FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Summerfest 2016 – The Streak Continues…

Milwaukee, it’s that time of year again: Summerfest starts today – taking over the Henry Maier Festival Grounds in downtown MKE for eleven days of entertainment. For some of Milwaukee’s residents, this is a very exciting time of year – a time filled with fried food, expensive macrobrews, and plenty of live music. For others, it’s a dreaded stretch of twelve days that brings heavy traffic and out-of-town crowds, and of course, expensive macrobrews.

What side of that duality you fall on does not matter to us here at Needle & Thread… one of us in particular.

Last year, we sent Mark – our friend and frequent music debater to Summerfest for all eleven days of festival activities, and remarkably, he lived to tell the tale.

Not only that, but somehow we convinced him to do it again. That’s right, Mark will be continuing his consecutive days of Summerfest streak. We sat down with Mark to discuss the streak, this year’s Summerfest music lineup, and perhaps most importantly, his mentality and strategy.



Kellen: First off, why the hell are you doing this again?

Mark: I wish I had access to the creator of Summerfest so I could ask him if the intention was for people to attend all 11 days. Would the great Henry Maier look at the people who attend every day as true Summerfest spirits or tortured souls?

On a personal level, I’m doing it again to see if I can handle it and because I’m trying to get my fix. Michael Jordan didn’t retire after winning his first NBA Finals. Tom Brady didn’t say ‘Nahhh I’m good’ after hoisting his first Lombardi Trophy. Both of these guys endure long seasons and ups and downs in the pursuit of their goals.  Since doing this last year I have traveled solo for 6 weeks through New Zealand and spent 14 hours straight in a bar while opening and closing Wolski’s, so I’d like to think I’ve kept myself sharp for this repeat scenario.

Kellen: I’m not sure what’s more impressive there, but I’m fairly certain that your gravestone will read, “Milwaukee’s Marathon Man”. 

Do you feel like the 11-day streak continues on? As in Wednesday, July 29th is actually Day 12? Or will there be a clean slate when the festival begins Wednesday?

Mark: I’ll have a better answer for this at the end of the Fest.  Will this become a greater streak I chase after? Would I aim for the century mark of days attended in a row? Only time will tell. I’m scared to death that the moment I step on the grounds I’ll have some sort of Butterfly Effect moment where I’ll transport to where I left off last year. I’m trying to decide if Summerfest is redundant so I’ll look at this year separately but I’m sure my head will slip into yesteryear.

Kellen: I’m all-in on declaring this a 22-day streak if you can pull it off. It just sounds better. Also, please don’t do 100 days or we might have to actually start paying you.

Last year, you stated that your biggest obstacle was “Non-Fest Mark” – that once you were in the festival you were able to feed off the energy surrounding you. That brings me to two questions: 

1)As soon as you step back into Summerfest, will you resort to ‘Festival Mark’ like some sort of Hulk-like state?

2) Do you foresee this being your biggest obstacle again?

Mark: “Festival Mark” will be a necessity more so this year than ever before. For starters, I’m a year older which has me thinking it will hit my body harder. I’m not sure what age places you in your “prime” while at Summerfest, but something tells me that being under 20 and over 50 would be considered the prime years for endurance. Being 28 is a bit of a no mans land. I can’t think of another event where you can leave your prime and get into it again after a 30-year gap, but that’s just a testimony to Summerfest more than anything.

070215_DAY_JJ_-01521The biggest wild card this year is the “off day” falling on Monday, July 4th. This was supposed to be downtime to look forward to and recharge with. Instead, I’ll be putting down cold ones to celebrate our nation’s independence. Admittedly, during last years “off day” I tailgated a Brewer’s day game.

Anytime you attend 11 straight nights of Summerfest, you, yourself is going to be the biggest obstacle. Last year I was fortunate enough to have a stacked lineup that allowed me to have company all nights except for one. This year the lineup has jumped off a cliff and this will likely result in more solo adventures.

Going to Summerfest alone is an entirely different ball game.  I expect incredible self-reflection. There are going to be situations like an OAR concert, a show I have scoffed at for years, where I’ll have to really look at the man in the mirror. When the 10-minute version of “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker” starts I’ll have to either start embracing life with the die-hards or look around in disgust trying to get my hands on another beer. These are the challenges I’m ready to take head on.

