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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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In the world of Summerfest, beer empties were made for stackin'.
In the world of Summerfest, beer empties were made for stackin'.

Is "cup stacking" out for Summerfest partiers?

I visited Summerfest three times so far this year, and each time, I noticed that fewer people were drinking from a stack of beer cups. In fact, on Monday night, at the raging Matisyahu concert, I didn’t see a single soul slurping beer from a stack.

Is cup stacking out?

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about: In the past, lots of party-hardy Summerfest-goers stacked their empty beer cups, keeping the full one on top, to show off the number of brews they’ve already consumed.

Cup staking became a part of the Big Gig's culture (there’s even a cup stacking T-shirt for sale) like Venice Club’s fried eggplant or that ubiquitous Ecuadorian band or getting spit on when walking beneath the Sky Glider. (Yes, this happened to me once. Luckily the loogie landed on my shoe.)

Maybe the next couple of days – since it’s a holiday and all – will generate more cup stacking. I hope so. Even though I myself was never a stacker of the beer cup, I miss seeing it.

Rain didn't dampen John Mayer's spirits -- or his fans'.
Rain didn't dampen John Mayer's spirits -- or his fans'.

Multi-talented Mayer delivers a crowd pleaser

During his gig at the Marcus Amphitheater last night, John Mayer showed his audience multiple aspects of his personality and talent, from down-to-earth acoustic pop musician to enviably gifted blues guitarist to full-on rocker.

Even though the evening started off with a few short but heavy downpours, the venue was very well attended – just short of packed – with enthusiastic Mayer fans ranging from teens to the parents of teens.

Mayer acknowledged his cheering fans multiple times, seeming to be  truly grateful for their appreciation of his music and their loyalty despite the fact he has not toured in a year.

"I know you’re not just here to hear the hits … You’re all here to see what I’ve been up to," he said.

Mayer, whose left arm is now adorned with an entire tattoo "sleeve," wore jeans and a black T-shirt which was stained with sweat by the fifth song – a testament to his energetic delivery. He played Fender electric guitars, occasionally switching to an acoustic Martin.

Mayer opened with "Bigger Than My Body," and went on to play – with the accompaniment of a seven-piece band – "Stitched Up" (which features Herbie Hancock on the studio recording), "I Don’t Trust Myself," "Crossroads" (an Eric Clapton cover), "Wheel," "Good Love Is On the Way," "Mercy," "Belief," "Vultures," "No Such Thing," "Why Georgia," "Waiting On the World To Change" and "Gravity."

He saved his latest single, "Say (What You Need To Say)" for his encore.

During the mellower, acoustic numbers, Mayer was breathy and melodic, the way he sounded when he started his career, but other tunes represented the harder, more experienced Blues rocker that Mayer has become.

Interestingly, Mayer commented on the unusual facial expressions he makes when he’s performing. (He often looks like he's making an exaggerated frowny face when he's deeply immersed in a song.)

"You all know I make stupid faces when I perform," he said. "It’s been…

"O'Back Barama."
"O'Back Barama."

O'Back Barama gets my kid's vote

Even in the summer months, when my son’s skin darkens from a milky mocha to rich hot chocolate, I don’t register that his skin hue is different from mine. Sure, we’ve talked about it a few times in a factual manner. Once, while watching "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals" he said, "Those cows have all different skins like we do in our family."

"Good," I thought. "He gets it. Enough said."

But I forget that despite our downplaying of his brown-ness, it is already a part of his 5-year-old identity. Yesterday, Kai saw Barack Obama on the evening news and said, "O’Back Barama is going to be a president and he has brown skin like me."

I am glad he will grow up believing that someone with brown skin could just as easily be the president as a white guy (or gal), but it occurred to me that Kai, who was born in Guatemala, cannot run for president someday. Suddenly, I had so many thoughts running through my mind, but  all I could say was, "Right on!" and flip the channel.

I got to The Miller Lite Oasis more than an hour before Matisyahu went on stage, but this was as close as I could get.
I got to The Miller Lite Oasis more than an hour before Matisyahu went on stage, but this was as close as I could get.
Some of the fans looked like this ...
Some of the fans looked like this ...
... but most of them looked more like this.
... but most of them looked more like this.

Matisyahu was no schlep at Summerfest

Last night was the fifth night of Summerfest, and the 29th birthday of Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu, who headlined the Miller Lite Oasis in front of a massive crowd. The birthday coincidence was good timing for a Summerfest show because it contributed to the already raging party vibe. (I haven’t smelled that much reefer in the air since Jerry died. Seriously.)

About halfway through the almost two-hour performance, a stagehand brought out a birthday cake and got the audience to sing the "Happy Birthday" song. Although Matisyahu kissed him on the mouth in appreciation, he went on to say, "The Torah says the candle is the soul of God and you should not blow it out, but I’m making a wish."

Matisyahu, along with his five-piece band, blew through a dozen numbers, including "Chop ‘Em Down," the crowd-pleasing "Jerusalem," "Moonlight Twilight," "Time of Your Song," "Lord Raise Me Up" and new songs "I Will be Light" and "So High, So Low."

He also belted out "Slap Me Daft," an autobiographical song about the lack of real-life knowledge provided by conventional high schools and a warning against drugs and alcohol use. "Substance dulls the mind / Traife wine clouds the heart / You can't sew a stitch with one hand / While you're taking it apart."

This song was well received by the crowd, many of whom were young, white teenagers and twentysomethings combined with a fair share of Matisyahu look-alikes. When Matisyahu played at The Pabst Theater last summer, the crowd was more diverse, with a representation of Jewish families and older, die-hard reggae fans peppering the mix.

Matisyahu, born Matthew Paul Miller, is a Hasidic Jew and therefore does not perform on Friday nights to observe the Sabbath. He wears traditional Hasidic clothing, including a yarmulke on his head and massive beard. During last night’s show he donned a white cotton shirt, khaki pants and tennis shoes. Towards the end of the gig, he invited hundreds of fans on stage with h…