After years of hearing nearly nonstop white noise – the combined sound of more than a dozen stages rocking all at once – for 11 days per year over the past 50-plus years, the State of Michigan has officially asked Summerfest to "keep it down."
In a tersely worded letter released Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked that Summerfest officials consider the volume when staging its dozens and dozens of daily performances during the Big Gig this year.
"We’ve tried asking nicely, even sending a note with a gift box of Michigan wine," read Whitmer’s letter, "and we’ve tried drowning out all your incessant noise with concerts of our own ... but you just don’t seem to have gotten the hint.
"Please turn down your music or we’ll be forced to call the cops – or worse, send Kid Rock."
While Summerfest has typically considered sound issues when deciding where to build its stages and the direction in which to orient them, festival CEO Don Smiley admits they have rarely taken the city's Michigan neighbors into account.
"We really didn’t think it was that loud," said Smiley in a statement issued after the letter was made public. "In fact, we often aim the stages at the lake, to minimize the sound in Downtown Milwaukee and the Third Ward.
"But we had no idea it was bothering anyone over there, or that it was even loud enough to travel that far. I guess my ears are really shot."
Smiley denies knowledge of receipt of any wine from Michigan, though he says he did once enjoy a Stroh’s. He suspects that the complaint actually derives from Summerfest’s refusal to book shows by Ted Nugent, a Detroit-area native.
And, it seems, he’s on target.
When news of the letter broke, Whitmer’s office quickly denied any knowledge of it, saying the governor wrote no such letter.
"Gov. Whitmer loves Summerfest," said an aide. "In fact, she’s hoping to get there for the Verve Pipe reunion this year."
In fact, the State of Michigan seems to actually be embracing the Summerfest sound bleed, incorporating it into their iconic tourism television and radio advertisements.
"The perfect summer has a voice, and if you listen enough, you can hear it in our pristine forests and on our peaceful lakefronts," intones Tim Allen during the ad. "It says, 'Hey, if I got a plate of eggplant strips, would you help eat them?'
"You can hear the birds chirp, the wind rustle the leaves, the feet of drunk moms dance on picnic tables while dancing to a Rick Springfield cover, in a way that is truly ... pure Michigan."
At about the same time, Nugent tweeted "Summerfest and all of Milwaukee can just yank me, crank me."
In a surprising twist of events later in the press conference, Smiley suggested that maybe the State of Michigan should be charged the equivalent of at least one, but probably more, Summerfest admission fees for the apparently free (and discernably loud) entertainment wafting across the pond.
"We'd offer Michigan a decent discount on an 11-day pass," says Smiley. "After all, they are our neighbors."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.