I’ve taken some lengths to make the environment back at my apartment a bit of an incubator, starting with a window air conditioner. Last year after working up a sweat in the Summerfest sardine can I would retire to my bedroom often tossing and turning in the heat. The sweet relief of my Haier window unit could be the biggest X factor in this year’s quest. As a whole, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Kellen: I would’ve happily lent you my window unit last year, my bad.

On the note of the lineup, how do you feel about this year’s Summerfest offerings? Is there anything lacking?

Mark: Honestly, this is what I fear the most. Last year 10 out of the 11 nights there was a show I was genuinely looking forward to.  This year there are 3.

That leaves 8 nights of Summerfestin’ with bands that I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to see. If last year’s music was a distraction from the Summerfest chaos, then this year the whirlwind is something I won’t be able to avoid.

Kellen: I’m remarkably surprised to see that there aren’t any big hip-hop shows at the Marcus Amphitheater, given that the last two years alone saw big crowds for Outkast in 2014 and Kendrick Lamar in 2015. The ground stages have Common and The Roots, and then there’s always the perennial “throwback” hip-hop acts – which this year showcases Nelly and Sir Mix-A-Lot (ugh.)

What days are you most looking forward to, musically? Any sleepers on your list you want the unsuspecting Festival-goers to know about?

Mark: Considering I was Milwaukee’s first Milky Chance fan I’m looking forward to July 6th the most. I feel weak saying this, but I have my concerns on the potential crowd. I saw them last time they were in Milwaukee at a sold out Turner Hall and I can only imagine the lost underage bros parading through the bleachers like it’s a corn maze. Help me God.

Sleeper on the list is Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (Satuday, July 9 at 8PM – BMO Harris Pavilion). These guys had some steam in the 80s but recently got the gang back together within the past 6 years. Try the song “History of Modern” on for size from their new collection of songs. Make sure it’s a video of them playing it live, these guys were built for Summerfest.

Kellen: This medium allows me to do you that favor (here’s a video of OMD performing “History of Modern” live earlier this year:

I honestly cannot believe I just posted a live, fan-shot video of an OMD performance, but hey I guess this IS a Summerfest preview piece.

If you’ve got the cash, check out some of the Marcus Amphitheater big gets: Paul McCartney, Alabama Shakes/Chris Stapleton, Weezer/Panic! At the Disco, Blink 182, and even Selena Gomez will open the festivities with a likely entertaining show.

Outside of the Marcus Amphitheater shows, I’m definitely going to catch The Decemberists on Thursday, July 7th (Miller Lite Oasis – 10PM), Passion Pit on Thursday, June 30th at 10PM (Miller Lite Oasis) and I’ll be at Death Cab for Cutie on Saturday, July 9th (also, Miller Lite Oasis – 10:15PM) just for nostalgia. 

My sleeper this year is Diane Coffee, performing at 6:30PM on the Johnson Controls stage, tucked away on what might be the worst daily Summerfest lineup I’ve seen, on Friday, July 1st. The group, headed by the drummer of Foxygen, is way too good to be subject to the disinterested faces that they’ll be performing for at 6:30PM. But hey, we’ll be there.

What constitutes ‘A Day at Summerfest’ for you? It’d be an easy-out for you just to show up to the Summerfest grounds, make an easy lap around a stage, and call it another day in the streak. What daily activities will leave you satisfied with your streak continuing?

Mark: A day at Summerfest to me constitutes a minimum of 2 shows and 4 beers, usually arriving around 7:00 PM as someone who has a day job. Day expectations on weekends are much different. This is what I consider it at the barest of bones.

Everyone defines it differently, and depending on mood and expectations, my day can vary from logging solid hours at the tent-based flute band or hunkering down for a long time in preparation of St. Paul and the Broken Bones (Friday, July 8 – Johnson Controls World Sounds Stage at 10PM). I encourage at least one walk along the lakefront to avoid getting lost in the fried food, beer filled, bleacher jungle: always important to reflect on the beautiful location.

Kellen: I remember you somehow convincing me to join in a dance circle during that Peruvian flute band last year… so I’m game for Round 2.

Head over to Summerfest’s website to view the full lineup for the 11-day festivities, including admission promotions, food and dining options, and Marcus Amphitheater headliners.

Follow along with Needle & Thread on Twitter and Instagram for daily updates and photos from the World’s Largest Music Festival.

Inside the new South Gate