Summerfest Day 4

Photo by Claudio @Claudiomke

Photo by Claudio

Article by Jax Fontane

It’s been years since I stumbled through the pearly gates that grant entry into the grounds that erase all hate, or perhaps just numb it, for a night. Still, in my absence, nothing has changed. At one of Milwaukee’s longest running attractions, any resentment is pushed to the side once you’re seated.  As the true gifts are the artists delivering hour-long sets that took years, often a lifetime, to craft and display.  Hopping in my ’06 Honda Civic, I jetted out of Riverwest, hit a right on Humboldt Avenue, cruising southbound until I was reminded of the Lakefront Fireworks. A fact I had known subconsciously for days, from seeing camp set up along the Lakefront, like the Russians were set to storm Bradford Beach.  If the Miller Lite won’t stop them, then I guess we’ll have to deploy the vodka. On the fly I saw a flashing sign from the corner of my eye.  An ATM for use, and I needed park money. A $3 surcharge, if it were $2.50 then I would have had more complaints. I have a thing for being short changed, but even more of a thing for clean-cut numbers. Making it into the grounds often feels like Oceans 12, but on this July day it only took 3 quick turns into a subtle hand to hand with the lot attendant who charged me $15 instead of $20, as I was claimed the last spot.  Onward I trekked, walking the streets freely, a man without a group or water bottle of vodka to pregame with while simultaneously fight off the Russian invasion.  Suddenly my lonesome feelings dissipated and I found myself talking to a man selling mixtapes in the flow of foot traffic near the main gate  He made the trip from Chicago under the rap alias Revolver 357, pushing his latest project, Preach Beef 2.  I applauded him, 18 tracks, and the motivation to self-promote.  He’s doing far better than me at the moment. The climb was now over as I stood at the precipice, and waiting I did not as my Summerfest Press Pass helped me easily slide into the promised land.  Walking northbound with my sights set on the Johnson Controls stage, I found myself weaving through a familiar crowd. Black shirts pressed with DreamVille over chests delivered a sudden reminder that a heavy weight was in our city tonight.  I quickly erased thoughts of hopping the fence in search of Jermaine’s sermon with the simple phrase that I silently live by: follow your hero or become your own man.

Sitting under the generous shade that the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage offers, I watched Abby Jeanne and company wrap up their sound check.  Undoubtedly a talented effort from all parties involved, but it was clear that Abby’s experience performing for nearly a decade, plus her  natural charisma, would dominate the stage.  As the talent retreated backstage before starting the show, I took my time to scan the crowd. Enough seasoned Milwaukeeans gripping fresh Miller Lite’s balanced out the weed smoke drifting throughout from front to back.  Each side with a vice of one’s choice to enjoy with the noise.  While what we often urge from our artists are rich stories and bravado, the simplest of gestures is what caught my eye from Abby before she even uttered a word. With her back to the mic she found her flow for over a minute, a silent tribute to her band, perhaps, before she turned around to bless us with her powerful vocals.  If anything, what the silent intro showed me was confidence, in my opinion, more powerful than anything she could have said.  Now that she had my attention and I felt safe in her care I began to analyze the stage.  My background in Hip-Hop found pure appreciation in the production that the band was providing, and it made me wonder how long, and how often they must mingle to keep that process efficient.  In the corner rests Amanda Huff, formerly known as Selfish Skin, engaged at all times, not just vocally. Communicating through kinetic movements, she let us know that she was in tune with Abby, but also has much more to offer herself as an individual artist. As she delivered her backup vocals teetering on the edge of fly on the wall and queen of the court, I hope one day to catch a set showing her full range.  Overall, collectively it was a beautiful display of energy and ambiance to compliment the set’s overall aesthetic.  I was fighting this comparison from the moment I felt it, because intuition tells me she has heard this before and it may be cliched. But Abby’s music personally touched me in a way that brought me back to a specific place, with one of those people who we all cross paths with from time to time.  Specifically, for me, ripping through California Highways when Adele released her project titled, 25. After consideration, I felt if another musician can recreate that place for me, then it should be spoken towards. If not to a magazine editor, then to a friend, or a stranger. It was apparent throughout that Abby has been at this for some time, as her ability to let the song breathe up there with the best facilitators.  I am both appreciative and inspired when an artist takes the time in-between songs to share the inspiration.  This is not so much a critique of Abby, but a comment, that I am interested in hearing more of those origins.

12 hours later, after a poor night’s sleep, I find myself riding down Water Street, bending into KK in route to the Hi-Fi Cafe.  My muse for the moment is Revolver 357, getting me in the mood to start my day and wrap up my finishing thoughts on the night prior.  As I walked into the grungy artist safe haven in Bay View and stepped up to the counter, I saw an Abby Jeanne artwork promo from her album Rebel Love staring down at me.  While I ordered my Rose Water Lemonade it was if I were ... equal.  Conversation with the sole employee tells me that Abby used to work there, spends a lot of time there, and basically grew up there.  Walking out of the door I smiled, letting go of cynical thoughts and exhaling a breath of independence.


Sometimes the story writes itself.