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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Stage of Their Own

Cascio Music, Shepherd Express Bring Local Music to Summerfest

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Summerfest has long prided itself on being the world’s largest music festival, pulling in hundreds of performers from around the globe. But while local musicians have always had a place on the festival’s crowded lineup, it was only last year that the annual celebration created a stage reserved solely for music from around Milwaukee.

“The old standard was that local musicians would have to fight for a spot on the Summerfest schedule, and would be lucky to end up even with a spot early in the day, where there wouldn’t be much of an audience,” explains Elliott Hill, director of retail operations for Cascio Interstate Music. “Their options were limited.”

Seeing the demand, Cascio Music debuted an all-local stage last year, the Cascio Groove Garage. Hill says the enthusiastic response affirmed the demand for such a platform. Audiences turned out to see local music, and local musicians appreciated the chance to play one of the city’s most coveted gigs.

For its second year, the Cascio Groove Garage has expanded greatly, both in scope and profile. Shepherd Express and 91.7 WMSE have been added as sponsors, and the stage’s lineup has nearly doubled to more than 70 performers. Handpicked by Cascio and the Shepherd, this year's acts include not only promising undiscovered talent, but also some of the most prominent, buzzed-about bands in the city. Many performers have headlined and filled venues like the Cactus Club, Stonefly Brewery and Turner Hall Ballroom.

“If you look at the lineup, this stage is as complete as any other, as far as talent,” Hill says. “You won’t hear four or five hours of cover bands here. These are some of Milwaukee’s best bands.”

The lineup runs the gamut from alt-country (The Championship, Juniper Tar) to hard alternative-rock (Year of the Gun, Monostatic) to festive indie-rock (The Candliers, The Celebrated Workingman). For the bands that are used to playing clubs, the Summerfest appearance will be a rare chance to play for an all-ages audience.

For bands that usually play all-ages shows, it will be an opportunity to play a festival where they might not otherwise fit. Many of the punk bands headlining the stage on Thursday, July 3, including Novel, Father Phoenix, Cougar Den and Red Knife Lottery, are among Milwaukee’s finest, but they may be too edgy for other stages, where ample picnic tables and easy access to mozzarella sticks are as much a draw as the music.

“The beauty of this stage is that it showcases the talents of local Milwaukee artists who are often overlooked,” Hill says. “It shows that Milwaukee has a vibrant, viable music scene that can contend with anything else in the United States.

ILLUSTRATION BY DENNIS JENDERS

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