Summer in Wisconsin can only mean one thing . . . Milwaukee’s Summerfest! Billed as “The World’s Largest Music Festival” it runs from June 30th to July 10th in 2005 and features no less than 9 stages and over 800 performances. As a long time DEEP PURPLE fan, I was thrilled to see they were playing Summerfest and on Opening Day no less.
As a veteran concert goer each venue I attend provides its own unique set of circumstances that need to be considered when attending a show so Summerfest is no exception. Just like any other venue concerts on the Summerfest grounds have their pros and cons but on a much grander scale. For example . . .
Eight of the 9 stages are general admission so if you really want to be right up front to see a particular band the chances are good if you are willing to arrive before the other 100,000 plus folks who make the daily pilgrimage to the grounds.
If you arrive early enough to secure a great seat for the show you have only cleared the first of many hurdles, the next one is enduring the “wait.” I arrived around 3:30PM at the end of SOUTHBOUND’s set to score a front row seat stage left. Not bad but DEEP PURPLE wasn’t scheduled to take the stage until 8:30PM.
With a mere five hours to kill in 90 degree weather and sitting on a metal bench anchored to asphalt pavement people watching becomes the only means by which to keep your sanity. The Summerfest grounds provide a smorgasbord of people to ogle however five hours is a long time to ogle anything. It is also a long time to sit next to people who you either don’t know or quickly make the determination that you don’t like.
The Summerfest opening bands can sometimes make those five hours go by a little faster or they can turn five hours into what seems like five years. Case in point the band performing after SOUTHBOUND was OIL CAN HARRY. I’ve heard good things about their shows around southeastern Wisconsin prior to seeing them for the first time and thought they were a fun festival cover band with an eclectic set list including many 80’s staples. They even played Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” which was totally random and even had ME singing. The crowd had fun by shouting “Johnny Bravo” at one of the lead singers/guitarists because of his striking resemblance to the cartoon character.
The next band to take the stage was BAD WIZARDS out of New York. Their record company, Tee Pee Records, describes their music as “a head spinning squall of purple powered, deep-fried, 70’s chicken shack power fuzz, part street metal, part garage punk, part super soul shakedown that makes your skeleton dance to a song that your flesh does not know”. That description was very accurate but the huge crowd gathering for DEEP PURPLE didn’t seem to appreciate them. The lead singer, Curtis Brown, who reminded me of a young Joe Cocker in appearance and mannerisms, didn’t appreciate the crowd in return. As he introduced guitarist Tina Gorin to the audience he questioned why the crowd couldn’t applaud any louder for her since they just did for a band that played “JOURNEY songs.” The word choice Curtis shouted out over the PA system was a bit harsher though than mine written here.
Most of the Summerfest’s nine stages are in the middle of the grounds so that means the backstage entrances are too! As band members arrive in the late afternoon via vans crowds of people gather around for the rare autograph and photo opportunities that are usually only available to a chosen few at other venues. The musicians are easier to meet here than most places so this is one major pro Summerfest has going for it. Unfortunately, in order to meet the rock stars you have to leave your seat for an extended period of time. Unless you made friends with some of the people “you either don’t know or quickly make the determination that you don’t like” your seat will be swallowed up by the sea of humanity.
As the time neared for DEEP PURPLE to take the stage what once was a metal bench to sit on became a perch to stand on while others who may have arrived later try to fill in any vacant holes in the crowd. DEEP PURPLE took the stage promptly at 8:30 and my five-hour “wait” and third degree sunburn quickly disappeared from my mind. On the last few tours the band had chosen to open with songs other than the staple of “Highway Star”. Tonight they started the set with “Silver Tongue” from their most recent studio release 2003’s “Bananas.” They quickly launched into “Woman from Tokyo” followed by “Strange Kind of Woman” which satisfied the crowd’s thirst for classic DP.
The band continued mixing songs from the “Bananas” CD with classics such as “Perfect Strangers”, “Space Truckin’”, and “Smoke on the Water”. The highlight of the show was former DIXIE DREGS guitarist Steve Morse’s instrumental entitled “Contact Lost.” He was inspired to write the song because of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster a few years ago. The combination of his finger work on the strings and his footwork on the pedals held the audience captive for several minutes as they felt his music.
Morse is truly an under appreciated guitarist in the music industry and the same can be said for keyboardist Don Airey who has done an admirable job replacing the legendary Jon Lord a few years ago. The other members of DEEP PURPLE have been receiving their well-deserved musical accolades for decades now; they include lead singer Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice.
The 105-minute set came to a close with “Lazy” and “Hush” as the encore numbers. Overall DEEP PURPLE truly appreciated the enthusiastic Summerfest crowd that gathered at the Miller Oasis stage and said so on numerous occasions. Now I need to figure out what time I have to be here tomorrow morning to secure my spot for Tom Petty!
Ian Gillan – Vocals/Harmonica
Steve Morse – Guitar
Roger Glover – Bass
Ian Paice – Drums
Don Airey – Keyboards
Woman From Tokyo
Strange Kind Of Woman
I Got Your Number
Smoke On The Water