Hot weather and Summerfest go together like, well, hot weather and Summerfest.
How did they go together Thursday? Here's some of the best and worst shows on the festival grounds.
If you’ve scrolled through your For You page on TikTok over the last year, there’s a 99.9% chance you’ve heard Gayle’s first and only hit “abcdefu.” The inescapable track has been featured in 2.4 million TikTok videos and streamed nearly 720 million times on Spotify.
But Thursday night was concrete proof a viral hit does not equal superstardom.
It was hard not to feel bad for Gayle. Originally, the 18-year-old songstress was supposed to open for Nessa Barrett until she dropped out of the Big Gig this week. With her departure, Gayle was moved up to the 9:30 p.m. headliner spot on the Generac Power Stage. Unfortunately for her, Thursday’s crowd was one of the smallest I've seen for a headliner in 26 years of going to Summerfest.
Despite the minuscule crowd, it was clear Gayle was over the moon to be headlining Summerfest. “Thank you for not booing me off stage,” she said before taking a video selfie with the front rows of fans. She also seemed incredibly nervous, talking a mile a minute in between songs, musing about how “life is like, really weird.”
Gayle’s powerful voice is a perfect match for her angsty Riot Grrrl-inspired rock, and she has plenty of catchy songs you probably haven’t heard on TikTok yet. But will she graduate from her one-hit-wonder status? So far, it’s hard to tell.
— Lauren Keene, Special to the Journal Sentinel
“I choose you, baby!” Anthony Hamilton exclaimed as he bounced at the front of the stage in the BMO Harris Pavilion before he led the hand-waving crowd to loudly sing the opening number, “Cool.”
Every time Hamilton and his three backing vocalists swayed in unison, the crowd screamed. “Did you come to get down?” the North Carolina native asked — a question that needed no answer.
As his grooving four-piece band bounded into a funky “So in Love,” a track Hamilton recorded with Jill Scott in 2011, the crowd reached for the sky.
Early in the show, Hamilton’s silky smooth vocals were unfortunately distorted by a microphone that was overamplified, but this audience didn’t mind.
“Where are my steppers at?” he asked as he pointed out to fans dancing in the front rows, before bringing the pace down to a sultry R&B groove for “Best of Me,” which later incorporated a syncopated sample from “Sexual Healing.”
“Milwaukee, I came to get down tonight," Hamilton said.
Milwaukee did, too.
— Erik Ernst, Special to the Journal Sentinel
Midway through his set at the UScellular Connection Stage Thursday night, Michael Ray sang “Run Away With You,” a 2015 Big & Rich song Ray had written with John Rich.
The brooding, thundering track was a unique connection to Ray’s entrance to big-time country music as part of 2012’s “The Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep” TV singing competition, on which Rich was Ray’s on-screen mentor.
Ten years, two studio albums and two chart-topping hits later, Ray is a country star himself, who performed a set with the pop-rock sounds of modern country radio mixed with a dirt-road streak that emerged in a fierce and defiant vocal growl on “Just the Way I Am.”
When slowed down on the breakup ode, “Her World or Mine,” Ray’s voice was deep, rich and smooth. The song slowly crescendoed into a bouncy interpolation of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside."
“I love you guys,” he said, with a big smile, as he looked over the standing room pit directly in front of the stage.
“Y’all are drinking with us out there, right?” Ray asked. “Oh wait, there’s a few places we go where we don’t have to ask that. Wisconsin is one of them.”
Seeing a fan holding up a sign in the crowd, Ray said, “We weren’t going to do that one tonight, but I’ll do it for you,” before strumming out a striking version of the poignant and nostalgic “Picture.”
“I’ve never performed that by myself in front of a crowd,” Ray said. It was one of those magical Summerfest moments when the crowd and artist come together for something unplanned, unexpected, and remarkable.
— Erik Ernst
Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren’s legacy in pop music history is assured, even if he’ll never quite be a household name.
Having built his reputation via record production, pioneering advances in technology and the occasional oddball hit song, the 74-year-old auteur finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.
Setlists for Rundgren’s 2022 tour had been virtually identical — until Thursday night at the Uline Warehouse. He opened the show with his first hit with The Nazz, “Open My Eyes,” followed by the 1976 non-hit single “Love of the Common Man,” neither of which had been played this year.
The man’s voice may have been a bit shaky, but it was vigorous — perfectly suited to a cover of Little Feat’s “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” perhaps not so much Weezer’s “Hash Pipe.” But somehow the tunes still paired beautifully together.
