FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Indie Music at Milwaukee’s Summerfest 2015

It’s that time of year, Milwaukeeans! Get ready for the onslaught of traffic downtown, never-ending crowds of local and out-of-town intoxicated bar patrons, and shuttle buses filled with public displays of affection!

Okay, fine, I’m being a little harsh on “The World’s Largest Music Festival,” sure, because with these downfalls of Summerfest comes a ton of great live music. Performers of all genres, backgrounds, and talent levels gather to perform eleven days of live music from the afternoon until the late evening.

Unfamiliar with Summerfest? Well, start off by confirming what you just read: ELEVEN DAYS OF LIVE MUSIC… 11. That’s a lot of concerts. Every year around the 4th of July, eleven days are packed with people itching for live music along Milwaukee’s lakefront. Excessive? Probably. But excessiveness is kinda what Wisconsin does best. Tickets range from $12-$19 for general admission tickets, with the Marcus Amphitheater headlining shows varying in price, depending on the act.

We sifted through the massive lineup featuring over 500+ performers on 13 stages to find some of our favorite indie music acts we cannot wait to see, in chronological order. And sure, there’s plenty of non-independent acts we’ll be trying to see as well. (Apologies to all the magicians and trick bike riders who didn’t make our cut this year.)

The Rolling Stones | Tuesday, July 23 | Marcus Amphitheater TRS-summerfest

Fine, we cheated… already. This isn’t technically within the date range of Summerfest, but the talent buyers just couldn’t say no to one of the greatest rock and roll groups of all time performing on the Summerfest grounds. And who could blame them? This date will be hosted by the smallest venue on The Rolling Stones’ current tour, and you bet your ass Milwaukee is appreciative of their attention. Tickets sold out for this show in a flash, so if you’re lucky enough to have gotten one, we’re mighty jealous.

Bastille | Wednesday, July 24 | Miller Lite Oasis Stage

We’re writing Bastille’s 10PM set in with chalk, on an opening day that really doesn’t bring much to the table, unless you like Florida Georgia Line (headlining the Marcus Amphitheater that night).

But hey, that’s what Summerfest is all about. Talk to 50 people on the street near festival grounds, ask them who they’re there to see, and I bet at least half of them will say something along the lines of “I dunno.” Summerfest gives an excuse to people who just want to see live music, no matter who is playing.

Kings of Leon photo c/o Will Rice
Kings of Leon | Photo c/o Will Rice

Kings of Leon | Thursday, July 25 | Marcus Amphitheater

I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for the Southern indie rock group, who were at one point up-and-comers, who grabbed success and radio play by the balls and ran with it, seemingly overnight. I loved 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood, still loved 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, and still even loved 2007’s Because of the Times (which the band played exclusively at their Summerfest date that year). After that, I’m hit or miss on a lot of the new material, leading up to last year’s Mechanical Bull, which found the group embracing their past with their arena-filling present. This show is going to be filled with hits, I can only hope it’s filled with the hits I know and love.

Yes, I dig a lot of songs by Caleb Followill and company, so sue me.

Other Notable Acts for Thursday, July 25

Not a fan of KoL? That’s fine… Summerfest has you covered in a manner that only Summerfest could.

  • Hip Hop legends Public Enemy play the Miller Lite Oasis at 10pm! Chuck D and Flavor Flav, ladies and gentlemen.
  • Trampled By Turtles bring their Minnesota-bred bluegrass to Uline Warehouse Stage at 10PM as well.

The Kooks

The Kooks w/ Atlas Genius & GGOOLLDD | Friday, July 26 | US Cellular Connection Stage

Look up “Radio-Friendly British Indie Pop” in that hypothetical dictionary of yours and you’d be sure to find Brighton-based foursome The Kooks near the top of the defining examples. The group was destined for stardom almost as soon as they joined forces, signing to Virgin Records just three months after forming. Following the most success with their sophomore album, Inside In/Inside Out, which went quadruple platinum in The U.K., and continued success with the follow-up, KONK. The group is currently touring in support of their latest effort, Listen, released late last year.

Warming up the US Cellular stage that night will be Australian rock group Atlas Genius (8PM), who won over listeners with the hit song, “Trojans”.  Milwaukee-based glam-pop GGOOLLDD will take the stage at 6PM, and could likely drawing a larger crowd than the two bands to follow. Led by the charismatic dance moves of Margaret Butler and the dreamy arrangements of Tony Hunt, GGOOLLDD are one of Milwaukee’s fastest up-and-coming bands with quite possibly the largest local following.

