Jack and Pancakes: Summerfest 2012
- By Tom Noonan -
- Jul 13, 2012
I’m in an apartment in downtown Milwaukee, and a bottle of Jack Daniels bigger than my arm sits nearly finished on a counter to my left. I didn’t help finish it, but the number of people who did is shockingly small. Indistinguishable country music blares from laptop speakers, and incoherence has become the accepted, and adamantly encouraged, dialect of everyone in the room. We are only a few bus stops away from Summerfest, which has consistently been sold to me as “The World’s Largest Music Festival” though I’m not quite sure what that means.
The line-up on this particular night includes The Avett Brothers, Death Cab for Cutie, and, strictly as an obligation to my friends, The Zac Brown Band. As the alcohol continues to disappear and sing-along choruses coming through the speakers become chaotic, I begin to feel like I’m preparing for a marathon.
The festival grounds resemble a state fair only with less food items offered on a stick. The food booths are highly commercialized, sporting company names like Wendys and Buffalo Wild Wings. I initially find this off-putting but quickly find a complete sub-division of tattoo booths and arcade games that are not ostensibly commercially owned.
The Zac Brown Band is playing in the main amphitheater, the only place a general admission Summerfest ticket (which costs $15 per night unless you find one for free) won’t get you in. There isn’t really a bad seat in the place, and I say this because our seats are as far to the right as possible but still couldn’t be considered “bad”. Zac Brown and crew burn through some new material as I watch the time on my phone, planning my escape.
At 9:45, the time The Avett Brothers are supposed to go on, I wander from our seats and onto a balcony that overlooks the entire festival grounds. I’m trying to look up a Summerfest map when I hear the opening riff to ‘January Wedding’. I walk along the edge of the balcony until a stage comes into view. This is the thing about music festivals: you’re either lucky or terribly unfortunate.
When the Avett Brothers reach into their pre-Emotionalism catalogue, I make a run for it, literally sprinting through the crowded festival grounds. I let Ben Gibbard’s calm and distinctive voice repeating, ‘Before we all burn’, lead me to the Death Cab for Cutie stage. There are 11 stages, yet I’ve managed to find the two I need with very little effort. Luck is as important as a ticket.
While Death Cab launches into ‘Codes and Keys’, I take a moment to absorb my surroundings. Suddenly, I feel out of place. Around me stand groups of people talking and laughing while finding ways to drink from flasks and look unsuspicious. Almost none of them are completely aware of the band onstage, and their lack of interest is somewhat off-putting. I decide to go back to the Avett Brothers stage, but their crowd is no different.
After watching The Avett Brothers absolutely crush ‘I and Love and You’, I make my way back to the amphitheater in time to catch Zac Brown’s surprisingly stellar ‘Colder Weather’ and the undeniable crowd pleaser ‘Chicken Fried’. This has to be Summerfest at its best: the crowd singing along with their arms around each other and saluting when the lyrics tell them it’s time. It’s a glimpse of what “The World’s Largest Music Festival” should be.
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