The stream of bizarre covers went on from there, accompanied by what appeared to be several martinis. It was comical for much of the time; heartfelt, self-effacing, everything befitting a self-proclaimed Unpredictable Tour.
— Cal Roach, Special to the Journal Sentinel
When Indigo Girls took the stage at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard Thursday, Emily Saliers greeted the crowd with a hearty hello.
“We missed you last year, Summerfest,” she said, after a COVID-19 diagnosis had caused a last-minute cancellation in 2021. “This is my favorite festival,” she later added, promising to make up for missing it.
The opening song, “Devotion,” lilted along the pair’s beautiful vocal harmonies, meeting on the chorus line of “I’m losing everything for you.”
“I hope you are ready to sing!” Saliers exclaimed at the top of “Least Complicated.” The crowd was ready, adding their voices to the soaring harmonies and acoustic melodies bounding from the stage.
Amy Ray strummed frenetically at a mandolin while Saliers picked at an electric banjo under the rumbling bluegrass of “Ozilline,” before the pair shared that they had enjoyed a day off in Milwaukee the day before. “I am sure glad for the Dairy Queen off of the bike trail,” Ray said.
The show was a bright, joyful and beautiful performance made only slightly less enjoyable by the sound bleeding from more electric performers at adjoining stages that overpowered the light and gentle tones of “Country Radio.” That didn’t deter the crowd, though, who sang along all night at the top of their lungs.
— Erik Ernst
There’s a bit in an episode of “Futurama” in which Fry — a pizza guy cryogenically frozen in the ‘90s who's revived in the 31st century — blasts some “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, and his friend Leela calls it “classical music.”
It’s funny because it’s ridiculous. But the truth is Mix-a-Lot’s outlandish ode to the booty has plenty of fans 30 years since its release — keeping hundreds of butts in their seats for a full hour at the BMO Harris Pavilion Thursday afternoon to hear that one song.
That hour was plenty padded, with Mix-a-Lot showing off gold chains he bought in the early ‘90s, doing Bucks and Packers shout-outs, and so on. But the crowd didn’t mind waiting, and enjoyed some nods to DMX, the Sugarhill Gang and other hip-hop vets until that glorious moment where they got to yell, “I like big butts and I cannot lie.”
Whether “Baby Got Back” is a legitimate hip-hop classic can continue to be debated for the next 30 years. But seeing a Milwaukee crowd partying on a hot afternoon to a 30-year-old novelty song — that was classic Summerfest for sure.
— Piet Levy, firstname.lastname@example.org
One saxophone, one lap steel guitar, one tambourine and two dueling drum sets: These are some of the instruments you’ll find on stage during a Revivalists show. The eight-piece New Orleans band brought its unique blend of roots and rock to the Miller Lite Oasis stage Thursday night, creating a robust wall of sound that would have made the late Phil Spector proud.
The show started off with a midsize crowd, but as the Revivalists continued to play, fans quickly filled the shiny silver bleachers surrounding the stage. Frontman David Shaw kept the crowd entertained with some goofy dance moves and high-octane call-and-response chants.
But Shaw’s biggest draw is certainly his voice. Deep, soulful and a little raspy, it could easily be mistaken for Bono's. No wonder there were so many intoxicated boomers dancing on the bleachers like a bunch of twentysomethings.
The Revivalists are celebrating their 15th anniversary this year; each member was all smiles during Thursday night’s performance, playing off one another’s infectious energy. It’s clear they work well and play well together, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they are still touring in 2037.
— Lauren Keene
Summerfest resurrected its popular Throwback Thursday promotion with discount admission, drink deals and nostalgia acts like Sir Mix-A-Lot, Boston’s Tommy DeCarlo and the Fixx Thursday afternoon.
In that regard, Son Volt — at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard Thursday afternoon — didn’t quite belong.
Sure, the Illinois band’s been around since 1994, emerging from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo (as did Wilco), and is best remembered for leading an alt-country wave in the ‘90s.
Jay Farrar and company played to a mellow but content crowd, with songs like “Tear Stained Eye” benefiting from the warm, broken-in arrangements that accompanied these tracks when they were first released into the world. And that’s the best kind of “throwback,” when the music you first heard decades ago is just as good today as you remembered it.
— Piet Levy
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Anthony Hamilton, Gayle and best, worst of Day 4 of Summerfest 2022