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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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15 minutes at the Big Gig and 2 brushes with "the law"

I went to Summerfest multiple times this year with adults, and today, I took my kids. Needless to say, it was quite a different experience.

Our visit didn’t start out on the best foot. Before going through the turnstiles to have our tickets zapped, we went through security. I had my "mom" backpack, filled with sweatshirts, snacks, (empty) water bottles, sun screen, Matchbox cars and the like, so the security gal made me step to the side so she could dig through the contents of my bag and make sure I wasn’t hiding a weapon in my peanut-filled Ziploc.

My husband and other son cruised through the entrance and were already waiting for us inside the gates.

I handed our remaining two tickets to my older son so I could help security go through my belongings, and in the meantime, Kai noticed a barrel with a plastic lid on it with a slit in the top. It was entirely too tempting, I guess, and he slipped the tickets through the slit -- a perfect fit! -- and into the barrel. When he told me what he had done in a quiet little voice I didn’t think it was a big deal, until security told me the barrel was filled with confiscated weapons (mostly switchblades) and that it was locked. She had to call the head of security to open it up, and said it might take a while.

Looking through the slit into the barrel, I could see two crisp tickets on top of a pile of knives. I asked if we could be let in anyway and they could scan the tickets whenever the head security dude arrived. Another security guy said no because they weren’t certain my tickets were valid. I was annoyed, but understood "rules are rules."

Luckily, after about 10 minutes, two official looking security men came, unlocked the barrel and handed us our tickets. We joined my  husband and son -- as well as a couple of friends -- and tried to put this near fiasco behind us.

We started our day at the stage and watched the Blood Stones play a cover by the Black Cr…

Former Milwaukeean John Kruth now lives in New York City.
Former Milwaukeean John Kruth now lives in New York City.

Summerfest: 5 things I miss, 6 improvements I dig

I've been to Summerfest every year since I was born (according to my parents), and here are 11 thoughts on the Big Gig. 

Five things I wish were still at Summerfest:

1.    The Midway  -- I love the glitzy eye candy of a carnival. I miss seeing the Ferris wheel at night while sitting on the rocks next to the lake.
2.    Sprecher beer -- I always started off a Summerfest evening with a Sprecher.
3.    The old fountain -- The new splash pad just doesn’t do it for me.
4.    Cup stacking – As stated in an earlier blog, it seems cup-stacking is out.
5.    John Kruth -- Kruth and his mighty mandolin were a Summerfest staple. (Herbie Hancock at the Miller Oasis was classic, too.)

Six "new" things at Summerfest that I really like:

1.    The Marcus Amphitheater ("The Amp") – The old "main stage" on the north end of the grounds blows in comparison.
2.    The Harley Stage remodel -- Much more open and inviting; easy to navigate through.
3.    The addition of screens at smaller stages -- Great idea for those of us who don’t always feel like weaseling our way to the front.
4.    Continual growth of kids’ activities -- Keep going, Summerfest. National kids' bands would be great.
5.    Lakefront Brewery I.P.A. -- I heart this beer and am thrilled it’s available this year.
6.    Lakeshore State Park -- You can’t get to it from inside the Summerfest grounds, but if you access this 17-acre park jutting out into the lake from the entrance next to Discovery World, it creates an interesting perspective of the Big Gig.

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…