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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Locust Street Festival

June 10, 2012

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In a city chock-full of outdoor festivals, the first one typically signals the unofficial start to summer and the official confirmation to commence the partying. Due to the cancellation of RiverSplash's weekend-long ruckus a few years back, the honors of kicking the season into gear go to the Locust Street Festival. Now in its 36th year, Riverwest's neighborhood shindig proved on Sunday that nothing brings a community together better than a great party. By mid-afternoon the strip was packed with thousands of pedestrians scoping out the various craft tents, noshing on the extensive food selections and, without surprise, swilling some refreshing beer. Those offerings, combined with the warm weather, helped make it quite the celebration, but the true allure came from the festival's music lineup.

With seven stages and more than 30 bands, Locust Street Festival highlighted some of the city's best musicians and captured its diversity, as well. With a lineup that seemingly supplied something for everyone, a passer-by could catch a few minutes of a bluegrass group and then walk a block and hear some post-punk or partake in a drum circle. Exploration was a key on Sunday, mainly because there was so much talent to see, but also because sound problems necessitated the urge to keeping moving on to the next performance.

But not even the poor sound could detract from how well this festival is run. Linneman's, the Riverwest tavern and club, deserves much credit, not only for inviting the day's most exciting acts, but also for operating both an outside and inside stage.

Inside, Linneman's served as an oasis from the sweltering sun and the foot traffic outside. It also showcased two buoyant, '80s-era synth-pop groups, Faux Fir and Canopies, as well as respectable performances by The Midwest Beat and The Sleepwalkers. Faux Fir dazzled the room with an innovative, saccharine set that felt as ambitious as it was catchy. And later on, Canopies' lush instrumentation and communal attitude worked well. The group routinely switched genres (electro-pop, psychedelia, disco) with each passing song.

It's always interesting to see how bands that are usually confined to smaller spaces adapt to playing in an outdoor setting. For some, like venerable festival performers Juniper Tar, whose rustic set was both tranquil and searing, being comfortable in front of an expansive yet sometimes uninterested crowd came easy. Others, however, weren't so used to the spotlight—err, sunlight). The normally talkative, witty Sat. Nite Duets remained relatively quiet between songs. The breaks would've been more distressing if the band wasn't busy putting on the day's best show. Their jangly, off-kilter slack rock sounded like the perfect soundtrack for the summer. They may sing about being broke but they're never down-and-out and are always willing to have a good time.

A couple more highlights included The Fatty Acids' rambunctious set, which brimmed with youthful energy and rightfully attracted a large crowd, and the underappreciated Scrimshaw, whose material conjured up the Minutemen's immediate punk rock and D. Boon's signature howl. If Sunday was a preview of what to expect this festival season, Milwaukee is in for a wonderful summer.