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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spotlight: Milwaukee Music

Local Bands Get Their Due at Cascio Groove Garage

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Although Summerfest was conceived largely as a showcase for local bands, over the decades slots for opening bands became elusive as the festival began to emphasize national headliners, explains Michael Houser, a former Summerfest board member and the current chief executive officer of Cascio Interstate Music.

“There had always been some stages that were dedicating more time to local music, but much of the focus was being placed on national acts, especially after 4 or 5 o’clock,” Houser says. “Local bands were being relegated to afternoon performances. We wanted to find a way to get local bands on later, when the crowds are bigger.”

So in 2007, Cascio created its own Summerfest stage dedicated entirely to area music, the Cascio Interstate Music Groove Garage, a welcome change for musicians tired of groveling or competing in battle of the band contests if they wanted a shot at playing the city’s signature music festival.

The Groove Garage grew last year with newfound support from the Shepherd Express and 91.7 WMSE, flaunting a fuller lineup that included not just talented upstarts, but also some of the city’s most established, buzzed-about bands, the same ones that play venues like the Cactus Club, Stonefly Brewery and Linneman’s Riverwest Inn.

The stage will return this year to a new, more prominent location between the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse and the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, and with an even richer lineup, bringing with it many of the most popular headliners from last year along with plenty of new ones. The lineup is heavy on many of the styles Milwaukee does best—including cerebral indie-rock, lush Americana, mercurial punk and unpretentious rock ’n’ roll—providing an 11-day primer on the local music scene.

Here’s a day-by-day look at some of the Groove Garage’s highlights.

Thursday, June 25

The Groove Garage’s opening night is capped by an 8 p.m. headlining performance from The Invaders, Milwaukee’s longest-running ska band. After 20 years, the group is still playing the same rootsy, horn-punched sounds that made them the bedrock of the local ska scene during the genre’s ’90s boom, and a gateway for many of the scene’s younger bands. The Invaders take the stage after a 7 p.m. set from the jam-funk group Toad King.

Friday, June 26

Friday’s diverse lineup of garage-pop and indie-rock is capped by a wide-ranging trio of bands: sleepcomesdown, at 7:30 p.m., may find a new audience for their effusive, electronic experiments in the wake of Animal Collective’s recent successes; The Trusty Knife, at 8:30 p.m., cheerfully pairs chamber-pop pomp with the spirit of old-time rock ’n’ roll and R&B; and with their chiming, boisterous odes to life and love in the city, The Celebrated Workingman may provoke some of the most enthused sing-alongs of the whole festival when they headline at 9:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 27

June 27 flaunts some of the most sonically adventurous indierock bands on this year’s Summerfest lineup. At 4:30 p.m., Canyons of Static share their sprawling, instrumental post-rock, which is colored by shoegaze, post-punk and classical music, before a 5:30 p.m. set from Burbank Cartel, a group that aims for the shifty, oversized compositions of Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It in People and Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Fable & the World Flat, at 8:30 p.m., have carved out a very different niche, playing dance-music for wallflowers, pairing meditative, jazz-tinged indie-rock with trip-hop beats.

Sunday, June 28

Although the songwriting of Kid, You’ll Move Mountains nods to the insular indie-rock of late-’90s Polyvinyl bands, the group performs with the communal, clap-along spirit of so many modern indie-pop bands, making them a perfect fit for outdoor festivals like this one. The band’s 5:30 p.m. set is followed at 6:30 p.m. by Sleep Tight Co., who play some of the city’s sweetest, most melodic dream-pop, and then a 7:30 p.m. performance from At Latl, whose catchy, live-wire indie-rock recalls early Modest Mouse records. John the Savage closes the stage at 8:30 p.m., promising the band’s usual cacophony of trumpet, accordion and megaphone.

Monday, June 29

Despite the long winters, the spirit of the South thrives in Milwaukee, which is home to a vibrant alt-country scene. Monday’s Groove Garage lineup spotlights some of this talent, including Carrie Melton (3:30 p.m.) and The Vega Star (5:30 p.m.), before giving way to the quirkier, spazzed-out pop of IfIHadAHiFi at 7:30 p.m., which should be nicely complemented by Testa Rosa’s alterna-pop at 8:30 p.m. The recently reunited roots-rock band The Wildbirds closes the night at 9:30 p.m.

Tuesday, June 30

The Tuesday schedule is among the Groove Garage’s most eclectic, including artists as seemingly disparate as The Danglers, a violin-fronted prog-rock trio, at 6 p.m.; Jayme Dawicki and Keith Pulvermacher, a pair of folkpop singer-songwriters, at 7 and 8 p.m., respectively; and Fresh Cut Collective, a soulful live hip-hop septet, at 9:45 p.m.

Wednesday, July 1

The bands on Wednesday’s roster each celebrate different facets of rock ’n’ roll. The Delta Routine (2:30 p.m.) draw from the sounds of ’60s and ’70s-era Stooges and Rolling Stones, while 1956 (4:30 p.m.) mine poignancy by pairing heavy, Helmet-styled alt-rock riffs with the bleary-eyed confessionals of The National. The ladies in The Barrettes (5:30 p.m.) prefer to keep their pop-punk on the lighter side, drawing from the perky sounds of New Wave-era rock, so their set should make the stern, furrowed-brow math-rock of Disguised as Birds (7:30 p.m.) sound even heavier by comparison.

Thursday, July 2

Thursday’s lineup is another celebration of American music. Drawing from the spirit of Bob Dylan and altcountry pioneers like Uncle Tupelo, Sharking Hour (6:30 p.m.) is followed by the jam-leaning, power-blues trio Super Custom Deluxe at 7:30 p.m. and the cheeky, drunken honky-tonk of Whiskey Bound at 8:30 p.m.

Friday, July 3

Some of Milwaukee’s most exciting acts are also the ones least likely to play Summerfest, the shrapnelshooting punk and foam-mouth hardcore bands that thrive in basements and all-ages venues. Though it felt like a bit of a novelty when the Cascio Groove Garage spotlighted some of these bands last July, that well-received date might have been the start of a new tradition, as many of the same bands are returning for a July 3 lineup that’s topped by Cougar Den at 7:30 p.m., Red Knife Lottery at 8:30 p.m. and Father Phoenix at 9:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 4

Though they began the decade as one of the city’s most popular jam bands, Freshwater Collins, the guys in Invade Rome emerged last year with a new name, a new sound and a new record, Light Eyed and Villainous, a forceful collection of burly, escapist rock ’n’ roll. Invade Rome play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, after sets from Milwaukee’s catchiest shoegaze band, Brief Candles (8:30 p.m.), and Pezzettino (7:30 p.m.), the stage name of accordionist Margaret Stutt, a singersongwriter who teeters between the quirky and the baleful, often within the same song.

Sunday, July 5

The Milwaukee metal trio Decapitado draws from the ambiance of industrial and the terseness of hardcore punk, but like every band featuring Die Kreuzen’s Dan Kubinski, their barbed sound disguises some surprisingly sticky melodies, many of them hidden in the singer’s piercing, iconoclastic wail. Decapitado plays at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, after a battalion of area hard-rock bands like alt-metal act Way to Fall, at 6:30 p.m. The night ends with an 8:30 set from Crumpler, a power-pop trio with shades of Weezer and Rush, and a closing 9:30 performance from The Color Truth, whose skyscraping alt-rock recalls another Milwaukee band with strong Summerfest ties, The Gufs.

For complete Summerfest coverage, including previews and reviews, visit ExpressMilwaukee.com.