Scenes from the 2013 Locust Street Festival
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Sunday’s Locust Street Festival found Milwaukee emerging from its shitty-spring slumber and slowly getting its summer-block-party groove on. The A.V. Club milled around for the better part of the afternoon and evening, taking in the crowds, the music, the beer, and the obligatory drum circles. Here’s our minute-by-minute report.
9:30 a.m.: Our weather app says the chance of rain has dropped to only 30 percent. And there was much rejoicing.
12:23 p.m.: First beer of the day. The brave folks who took part in the Beer Run are far ahead of the game, but you have to start somewhere.
12:38 p.m.: After denying a few fan requests, Sigmund Snopek III (pronounced “The Turd,” according to his drummer) drops the most Wisconsin song ever written, a veritable slow-jazz “We Didn’t Start The Fire” of Wisconsin proper nouns.
12:40 p.m.: As “Bubbler In The Dome” plays over his PA, Sigmund gleefully squirts passersby with water pumped manually out of what might be pesticide sprayers. The sausage toss is mere minutes away.
12:41 p.m.: Our first Locust Street Fest lap of 2013 has been completed. (Only 7 more hours and untold laps to go!) The Extra Crispy Brass Band is on the far west stage, playing a strangely moving—a charmingly scrappy—cover of “Killing Me Softly.” We love this city.
12:49 p.m.: Sigmund maniacally belts out his prog-metal classic “Hamburger Holocaust,” and we wonder if there could be a more fitting ambassador for Milwaukee music. He’s like our Billy Joel and Wesley Willis rolled into one character.
1 p.m.: Aaaand it’s the first drum circle of the day! Rejoice, Riverwest! (Overheard: “Why isn’t Tom Julio here to put a stop to this?”)
1:16 p.m.: Shockingly, the Riverwest Public House stage looks nowhere near ready for its first scheduled band, Fjords, at 1 p.m.
1:18 p.m.: New-ish folk outfit The Calamity Janes are the first act of the day outside of Linneman’s. The ladies’ simple but sweet Appalachian harmonies are offset somewhat by the incessant hula hoopers doing their thing on the fringes of the crowd. When (and why) did this hula-hoop thing get started again? When will it go away?
1:23 p.m.: Tiptoeing the fine line between genuine and passive-aggressive merriment is Sigmund’s calling card, embodied perfectly as he singles out a gruff-looking fellow walking by and shouts, “Hey buddy, smile! Everybody smile, it’s a festival.” He then launches into the potential theme song of the fest, “Locust Street Blues,” which surreally features the least-cheesy soprano sax solo we’ve ever heard.
1:35 p.m.: Fjords have finally started playing. Their sound is a blend of mild, Mogwai-style post-rock and driving electronic groove. The styles don’t necessarily mesh perfectly, and the playing is merely competent, but the band certainly has potential.
1:46 p.m.: Bathroom break. We duck inside the Riverwest Public House, where old-school Snoop Dogg is being blasted at delightfully ear-splitting levels. Curiously, the men’s and women’s bathrooms have been converted to unisex bathrooms to accommodate the crowds. (Overheard: “It’s a commie bar. Everyone owns the bathrooms.”)
2:13 p.m.: Nearing the end of his set, Sigmund sets in motion a track dedicated to his cat Mr. Pooky, and then wanders through the crowd, accosting random people with his melodica. This is how every Sigmund Snopek show should end.
2:20 p.m.: This year’s most prominent mobile grotesque puppet is a towering Grim Reaper, who wanders ominously past the Bremen Street drum circle as a small caravan of mobility scooters awkwardly hump over wads of electrical cords.
2:25 p.m.: We are thoroughly impressed by Midwest Death Rattle’s energetic performance. It’s noisy, bluesy, slightly math-y, mercifully un-jammy Riverwest rock. 88.9 DJ Marcus Doucette remarks, “We gotta start playing these guys.”
2:39 p.m.: Myles Coyne And The Rusty Nickel Band are up next outside of Linneman’s. We’ll be honest: we haven’t seen Coyne live until this point, but his group’s souped-up honky-tonk sounds great, and it’s perfect for this sort of festival. Plus, Coyne’s western-style shirt looks pretty damn sharp.
2:51 p.m.: We don’t notice a ton of costumed freaks this year, but the strikingly picturesque satyress (complete with horns and goat hooves) who wanders up and down Locust Street in the early afternoon deserves an award of some sort.
3:15 p.m.: Hello Death’s rendition of “Settlers” brings back happy memories of last year’s Juniper Tar residency at Hotel Foster. The haunting harmonies and unique array of instrumentation put this folk-ish band into its own category, and it’s fair to say the assembled crowd is captivated despite having been drinking for a good three hours already.
4 p.m.: Things have been running like clockwork at the Linneman’s stage, and The Delta Routine kicks into its first song, “Waste Your Time,” precisely at 4 p.m. The band sounds fine—it’s definitely Linneman’s most rock-oriented set of the day—though we spend most of our time chatting with Trapper Schoepp, who once again regales us with the story of how he saw that “Jump to Conclusions” guy from Office Space at Comet. (“The guy made a million dollars!”)
4:15 p.m.: There’s this British post-punk band called Savages that is getting a ton of hype lately, and then there’s this Milwaukee band called The Delphines who’ve been cranking out somewhat similar music that’s at least as good since last year. This echo-drenched set is easily one of the best of the day.
4:55 p.m.: The ATM at Sunrise Foods is out of service and the Porta-Potty lines are getting a bit unwieldy, but the real looming disaster is making the Riverwest horde choose between The Fatty Acids and Sat. Nite Duets, who are scheduled to play around the same time. We fear a rift in the space-time continuum is imminent.
5:30 p.m.: The Fatty Acids are playing to a huge, rowdy crowd outside of Linneman’s. Band member Kurt Raether is kicking a sweet “Recall Alberta Darling” shirt, and a few folks in the audience (and band) are kicking some sweet animal costumes. Is there any Milwaukee band more joyous, more infectious, and more enjoyable than this?
5:50 p.m.: The revelation that Sat. Nite Duets are now a four-piece is somewhat disheartening; apparently, guitarist Stephen Strupp has left the band (possibly only temporarily) for the LDS church. Of course, given the prankster nature of this band, we’re not sure if we should necessarily take Andrew Jambura’s word for this, but that’s the explanation he gives.
6:00 p.m.: The awful sound mix at the Lakefront stage is not helping Sat. Nite’s cause, but there’s no denying that the new single-guitar attack is nowhere near as effective, and the band seems somewhat lost and uncharacteristically not-goofy. Here’s hoping the band is able to revamp its sound with the new smaller lineup, or find a replacement guitarist soon; we’re not accustomed to walking away from this band’s shows unimpressed.
6:35 p.m.: We chat with Young Holidays’ own Max Holiday in between the screams and synth squelches of The Fatty Acids set. A Young Holidays LP is on the way, Milwaukee. Prepare accordingly.
8:33 p.m.: We pop into Linneman’s for a nightcap and catch Calliope’s first set. After a couple of middling covers to warm up, the band settles into its gritty, blues-rock groove. Although we can’t really hear the keyboards for most of it, this is still a blearily pleasant way to end the day’s festivities.