Other Notable Acts for Friday, July 26

  • Critically-acclaimed electronic producer/singer Santigold takes the Miller Lite Oasis stage at 10PM
  • Coheed & Cambria play the Harley Davidson Roadhouse Stage at 9:45; look for me (and quite a few others) to be reliving High School by doing our best to mimic the high-pitched wail of lead singer Claudio Sanchez. Oh, and air guitar. Lots of air guitar.

The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips w/ The Fatty Acids & Motion City Soundtrack | Saturday, July 27 | BMO Harris Pavilion

This might be the oddest combination to fill a stage bill this year. Perennial favorites and Summerfest veterans The Flaming Lips return to the fest to deliver what is bound to be another incredible live show. Seriously, there is nothing like a Flaming Lips show, Wayne Coyne knows how to deliver pure, unadulterated fun while performing live.

What makes this show even more intriguing are the bands that Summerfest has booked to perform before Coyne & Company. The Fatty Acids are another one of Milwaukee’s best bands, and will take the stage at 8PM. The true shame here is that Motion City Soundtrack is slotted for a 5PM start, which will could result in a terrible turn out on a S

aturday night, despite the BMO Harris Pavilion is the largest capacity “free” stage. I’m a little confused by the timing, but 17-year-old me is hoping to be proved wrong.

Other Notable Acts for Saturday, July 27

Saturday’s lineup is filled with acts that are sure to draw in major crowds. Here’s a rundown of what to expect:

  • Holy shit, STEVIE WONDER is playing?! Yes, the legendary Stevie Wonder is headlining Saturday night, performing at The Marcus Amphitheater at 730PM.
  • Third Eye Blind return to Summerfest for the second straight year. After performing at the BMO Harris Pavilion last year, I’m assuming it didn’t go so well, as the 90’s alternative group will be performing at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard Stage at 10PM. Either way, it’s bound to be a good time, you don’t realize how many great songs 3EB had until you find your voice broken the following day, only to realize you were scream-singing “How’s It Going To Be” and “Never Let You Go” the night before.
  • WALK THE MOON will play the US Cellular Connection Stage at 10PM with opening act MisterWives playing at 8PM. Just get me out of the grounds by the time they play “Shut Up And Dance” and no one will get hurt. Regardless, the area surrounding this stage will be packed with saccharine-loving pop music fiends, which is never a bad thing, really. Right?
  • In another odd twist, Braid and Maritime will perform at the KNE New Music Stage at 9PM and 715PM, respectively. These bands each have been hard at work longer than Walk The Moon and MisterWives combined, so I’m not quite sure what qualifies them to play at the “New Music” stage, but hey, who am I to gripe.

Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley | Sunday, June 27 | Johnson Control’s World Stage

Pay no mind to the stage name, Charles Bradley, aka The Screaming Eagle of Soul, performs the best modern revival of American soul, funk and R&B music I’ve ever seen live. Bradley is a musician that legends are written about, having survived more turmoil in his 66 years than you’d wish upon your worst enemy. Charles’ story was told in the documentary Soul of America, which instantly catapulted him into the nation’s heart as a true portrayal of the cliché “American Dream.” More importantly, Bradley is incredibly gifted as a musician and performer, echoing James Brown’s style and vocals all the way down to his charismatic dance moves and his unmistakable wail.

If you’re looking to smile and gaze upon musical wonder, do not miss Charles Bradley’s performance on Sunday night (10PM).

Other Notable Acts for Sunday, June 27

This will be another difficult night to schedule for some music lovers, or even those just looking to catch a glimpse at hype-incarnate.

  • Canadian indie-pop supergroup The New Pornographers perform at The Miller Lite Oasis at 10PM, with opening act Field Report (8PM). Veterans in their craft, The New Pornographers have been at it for over 15 years now, and released their latest album, Brill Bruisers to rave reviews last year. Chris Porterfield of Field Report is yet another one of Milwaukee’s musical champions who will take a major Summerfest stage opening for an internationally-renowned artist.
  • If you’re into this sort of thing, Paris Hilton will be headlining the Harley Davidson Roadhouse Stage at 10PM on Sunday night, performing a DJ set. I’m going to leave this alone, as I’m not one to jump to conclusions, but the announcement of Hilton’s DJ set during the initial lineup reveal had many “EDM Purists” up in arms. No matter what, there will be plenty of people in attendance, whether it’s for the right reasons is yet to be seen. Ryn Weaver (7PM) and Kid Cut-Up (9PM) are worthy of your attention if you’re looking for fun that night, performing at the same stage earlier in the evening.

