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Summerfest: Thursday, June 24

Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow and Passion Pit

Jun. 10, 2010
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Tim McGraw w/ Lady Antebellum and Love and Theft

Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.

Contemporary country kicks off Summerfest’s 2010 Marcus Amphitheater lineup tonight. With more than 20 years in the music business, opening-night headliner Tim McGraw continues his run as an audience favorite. As half of country’s power couple—his wife is Faith Hill—McGraw has polished his enigmatic persona with masculine, modern-day cowboy looks that belie his smooth vocals.

McGraw is joined by two supporting acts that formed in 2006 and have found considerable success since. Lady Antebellum is riding high on the charts with its second studio album, propelled by the group’s most recent crossover hit, “Need You Now,” and the earlier smash “I Run to You.” The trio, fronted by Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood and Patrick Kelley (younger brother of singer-songwriter Josh Kelley), has been a regular at Summerfest in recent years, opening for Kenny Chesney as well as headlining side stages.

Love and Theft borrows its name from the 2001 Bob Dylan album, but its music is all original country. Also a trio, this group stands out for the ability of each musician (Brian Bandas, Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson) to handle lead vocal and guitar duties. (Harry Cherkinian)

Sheryl Crow

Miller Lite Oasis, 10 p.m.


Though she first caught the music industry’s attention as a backup singer for Michael Jackson during his 1987 “Bad” tour, Sheryl Crow resisted early offers to record as a dance-pop artist, waiting until 1993 to release her first album, Tuesday Night Music Club, which established her as a something-for-everyone singer-songwriter. Crow’s singles have found her straddling the line between Lilith Fair folkie (“If It Makes You Happy,” “Strong Enough”), pop starlet (“Soak Up the Sun,” “All I Wanna Do”) and, more recently, covert country-crossover singer (“Picture,” “The First Cut Is the Deepest”)—all hats that she has worn to considerable commercial success.

Crow’s relationship with musical genres continues to be polygamous. On 2008’s Detours, a record inspired by her breakup with cyclist Lance Armstrong and her victory over breast cancer, Crow re-embraced the confessional folk and roots-rock that first gave her a taste of fame in the ’90s, but her upcoming seventh studio album, 100 Miles from Memphis, which is scheduled for a July 20 release, promises a departure from her comfort zone. Recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s famed Electric Lady Studios in New York, it pays homage to the earthy soul and R&B of Nashville. (Evan Rytlewski)

Passion Pit

U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 10 p.m.


Passion Pit released their 2009 debut album, Manners, through the modest independent label Frenchkiss Records, but the record didn’t stay underground for long. The album swiftly spread from indie music blogs to major music publications, from college radio to commercial alternative stations and then on to MTV. Even John Mayer was rocking the damn thing.

That so many listeners took to Passion Pit so swiftly was particularly impressive considering that bandleader Michael Angelakos’ strained falsetto can make for an off-putting first impression. Everything else about the band’s sound couldn’t be more inviting, though, from the opulent synthesizers and the indulgent, Elton John-sized hooks to Angelakos’ disarming, heart-on-sleeve songwriting. His gift is transforming dark thoughts into bright music. “I scream and I beg and I sigh, just to prove I’m alive,” Angelakos sings on the album opener, “Make Light,” “and it’s all right, ’cause tonight there’s a way I’ll make light of my treacherous life.”

In concert, the group makes a more literal kind of light. At their sold-out show at the Riverside Theater in April, they brought a blinding light show that underscored the epileptic energy of their dance songs. On Summerfest’s opening night, they’ll perform for an even bigger crowd at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, then this fall they’ll play their first arena shows, sharing a tour with Muse that will return them to Milwaukee once again on Oct. 6. (Evan Rytlewski)


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