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.

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