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The Groove Stage, Summerfest’s Home for Local Music

Jun. 23, 2010
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Local bands have sometimes been lost in the shuffle at Summerfest, but for the last three years a stage dedicated exclusively to local and regional performers has showcased the kind of independent Milwaukee bands that the music festival had historically overlooked.

Since quietly debuting in 2007, the Cascio Interstate Music Groove Stage has grown steadily each year. WMSE 91.7 and the Shepherd Express joined as sponsors in 2008, helping draft a richer, higher-profile lineup that included many of the local music scene’s biggest draws. In 2009, the stage moved from its remote placement near the Marcus Amphitheater to a larger, higher-traffic location between the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse and the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard. This year, the stage receives yet another upgrade.

“We’ve been able to upgrade the sound system for the bands playing, so it’s really a pro-level system now,” says Michael Houser, chief executive officer of Cascio Interstate Music. “Some of the mixing boards and soundboards are the same ones used at the Beijing Olympics, and the speaker system was used at Elton John’s post-Oscar party. We’re also providing bands with a whole stage team and a sound engineer from the Riverside and Pabst Theater, so bands that are great anyway are going to sound that much better.”

Here is a rundown of this year’s daily highlights at the Cascio Interstate Music Groove Stage:

Thursday, June 24

Milwaukee’s instrumental post-rock ensemble Collections of Colonies of Bees was already turning heads outside of the city on the strength of their gorgeous 2008 album, Birds, but their profile increased substantially last year, when with longtime fan Justin Vernon of Bon Iver they released an album as Volcano Choir. Collections of Colonies of Bees headline the Groove Stage at 9 p.m., following a 7:30 p.m. set from the Illinois synth-pop band Elsinore.

Friday, June 25

Though they’ve only been playing together for a year, the Milwaukee garage-pop trio Surgeons in Heat has proved to be one of the city’s most ambitious bands, squeezing themselves onto any and every bill they can with hopes of playing about 75 shows a year. They’ll add another one to their tally Friday night, when they play a 7:30 p.m. bill, between sets from the excitable indie-rock band At Latl, at 6 p.m., and The Vega Star, who headline the stage at 9 p.m. with a set of stately, heavy-hearted folk-rock.

Saturday, June 26

Garage-roots rockers The Wildbirds were one of the most buzzed-about bands ever to emerge from Appleton, Wis., until they abruptly broke up after touring behind their 2007 album, Golden Daze. Now reunited with a new lineup, the band is picking up where they left off and adding new material to their sets with hopes of reclaiming some of that earlier momentum. They headline the Groove Stage at 9 p.m., following a 7:30 p.m. show by Canyons of Static, a post-rock group that shades its sound with traces of Brian Eno and Mogwai.

Sunday, June 27

If the Groove Stage is swarmed by screaming young girls on June 27, there’s a good explanation: 9 p.m. headliners Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, an Illinois indie-pop band, have undertaken a long-shot campaign to convince pop sensation Justin Bieber, who headlines the Marcus Amphitheater that night, to join them for their set. That probably won’t happen, but sets from indie-rockers Disguised as Birds (4:30 p.m.), The Trusty Knife (6 p.m.) and Revision Text (7:30 p.m.) should keep things exciting in Bieber’s absence.

Monday, June 28

In the early days of the Strokes-fueled garage-rock boom, Milwaukee’s The Etiquette released Ages, an infectious 2002 EP that caught the attention of college radio stations and national press, but the band fell apart before they could capitalize on that momentum. It took seven years, but the group finally followed up with a full-length album, 2009’s Highly Unstable, a Cheap Trick-styled rock record that lived up to the promise of their EP. The band headlines the Groove Stage at 9 p.m., after a 7:30 p.m. set from the live hip-hop ensemble Fresh Cut Collective.

Tuesday, June 29

Tempering their blistering noise-rock with big, giddy hooks, Milwaukee’s IfIHadAHiFi delivered one of the most memorable sets at the Groove Stage last year. The group, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary, returns to the stage June 29 for a 7:30 p.m. set, followed by a 9 p.m. performance from John The Savage, who play their soused rock ’n’ roll with deference to Tom Waits and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Wednesday, June 30

There’s no shortage of pop-rock bands playing the Groove Stage this year, but Milwaukee’s I’m Not A Pilot set themselves apart from the pack by performing without a guitarist, instead building songs around piano and cello (the latter courtesy of Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra member Peter Thomas). I’m Not a Pilot’s 9 p.m. set at the Groove Stage follows a 7:30 p.m. performance from the jazzy, contemporary pop group The Jeanna Salzer Band.

Thursday, July 1

Thursday’s lineup is topped by a trio of experimental-minded rock bands prone toward keyboards, effects and electronics. SleepComesDown, at 6 p.m., crafts moody, ambient psychedelic rock, while Ikarus Down, at 7:30 p.m., performs alt-rock in the spirit of turn-of-the-century Radiohead. At 9 p.m., headliners Fable & The World Flat play soulful, beat-oriented indie-rock that draws liberally from the rhythms of trip-hop.

Friday, July 2

Three very different rock bands cap Friday’s Groove Stage lineup. Following a 6 p.m. set from Brief Candles, Milwaukee’s best shoegaze band, the 11-piece Group of the Altos will squeeze onto the stage for a set of instrumental suites that touch on post-rock, math-rock and chamber-pop. An art-punk band with danceable undertones, Worrier, closes the stage at 9 p.m.

Saturday, July 3

Milwaukee’s longest-running ska band, The Invaders, who pay homage to all incarnations of the genre, from its Jamaican beginnings to its punchier, third-wave iterations, headlines the Groove Stage at 9 p.m., following performances from some of the stage’s heavier bookings. Prog-rockers The Danglers perform at 4:30 p.m., before local hard-rock aficionados Spiral Trance go on at 6 p.m., followed by Chicago-area blues-rockers The Hannah Ford Band at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 4

A 6 p.m. set from the Celtic folk band Athas precedes a pair of performances from two country-rock bands on the Groove Stage’s final day. Dante’s Bop, at 7:30 p.m., draws particularly from the country and R&B sounds of Memphis, while headliners Whiskey Bound, at 9 p.m., prefer a more raw, honky-tonk/rock ’n’ roll hybrid.


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