Mark Flehmer and I go way back. We met almost 20 years ago, and I care for him deeply. I know more about Mark Flehmer than I know about the majority of my family. I have shared thousands of laughs and beers and frozen pizzas with Mark Flehmer.
And yet, there are many things about this man I do not understand. Why does he wear sandals so often? No one wants to see those janky hooves! How many Glorioso’s calzones can one person possibly consume without gaining any weight? It’s vexing! This is scary, to think you know someone, only to realize, “Maybe I don’t know this person AT ALL”. This is never more apparent in this new tradition of “Mark attends all 11 days of Summerfest”. Damn you to hell Needle and Thread, damn you to hell Bo Black, and damn you to hell Weird Al. All of you are culpable. You all are playing into the continued downward spiral of a man who I consider a friend. Encouraging this behavior from Mark Flehmer is like loading up a bus of folks from a Gambling Anonymous meeting and dropping them off at the betting window of Churchill Downs. Yet again, when the Big Gig is rocking, I’m feeling like Dr. Norman Spencer in ‘What Lies Beneath’, with Mark Flehmer playing the part of the beautiful Michele Pheifer.
Now, let me say this: I don’t like Summerfest. I do enjoy live music, and I can conservatively estimate I’ve been to between 50 and 75 concerts with Mark Flehmer. Summerfest just ain’t my bag. While Mark Flehmer has been to 22 straight nights (and counting?), I think I have been to Summerfest four times in the last six years. Lifetime, I probably haven’t exceeded 22 nights total.
My main issues:
- 11 Days is far too long. I understand the economic boon that Summerfest brings to Milwaukee, but this pig needs to be brought to slaughter. I’d prefer a tight seven.
- Crowds. I attended Alabama Shakes with the Needle and Thread crew and Mark Flehmer this year. We left the Marcus before Chris Stapleton started and we rode the sky glider from the south end to the north end to catch some Peter, Bjorn, and John. I had a modest buzz going, until I looked down on the mass of humanity at the Nelly concert. I was disgusted. Each one of these people, these individuals who lead their own unique lives and have their own thoughts and fears and dreams, writhed and wiggled to early 2000s radio rap. Like ants serving their queen. The beer had worn off and I was awash with sadness. We touched down, I wolfed down a couple more beers, and tried to boogie away my anxiety.
- Sound Quality/Venues. I saw Death Cab for Cutie in like 2004 because I thought ‘Transatlantacism’ was my generation’s ‘Either/Or’ (It’s not). Ben Gibbard and the boys sounded so putrid that night it’s no wonder Zooey Dechanel dropped his ass. However, it wasn’t all DCfC’s fault, this is Summerfest’s biggest issue. Too many stages too close together. I loved Talib Kweli (maybe 2005) because he was loud enough to drown out the ambient noise. Your Ben Folds and Death Cab’s don’t and can’t do that, so you get “Brick” with a tasty dash of Billy Idol howling some garbage. Outside of the Marcus Amphitheater*, EVERY SINGLE act at Summerfest would be better at any other Milwaukee venue.
o *Kudos to the Marcus Amp for always sounding awesome (which is, you know, the point of music). I won great seats for Sting and Peter Gabriel. They both could still sing and play, and their 12 piece backing band brought the house down. I’ve been singing “If I Lose My Faith in You” like a 60 year old divorcee driving a Lincoln MKZ all week. Double Kudos to the Marcus Amp for serving MGD, my favorite beer.
- Lack of Lodging. A major component of a lot of other music festivals is the camping element. My suggestion for years has been shut down the Hoan Bridge and sell camping spots. Summerfest then can be entered via rope ladder.
- Nearly Every “Good Experience” I’ve had I’ve been under the influence. Outside of the aforementioned Gordie and Gabes show from Sunday night, I’ve been pretty blotto for all of my truly fun Summerfest “memories” (or stories about me at Summerfest). Now it’s one thing for underage kids to hit the bottle to the point of excess, but I’ve got to plead the Murtaugh on this (I’m getting to old for this shit). It’s not cute and not funny to be 28 and shirtless and evacuating your stomach. When alcohol becomes the primary fuel for fun and not an enhancer you need to reevaluate the activity.
- Freeway Flyer. I in no way condone drunk driving, so applaud anyone who uses this service when they’ve had a few pops, but try riding the bus to a park and ride sober at the end of the night solo (like I did after a Flaming Lips Show four-ish years ago), and you’ll find yourself in Dante’s Seventh Ring of Hell.
The one thing I really do like about Summerfest is the range of acts that are brought in. Sure, they’re never going to bring in my favorite acts, but I can live with that. The complaint I hear most about Summerfest from my contemporaries is about the “Quality of the Lineup”. Guess what, twenty and thirty somethings: EVERY OTHER MUSIC FESTIVAL EVER IS CATERED TO YOU! If you want your homogenous tastes satiated with aSaturday night of FKA Twigs followed by Justin Vernon and his cousin blowing on moonshine jugs followed by some super reunion followed by Kanye followed by a secret DJ set from Karlie Kloss go to Made in America Festival, Austin City Limits Festival, SXSW, Afropunk Fest, Divide Music Festival, Essence Festival, Outside Lands, Pemberton Music Festival, Vertex Festival, Bonaroo, Wakeroosa, Cochella, Oldchella, Summercamp, 10,000 Lakes, Pitchfork, Lolapalooza, Hangout, Governors Ball, Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, FYF Fest,
Neon Desert Music Festival, Panorama, Bunbury Music Festival, Middle of the Map, SXMusic Festival, Beale Street Music Festival, Osheaga ,Festival Musique et Arts, Sasquatch!, Sweetlife Festival, Mo Pop Festival, Lockn’ Music Festival, Eaux Claires, Boston Calling, Shaky Knees Music Fest, BottleRock, Napa Valley, Firefly Music Festival, and McDowell Mountain Music Festival. The idea of me bumping into an old boss, or that weird kid from your dorm, or one of my mom’s friends who’s had one too many wine spritzers is strangely exciting.
Where was I? oh yeah, back to the task at hand, my friend Mark. Why is he doing this? Here’s the interview.