Delta Spirit | Photo c/o Geoff Fortune
Delta Spirit | Photo c/o Geoff Fortune

Delta Spirit | Wednesday, July 1 | Johnson Control’s World Stage

One of our favorite indie rock groups will take the Johnson Control’s World Stage at 10PM on July 1, which unfortunately for them, is the day of the fest that is most stacked with talent. What makes this show worthy of your attention? The group has announced that this tour will be the last for some time, while the band members concentrate on family, side projects, and the planning of their next album. Delta Spirit have been bringing out an insane amount of “friends” for their shows on this tour, including members of Cold War Kids, Guards, Dawes, Local Natives and a ton more. Hopefully, the guys of Delta Spirit will bring a few of their famous and talented friends to the stage with them on July 1. Even if they don’t, there’s very few things that can beat a live show from Delta Spirit.

Other Notable Acts for Wednesday, July 1

  • Headlining that night will be Kendrick Lamar, with special guest Schoolboy Q. This will be one of the best hip-hop shows Milwaukee will get for some time, so kudos to Summerfest for getting the hottest name in hip-hop right now. Don’t go in to the show expecting to hear a lot of Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar has been skipping a lot of his latest effort in live settings, providing more of a party atmosphere.
  • Also playing that night? The Faint (US Cellular Connections Stage 10PM) and Aloe Blacc (BMO Harris Pavilion 945PM) are also performing. Not to mention my favorite band circa 2002-2009 Brand New (Miller Lite Oasis 10PM) are also playing. Yeah, like we said, Summerfest is ringing in July with a hell of a knock out punch. Try your hand at Summerfest Bingo and catch all of these acts.
Kendrick Lamar @ SXSW 2013
Kendrick Lamar

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros w/ PHOX | Thursday, July 2 | BMO Harris Pavilion

Not to be outdone by the previous day, Thursday July 2nd’s lineup is pretty spectacular as well. Wisconsin-native PHOX will take the second largest Summerfest stage at 8PM, and is sure to draw a massive energetic crowd. Which is perfect for the act to follow, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros who will surely feed off of that energy for their set at 945PM.

Other Notable Acts for Thursday, July 2

  • Summerfest staples Atmosphere will pack the Harley Davidson Roadhouse stage for their 10PM stage. Seriously, people come in droves for the “Minnesnowta” hip-hop act. Get there early for indie hip-hop great Aesop Rock, who plays the same stage at 7PM.
  • Vance Joy will bring his chart-topping hit indie folk to the US Cellular Connections stage at 10PM, another show that’s sure to bring in a sizable crowd, because apparently people haven’t grown tired of “Riptide” yet. OK Go will bring their raucous live show to the Uline Warehouse Stage at 10PM, as well.

Sylvan Esso @ AVClub Fest 2014 - Chicago
Sylvan Esso @ AVClub Fest 2014 – Chicago

Sylvan Esso | Friday, July 3 | Johnson Control’s World Stage

Sylvan Esso are riding high off of their self-titled debut LP, released last year to great reviews and even greater fanfare. Their Wisconsin following is undeniably loyal, with Nick Sanborn being a Milwaukee-resident and longtime staple in the Milwaukee music scene. Sanborn’s impeccably crafted beats are matched by Amelia Meath’s sultry vocals. This will be one of the can’t-miss shows of the festival, as the duo will surely be feeding off of the crowd’s welcoming vibe.

Other Notable Acts for Friday, July 3

  • Lupe Fiasco will perform at the Miller Lite Oasis at 10PM, with special guest WebsterX, one of the biggest names in the Milwaukee hip-hop scene.

“Weird Al” Yankovic | Saturday, July 4 | BMO Harris Pavilion

Curse you, Summerfest, for booking “Weird Al,” a staple of my childhood on the Fourth of July (945PM), a day I will undoubtedly be spending with friends and grilled meats. This will be one of the most purely fun shows of the eleven days, mark my words. CURSE YOU, SUMMERFEST!

Other Notable Acts for Saturday, July 4

  • You could also spend your holiday with Big Data (8PM – US Cellular Connections Stage), Robert DeLong (10PM – US Cellular Connections Stage) or Jane’s Addiction (1015PM – Harley Davidson Roadhouse Stage), but did you not read the above paragraph? “WEIRD AL” IS PLAYING.

There’s not a whole lot of indie music to see on the closing night, so we’ll likely be napping off the previous ten days and editing photos. Please forgive us.

Also, please forgive us for an excessively lengthy piece about Summerfest, but like I mentioned before, excessiveness is what Summerfest is all about… don’t believe me? Try the Saz’s Sampler Platter.