bit more entertaining. We couldn’t get our bats going and found ourselves down 14-2 after the early innings. They got their bats going, for sure, with a couple home runs including one shot that shattered the window of a storage building about 50 feet beyond the center field fence – on the fly. … But then we came back and eventually took a 21-17 lead. We held the opponent for one inning, but in the next inning they came out by slapping a couple hot shots my way, and I failed to handle them. Our center fielder dropped a routine fly ball, too. In a blink, our lead was gone, and the other guys closed it out with a walk-off.

By the time we showed up at the ballpark for the third game last night, most of us were sore and not exactly excited to play. We’re all in our mid 30s and older, after all. … We lost the game and it was our worst offensive effort of the season as we managed only a few hits and scored just one run. The game also snapped my streak of hitting safely in every game this season – a streak I think probably extended into early last season as well if I had kept better track.

We played that third game so fast that we finished it 20 minutes ahead of our time limit. We started taking the field to play another inning when the umpire made us aware we had played a regulation game but had time left over and invited us to keep playing if we wanted. Without skipping a beat, we shrugged and turned back toward the dugout, telling the umpire we were done. It was a hilarious scene.

We concluded the week’s games tonight with an easy win and saw a return to form with our bats. I had two hits including a nice ground ball up the middle that I stretched into a double and then a fly ball to left field that the fielder misplayed, allowing it to fall over his head. 

So that’s that. My team will keep playing with more games next week and the playoffs the week after that. But, with Kates and I taking the girls for some vacation time next week, my season is done.

I’m putting away my equipment bag and will wait to see what the possibility of another season brings next spring.


Don't Be That Parent

Saw this commercial for the first time today. Pretty funny ...

I'm not as behind as this mother on pictures of Faye, but it was a solid year or two after Faye was born before the ratio of Phoebe-to-Faye photos started to even out on our walls.