By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Nov 13, 2013 at 9:16 AM

When meeting for an interview, long-time Milwaukee punk rocker Paul "Fly" Lawson brings a scrapbook. The scrapbook is filled with copies of hand-made posters and advertisements ranging from over the past several decades, the kind that are hard to find these days. Now, they've been replaced by clean computer-made posters or, most likely, Facebook invites. Each one comes with fountains of memories for Lawson.

In a way, that scrapbook exactly represents the appeal of Trashfest, celebrating its 30th anniversary Friday night at the Miramar Theatre. In a time for music where polish is often favored over personality, Trashfest is a deliberately goofy, messy, unkempt and raucous evening dedicated to the fun, joy and ridiculousness of music.

And ridiculous it most certainly is, occasionally flying past trashy and heading straight toward demented. According to Lawson, in one of Trashfest's most famous stories, the late local punk legend Bert Phillips – the frontman of Beautiful Bert and the Crotch Crickets – took a Usinger's sausage on stage with him for their first show and put it in a place where most tasty deli products dare not go.

That's possibly the most bizarre and craziest story Lawson has collected over the past 30 years as one of the lead organizers of Trashfest (it's now an all-ages show), but it’s far from the only one.

"It’s just a chance to do something different," Lawson said. "These bands don’t usually do a normal set. Some will be joke bands, or I’ll find some band that’s really weird that you’ll never see around and get them to play. So it’s something different. Everybody’s out there all year round, doing their own thing and making the best of it, and this gives them a chance to goof around, dress up, use props and whatever you want to do."

The tribute to bad music and good times – originally called Trash Bash – started back in 1984 by Voot Warnings at an old Milwaukee punk dive called Irene J’s ("a real dump," according to Lawson, with pigeon poop all over the place), formerly on South 2nd Street.

At the time, it was a fairly straightforward punk show spread across two nights, but it evolved over the years into an event worthy of the name Trashfest. Or perhaps "evolved" isn’t the right word for a show that involves hurling cardboard trees on stage and bizarre bands.

Lawson – a Milwaukee music mainstay who’s played in a variety of bands, including Dr. Chow’s Love Medicine for the past 13 years – took over running Trashfest in 1987. He started prepping and planning for the event about three months ago with his small crew of helpers.

One of the crucial elements is the lineup of sometimes kitschy, always crazy bands. This year’s set includes acts like perennial Trashfest openers Nervous Virgins, death metal polka group Cheese of the Goat, crazy solo band Serbs You Right, rockin’ tweens MahJong, ’80s weirdos Xposed4heads, "psychedelic salad" Agnes Emerson Interview and two tributes, one to Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor and another – featuring Lawson himself – to Jan Terri, the notorious viral star of some of the Internet’s most mock-inducing music videos.

In the case of the band Migo, Lawson just happened to see them opening for another band and was so mesmerized by their weirdness, he had to get their number and invite them to Trashfest. In other cases, Lawson finds out about worthy bands through friends and personal connections.

"A friend of mine is a singer in a metal band called Black Edge, and I knew she wasn’t all that good because I’ve seen her do karaoke," Lawson joked. "So it was like, ‘She’s got a band now!?’ So I went to see them, and I’m thinking, ‘I hope they’re not too good.’ But as soon as they started playing, it was like, ‘They’re perfect!’"

Then the night of the show, he brings decorations. And by decorations, he mostly means trash, like cardboard, newspaper and other undesirable items (nothing harmful, of course) likely to be playfully tossed on stage by the crowd during one of the evening’s numerous 15 to 20-minute sets.  

"The audience will bundle up the newspaper and throw it at you," Lawson said. "It’s fun. I was talking with someone who performed last year, a rapper, who was out in front, holding up a little shield. One year, there was another band doing ’80s covers, and of course they did "’Hit Me With Your Best Shot.’"

Over the past 30 years, Trashfest has made the rounds in the city, moving around from Irene J’s to Café Voltaire, The Unicorn, Odd Rock Café, Stone Toad, Quarters, Club Garibaldi and Linneman’s until reaching their current location at the Miramar Theatre.

No matter which locale is brave enough to host (though Lawson notes they do clean up afterward), Trashfest promises a uniquely trashy evening dedicated to having fun, quality be damned.

"It’s like performance art silliness," Lawson said. "It’s camp; it’s so bad, it’s good like an Ed Wood film or something. You’ll see stuff there that you’ve never seen before and will never see again."

Just ask those who were present for Beautiful Bert's sausage-fueled shenanigans.

Trashfest is Friday night at the Miramar Theatre. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $5. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.