|For Local Bands, How Big Is a Summerfest Gig?
By Julie Lawrence - OMC Staff Writer
Published June 26, 2007
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|Year by year, Summerfest has become many things to many people. By definition, it is the "World's Largest Music Festival." By reputation, it is quite possibly the Midwest's biggest bender. But above all, despite the huge headliners, the Big Gig is known locally as a celebration of all things Milwaukee and that in no way excludes our own thriving musicians.
What separates Summerfest from the Lollapaloozas and the Coachellas of the world -- and what makes it truly Milwaukee -- is the fact that it's able to book the biggies like Tool and Roger Waters, yet still save plenty of slots for the local bands that make Milwaukee's music scene what it is.
"I think that it's still the marquee gig in Milwaukee to get," says Summerfest's VP of Entertainment Bob Babisch of the ever-coveted Summerfest spot. "As far as exposure out there and being seen, it's just a cool gig to have. You get to play on one of those big stages with big production that a national act is going to play on that night. It's a pretty fun gig to do."
And while you're not going to see Decibully headlining the Marcus (yet), it's not surprising to see it and other promising local bands scattering among other festival stages -- some of the same stages that have hosted their share of hot tickets over the years.
"R.E.M. played the Rock Stage," recalls Babisch. "Bon Jovi went from playing the Rock Stage to headlining the Arena in one year. The old Main Stage in 1986, we had the Violent Femmes, the BoDeans and the R&B Cadets. It was Milwaukee night. It was packed. They did very well. It was a great night."
We talked to five local bands lined up to play this year's fest and asked them just how big they think this gig really is.
Third year, grunge-influenced Summerfest vets
June 29, 3 p.m., Zippo Rock Stage
Answers by guitar player/vocalist Joe Neumann
How many times have you played Summerfest?
Following the release of our debut disk, we submitted to Summerfest and performed the last three consecutive years, '05, '06 and this June.
What does a Summerfest slot mean to you? Is it a big deal?
As a local original band it's one of the highlights of the year as it validates all the hard work put into the project. Since it's summer, it's great to be out of the practice space, studio or late night club, seeing our shadows, trying to figure out what that bright orb in the sky is all about. It's cool to have a daylight gig where we can actually see the crowd and their involvement in and enjoyment of our music.
Is it worth it?
It's a known fact that money is harder to come by for original bands. Although Summerfest pays well that's not the reason we're excited about performing there. We love to play music. Summerfest is great because it introduces our music to a whole new group of music lovers. After last years' performance people from Chicago to Omaha bought disks and shirts and asked us to sign them.
What's the best part about playing Summerfest?
The size of it all is great. We're a little old three-piece band playing on the largest of the ground stages. (We) had to buy longer guitar cables just to be able to get over to our bass player John's mic! Overall, though, the fact that we're a part of the "world's largest music festival" -- a Milwaukee icon -- just feels nice to be able to say.