Eleven-Day Summerfest Brings Music, Food & Fun To Milwaukee

Carla Marie Rupp By

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You're pretty sure to find the music of your choice amongst everything on offer here.
Jazz, rock, country, it's all there, on many stages. Milwaukee's music and feasting extravaganza, Summerfest (June 27 - July 9), is held on 75 acres—like a huge state fair without the animals and 4-H displays. Music (and beer) is on tap all over on about a dozen stages, including the grand stage of stages. People love it and come from all over the country. It's a big music party for all ages. The organizers say almost one million people came along this year.

This year Summerfest had a member of the Jazz Journalists Association attending. Me. I enjoyed all the varieties of music, including jazz, and a warm brand of Midwestern hospitality. Journalists were flown in on Midwest Airlines for a look at the city and a sampling of its music.

During a backstage press tour, I learned that over 3,000 musical groups vie for spots in the Summerfest lineup. There were 950 acts selected this year. The Guinness Book of World Records calls Summerfest the largest music festival based on the number of acts.

The diverse musical lineup of regional and national entertainment always includes jazz, rock, alternative, country, R&B, Cajun and more. I roamed from stage to stage people-watching and getting saturated with the music. Most of the stages are named after corporate sponsors.

With eleven days of continuous music on all the stages, and the 23,000-seat Marcus Amphitheater, Summerfest is appropriately held in the largest city in Wisconsin. The Native Americans had a special name for their land: Millocki, which means gathering place by the water.

You're pretty sure to find the music of your choice amongst everything on offer here. I found jazz to enjoy among all the rock—while eating Hawaiian shave ice, frozen custard, roasted corn-on-the-cob, brat, barbeque or you name it, and they had it. It's a total experience. It was fun finding the great regional jazz groups, and since journalists were given comp tickets to String Cheese Incident (I loved the intricate solos of violinist/mandolinist Michael Kang) and Bob Weir and Rat Dog, I joined the huge throng of fans at those performances too.

Summerfest ran from June 27 through July 9. "It's sensory overload on the food, drink and music options. And that's a good thing, said Summerfest-goer Brett Woessner, from Shannon, Ill, along with his wife, Kris.

New attractions at Summerfest this year included a newly redesigned and constructed Miller Lite Oasis stage and area. This $3 million renovation increased the capacity of this lively area, with its jazz and other acts, to over 52,000 square feet.

It was at the Miller Lite stage that I enjoyed the dozen-piece big band, the Mr. Lucky's Swing Syndicate, along with some guacamole and chips, with an appreciative, participatory audience, many of whom got up to dance. You could recall the music of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and Gene Krupa in the band's performance.

Jazz Over Dinner at Il Mito

"With a Song in My Heart followed the jazz styling of "Angel Eyes as jazz vocalist Lynne Barber added to a wonderful dinner night at Il Mito, in Milwaukee's oldest neighborhood, Walkers Point, with her many beautiful songs.

"I have the best job in Milwaukee. I'm here every Thursday from 6:30 to 9 pm, she told me, during a break. Her husband, John Barber, who does public relations for the restaurant, gave me his wife's CD—Don't Let Another Day Go Bye—which features his title composition, in addition to tunes by Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington and Thomas Waller.

I can recommend jazz artist Lynne Barber's sensuous music during any visit to Milwaukee. Her vocal interpretations are easy on the ears. She and her husband have a real grasp on the jazz scene in the city. During a short talk with them, I learned that jazz names such as singers Tony Bennett, Diane Reeves and Al Jarreau have come through and performed in Milwaukee. So have instrumentalists Wynton Marsalis, David Hazeltine, Brian Lynch and Lynn Ariale. The local conservatory in Milwaukee teaches jazz and adds to the New York City roster of jazz musicians.

Originally from Corvallis, Oregon, Barber has been part of the jazz scene in Milwaukee for 22 years. "I'm self-taught. I have been blessed by working with some great jazz musicians. My mother was a good singer. She and I used to sing a lot at home. I remember telling her how I wanted to work as a singer when I grew up.

"I always remember the smile on her face when I asked for his music. I loved Fats Waller. Barber sings Waller's tunes "Ain't Misbehavin' and "Honeysuckle Rose, showing that love. Her husband inquired about jazz in New York City, recalling the days when singers Bobby Short and Mel Torme had their own places in hotels to perform. "Milwaukee used to have spots like that and they're thinking of having a jazz spot at the Wyndham Hotel here.

In 2007, Summerfest celebrates 40 years. The Big Gig is sure to be a Big Party.


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