In Music

Whether or not you like the lineup, Summerfest draws big crowds.

This sucks: Summerfest can never please "armchair" booking agents

Face it, we all have things we love and hate about Milwaukee. But, complaining and focusing on the negative leads nowhere. So, in the latest edition of this column we highlight an issue that we think needs to be addressed, discussed and solved. Every "This Sucks" feature tells you why we think something sucks, offers commentary, opinions, solutions and, of course, gives you the chance to weigh in through our exclusive talkback feature.

What sucks: Milwaukee is a city of armchair Summerfest booking know-it-alls.

Why this sucks: Every year the Summerfest schedule is released to a collective groan. What sucks, according to some, is that the festival is middle of the road and rarely takes the kind of chances that would give Summerfest and Milwaukee a forward-thinking reputation.

But, on the other hand, when we whine about Def Leppard and Styx, don't we realize that those acts are Summerfest's cash cows, earning it the kind of money it needs to continue to also book bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Elvis Costello and Built to Spill -- and to also have some money to pay local bands, too?

What about the simple fact that some bands are booked elsewhere -- often in Europe -- or not touring during Summerfest's 11-day window? Music critics and casual observers have the luxury of ignoring the details and the realities of booking a huge event like Summerfest, says Bruce Sullivan, entertainment and events director at Wisconsin State Fair Park, who knows a little something about the challenges of booking a complex event.

"No matter what you do, every year you will always have the 'armchair talent buyers' criticizing every move you make," Sullivan says. "It would be great to have my 'wish list' come through every year, but that is not reality. There are many factors involved with booking entertainment, and this year has had its share of challenges with artists not touring, limited availability, late confirmations, unfavorable routing and cost. You are always looking to try to bring in something for everyone and sample each music genre."

Plus, say some local music insiders, Summerfest -- for better or for worse -- has to please the largest swath of the public possible in order to stay in the black.

"Summerfest is a massive operation catering to music fans of all stripes and from all demographics," says producer, musician and songwriter Dan Holter of Burst Collective. "They have to appeal to that fat mid-section of the community at large in order to be viable. I don't see Summerfest as the answer to cool new music or even being necessarily hip or cutting edge. They aren't here to tell us what's cool, they exist to sell beer and maybe T-shirts. I don't think they're doing a disservice at all. I think it's great they are here."

So, perhaps, then, it's financial suicide for Summerfest to say, "All right, no more Asia reunions, we're doing The Decemberists and Placebo from now on!"

"Yes, I think that would be financial suicide," says Holter. "I mean I think it's fantastic when The Pabst and Riverside have a successful run of shows, something cool and current that sells out one night and they need to add a second date, but that's a totally different world from Summerfest."

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Talkbacks

jakeyd | June 26, 2007 at 10:38 a.m. (report)

Who cares what it's called, it's my favorite 11 days of the year. I too get sad when I hear talk of the great Styx show, but if you can't find an amazing band or two, you're just not trying. If there's no one if interest playing at the moment, find a spot, grab a beer and watch the world of people you only see once a year go by.

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repoman | June 25, 2007 at 12:30 p.m. (report)

Every year there is at least 1-2 really great bands at Summerfest, a handfull of decent bands that I may check out, and a bunch of crap. So what? They pack people in, sell more beer than you can imagine, and everyone usually has a good time at Summerfest so why mess with it? They do an admirable job of truly finding something for everyone. Plus 90 percent of the people there are usually just standing around getting drunk...the music is secondary.

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sandstorm | June 25, 2007 at 7:46 a.m. (report)

holy crap! somebody bashes the goo goo dolls and then brags about wanting to see the goo goo dolls lite-Guster? i'll be the first to admit it's been a long tome since the glory days of "Superstar Carwash", but my god, it really gets no lamer than perrenial opening act Guster. seriously, Guster is for people who think the Bodeans rock too hard.

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Truth_be_told | June 22, 2007 at 10:17 p.m. (report)

Hey Tanzillo - Elvis Costello drew a pretty big crowd and had, arguably, the best show of the year, last year. Why exactly wouldn't he be considered a Summerfest Cash Cow?

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Meow ! | June 22, 2007 at 3:30 p.m. (report)

Bashing Summerfest is getting really old -- if you don't like the lineup.. don't go ! Summerfest will survive without you .. it's been proven year after year after year..

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