Another Summerfest has come and gone, leaving in its wake the usual assortment of sore feet, tired legs, sunburned shoulders, increased alcohol tolerance and empty wallets.
Before we look forward to Summerfest 2009, it's appropriate to reflect on the festival that just finished. Here are one writer's random musings about the hits, misses and in-betweens that marked this year's version of The Big Gig. Use the Talkback feature to add your own.
Hit: The redesigned Harley-Davidson Roadhouse -- Virtually everyone we talked with raved about the sleek, open concept of the new stage. Traffic patterns and sightlines were greatly improved, the VIP area was outstanding and the video screen enabled fans to watch the action from some cool tables right in front of the lake.
Miss: The older stages. Now that the Miller Lite Oasis and Harley-Davidson areas have undergone facelifts in recent years, some of the other stages are looking a bit tired by comparison. Rumor has it that the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard may get an overhaul next. It could be part of a much-needed makeover for the South Gate.
Miss: The Amphitheater entrance -- Speaking of the South Gate, the entrance to the Marcus Amphitheater before sold-out shows is frustratingly crowded and the process seems to take longer than necessary. Hopefully, a redesign will address that problem.
Hit: The Red Shirts -- Maybe this is a function of our friends getting older and "slowing down," but the security guards seemed to be a little less combative and a lot nicer this year than in years past. It can't be easy to deal with a bunch of over-served louts every night.
Hit: Cooler near the lake -- For about the 20th consecutive year, the Summerfest wine cooler provided a refreshing palate cleanser between rounds of beer. Let's hope they don't change that recipe.
Miss: The wall of sound -- This may be another concession to age, but the volume at several side stages seemed too loud, particularly during less-crowded portions of the day. I used to like checking out music at the Chipotle Rhythm Kitchen in years past, but two attempts this year revealed guys cranking way past 11.
Hit: Musical highlights -- The easiest thing to do is complain about the music lineup, so we'll leave that to others and talk about some of the highlights we saw on the grounds. Eli "Paperboy" Reed put on a rousing set before a crowd that was much smaller than his talent deserved. Ditto for Old 97's. Drive-By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo were outstanding during a July 3 bill that featured the equally enticing Paul Thorn and Lucinda Williams. Seeing the Zombies on the final Saturday was a treat. Matisyahu won raves, too, and my spies indicate that while I was busy reviewing the Jonas Brothers, 311 put on one of the more powerful shows in recent memory.
Hit: The food -- Sabor's skewered grilled garlic beef was a hit, along with Crawdaddy's jambalaya and the standards from Saz's, Venice Club and others.
Miss: The weather -- Nobody can control it, but nothing dampens morale on the grounds more quickly than rain and chilly temps.
Suggestion box: The music industry is in such a state of flux right now that booking bands for an 11-day festival has to be one of the tougher jobs in town. Summerfest is never going to make everyone happy, but I know some perceptive, music-minded people who think that contraction should be considered. They feel that removing a stage (or two) and reducing operating hours on some weekdays (maybe open at 3 p.m. instead of noon) would make a stronger festival. Other friends have suggested "theme nights" at the Amphitheater, such as a multi-act blues jam or a "guitar heroes" series. I know that stage sponsors want to appeal to all demographics, but there did seem to be fewer complaints when the stages stuck to certain types of music (Miller Jazz Oasis, Old Style Heartland Stage, etc.)
OK, it's time to share your thoughts. After all, the next Big Gig starts June 25, 2009.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.